Humint Events Online: "What Do We Really Know About Osama bin Laden’s Death?"

Sunday, October 25, 2015

"What Do We Really Know About Osama bin Laden’s Death?"

A surprisingly open-minded article from the NYTimes.

It reaches no strong conclusions but obviously questions the official story. It does a reasonable job of going through the logic of different stories about the raid.

It's a long piece with a long conclusion, but good stuff:

Where does the official bin Laden story stand now? For many, it exists in a kind of liminal state, floating somewhere between fact and mythology. The writing of history is a process, and this story still seems to have a long way to go before the government’s narrative can be accepted as true, or rejected as false. 
‘‘It’s all sort of hokey, the whole thing,’’ Robert Baer, a longtime C.I.A. case officer in the Middle East (and the inspiration for the George Clooney character in the movie ‘‘Syriana’’) told me of the government’s version of the events. ‘‘I’ve never seen a White House take that kind of risk. Did the president just wake up one morning and say, ‘Let’s put my presidency on the line right before an election?’ This guy is too smart to put 23 SEALs in harm’s way in a Hollywood-like assassination. He’s too smart.’’ Still, none of Baer’s old friends inside or outside the agency have challenged the administration’s account. 
Over time, many of Hersh’s claims could be proved right. What then? We may be justifiably outraged. Pakistan, our putative ally in the war on terror and the beneficiary of billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer aid, would have provided refuge to our greatest enemy — the author of the very act that prompted us to invade Afghanistan. The audacious raid on bin Laden’s compound, our greatest victory in the war on terror, would have been little more than ‘‘a turkey shoot’’ (Hersh’s phrase). 
Above all, our government would have lied to us. But should we really be shocked by such a revelation? After all, it would barely register on a scale of government secrecy and deception that includes, in recent years alone, the N.S.A.’s covert wiretapping program and the C.I.A.’s off-the-books network of ‘‘black site’’ prisons. 
‘‘White House public-affairs people are not historians, they are not scholars, they are not even journalists,’’ Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, told me. ‘‘They are representing a political entity inside the United States government. Telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth is not their job, and even if it were their job, they would not necessarily be able to do it.’’ 
Hersh’s version doesn’t require us to believe in the possibility of a governmentwide conspiracy. Myths can be projected through an uncoordinated effort with a variety of people really just doing their jobs. Of course, when enough people are obscuring the truth, the results can seem, well, conspiratorial. 
Hersh is fond of pointing out that thousands of government employees and contractors presumably knew about the N.S.A.’s wiretapping, but only one, Edward Snowden, came forward. We can go a step further: The more sensitive the subject, the more likely the government will be to feed us untruths. Consider our relationship with Pakistan, which Obama clearly had on his mind in the aftermath of the raid. In his address to the nation, Obama expressed his gratitude: ‘‘Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we’ve done. But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding.’’ 
Either the line in Obama’s statement wasn’t truthful or the administration’s subsequent disavowal of it wasn’t. But in either case, it’s hard to imagine that telling the whole truth was more important to Obama, or should have been more important, than managing America’s relationship with this unstable ally. 
There’s simply no reason to expect the whole truth from the government about the killing of bin Laden. If a tipper led the United States to his compound in Abbottabad, the administration could never say so without putting that individual’s life at risk and making it virtually impossible for the C.I.A. to recruit informants in the future. 
If Pakistan didn’t want us to acknowledge its cooperation with the raid, we wouldn’t, for fear of igniting the militant backlash Gall mentioned. Hersh himself has written — in The New Yorker — that there is a credible danger of extremists inside Pakistan’s military staging a coup and taking control of its large stockpile of nuclear weapons. 
Reporters like to think of themselves as empiricists, but journalism is a soft science. Absent documentation, the grail of national-security reporting, they are only as good as their sources and their deductive reasoning. But what happens when different sources offer different accounts and deductive reasoning can be used to advance any number of contradictory arguments? How do we square Latif’s reporting in Abbottabad and Baer’s skepticism with the official story that Bowden and many others heard? 
‘‘As a reporter in this world,’’ Bowden told me, ‘‘you have to always allow for the possibility that you are being lied to, you hope for good reason.’’ We may already know far more about the bin Laden raid than we were ever supposed to. In his 2014 memoir ‘‘Duty,’’ the former secretary of defense, Robert M. Gates, wrote that everyone who gathered in the White House Situation Room on the night of the raid had agreed to ‘‘keep mum on the details.’’ ‘‘That commitment lasted about five hours,’’ he added, pointing his finger directly at the White House and the C.I.A: ‘‘They just couldn’t wait to brag and to claim credit.’’ 
The problem is that amid all of this bragging, it became impossible to know what was true and what wasn’t. Recall ‘‘Zero Dark Thirty,’’ which grossed $130 million at the box office and was in many ways the dominant narrative of the killing of bin Laden. The filmmakers, in numerous interviews, went out of their way to promote their access to government and military sources: The opening credits announced that the film was based on ‘‘firsthand accounts of actual events.’’ And, as a trove of documents made public via the Freedom of Information Act amply demonstrated, the C.I.A. eagerly cooperated with the filmmakers, arranging for the writer and director to meet with numerous analysts and officers who were identified as being involved in the hunt for bin Laden. 
The director, Kathryn Bigelow, has described the film as ‘‘the first rough cut of history.’’ This was a story that was so good it didn’t need to be fictionalized, or so it seemed. It began with a series of C.I.A.-led torture sessions, which the movie suggested provided the crucial break in the hunt for bin Laden. 
Only they didn’t, at least according to a report conducted over the course of many years by the Senate Intelligence Committee (and others with access to classified information). Senator Dianne Feinstein, who oversaw the report as the committee’s chairwoman, said she walked out of a screening of the film. ‘‘I couldn’t handle it,’’ she said. ‘‘Because it’s so false.’’ 
The filmmakers’ intent had presumably been to tell a nuanced story — the ugly truth of how we found bin Laden — but in so doing, they seem to have perpetuated a lie. It’s not that the truth about bin Laden’s death is unknowable; it’s that we don’t know it. And we can’t necessarily console ourselves with the hope that we will have more answers any time soon; to this day, the final volume of the C.I.A.’s official history of the Bay of Pigs remains classified. We don’t know what happened more than a half-century ago, much less in 2011. 
There are different ways to control a narrative. There’s the old-fashioned way: Classify documents that you don’t want seen and, as Gates said, ‘‘keep mum on the details.’’ But there’s also the more modern, social-media-savvy approach: Tell the story you want them to believe. Silence is one way to keep a secret. Talking is another. And they are not mutually exclusive. 
‘‘I love the notion that the government isn’t riddled with secrecy,’’ Hersh told me toward the end of our long day together. ‘‘Are you kidding me? They keep more secrets than you can possibly think. There’s stuff going on right now that I know about — amazing stuff that’s going on. I’ll write about it when I can. There’s stuff going out right now, amazing stuff in the Middle East. Are you kidding me? Of course there is. Of course there is.’’

Interestingly, there is this factoid, from a different story:
The inspector general's reports said the CIA's working relationship with the filmmakers began in 2010, a year before bin Laden was killed. 
"Based on a review of documentation and interviews, the inspector general's office determined the CIA's cooperation with filmmakers Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow began in 2010 when Panetta and Bigelow met at an event where Bigelow discussed her film project 'Tora Bora,' a film project involving the CIA's failure to capture [bin Laden], and Panetta offered the Agency's assistance."
This begs the question-- is it possible that Boal and Bigelow, in collaboration with the CIA, actually helped write the script for a fake bin Laden raid? Surely seems plausible to me...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

CIA asset Usama expired Dec.15th, 2001 - and was still dead at the time of his "murder".

5:57 PM  

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