Over the weekend Seymour Hersh unloaded accusations of a massive cover-up by the Obama administration over the events of the death of Osama bin Laden. Fair warning: it's a hefty read. but let me save you a lot of trouble: his conclusion is that Pakistani intelligence (ISI) knew exactly where bin Laden was, the US knew the ISI knew, and everyone lied about it.
And the story is complete bullcrap, too. First, Hersh's side:
And the story is complete bullcrap, too. First, Hersh's side:
The most blatant lie was that Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders – General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI – were never informed of the US mission. This remains the White House position despite an array of reports that have raised questions, including one by Carlotta Gall in the New York Times Magazine of 19 March 2014. Gall, who spent 12 years as the Times correspondent in Afghanistan, wrote that she’d been told by a ‘Pakistani official’ that Pasha had known before the raid that bin Laden was in Abbottabad. The story was denied by US and Pakistani officials, and went no further. In his book Pakistan: Before and after Osama (2012), Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies, a think tank in Islamabad, wrote that he’d spoken to four undercover intelligence officers who – reflecting a widely held local view – asserted that the Pakistani military must have had knowledge of the operation. The issue was raised again in February, when a retired general, Asad Durrani, who was head of the ISI in the early 1990s, told an al-Jazeera interviewer that it was ‘quite possible’ that the senior officers of the ISI did not know where bin Laden had been hiding, ‘but it was more probable that they did [know]. And the idea was that, at the right time, his location would be revealed. And the right time would have been when you can get the necessary quid pro quo – if you have someone like Osama bin Laden, you are not going to simply hand him over to the United States.’
This spring I contacted Durrani and told him in detail what I had learned about the bin Laden assault from American sources: that bin Laden had been a prisoner of the ISI at the Abbottabad compound since 2006; that Kayani and Pasha knew of the raid in advance and had made sure that the two helicopters delivering the Seals to Abbottabad could cross Pakistani airspace without triggering any alarms; that the CIA did not learn of bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed since May 2011, but from a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the US, and that, while Obama did order the raid and the Seal team did carry it out, many other aspects of the administration’s account were false.
Hersh lays out his theory, and cites a number of former intelligence sources for his work, nearly all of them anonymous sources.
That's where the problem comes in, as CNN's Peter Bergen dismantles Hersh pretty cleanly.
Hersh's account of the bin Laden raid is a farrago of nonsense that is contravened by a multitude of eyewitness accounts, inconvenient facts and simple common sense.
Let's start with the claim that the only shots fired at the Abbottabad compound were the ones that killed bin Laden. That ignores the fact that two SEALs on the mission, Matt Bissonnette, author of "No Easy Day," and Robert O'Neill have publicly said that there were a number of other people killed that night, including bin Laden's two bodyguards, one of his sons and one of the bodyguard's wives. Their account is supplemented by many other U.S. officials who have spoken on the record to myself or to other journalists.
I was the only outsider to visit the Abbottabad compound where bin Laden lived before the Pakistani military demolished it. The compound was trashed, littered almost everywhere with broken glass and several areas of it were sprayed with bullet holes where the SEALS had fired at members of bin Laden's entourage and family, or in one case exchanged fire with one of his bodyguards. The evidence at the compound showed that many bullets were fired the night of bin Laden's death.
Common sense would tell you that the idea that Saudi Arabia was paying for bin Laden's expenses while he was living in Abbottabad is simply risible. Bin Laden's principal goal was the overthrow of the Saudi royal family as a result of which his Saudi citizenship was revoked as far back as 1994.
Why would the Saudis pay for the upkeep of their most mortal enemy? Indeed, why wouldn't they get their close allies, the Pakistanis, to look the other way as they sent their assassins into Pakistan to finish him off?
Common sense would also tell you that if the Pakistanis were holding bin Laden and the U.S. government had found out this fact, the easiest path for both countries would not be to launch a U.S. military raid into Pakistan but would have been to hand bin Laden over quietly to the Americans.
Indeed, the Pakistanis have done this on several occasions with a number of other al Qaeda leaders such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the operational commander of 9/11, who was handed over to U.S. custody after a raid in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi in 2003. So too was Abu Faraj al-Libi, another key al Qaeda leader who was similarly handed over by the Pakistanis to U.S. custody two years later.
Oh, and it gets much worse for Hersh's narrative. Somebody fed Hersh the line he wanted, and he ran with it. Gergen makes much more sense. This is a hit job on arguably President Obama's most powerful first-term foreign policy accomplishment, and it comes just as the 2016 campaign is picking up?
Max Fisher at Vox also has serious problems with Hersh's story.
Perhaps the most concerning problem with Hersh's story is not the sourcing but rather the internal contradictions in the narrative he constructs.
Most blatant, Hersh's entire narrative turns on a secret deal, in which the US promised Pakistan increased military aid and a "freer hand in Afghanistan." In fact, the exact opposite of this occurred, with US military aid dropping and US-Pakistan cooperation in Afghanistan plummeting as both sides feuded bitterly for years after the raid.
Hersh explains this seemingly fatal contradiction by suggesting the deal fell apart due to miscommunication between the Americans and Pakistanis. But it's strange to argue that the dozens of officials on both sides would be competent enough to secretly plan and execute a massive international ruse, and then to uphold their conspiracy for years after the fact, but would not be competent enough to get on the same page about aid delivery.
And there are more contradictions. Why, for example, would the Pakistanis insist on a fake raid that would humiliate their country and the very military and intelligence leaders who supposedly instigated it?
A simpler question: why would Pakistan bother with the ostentatious fake raid at all, when anyone can imagine a dozen simpler, lower-risk, lower-cost ways to do this?
Naah. Sy Hersh can have a goddamn seat. Both Fisher and Bergen make mincemeat of him.