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Amidst Media Backlash, Key Part of Seymour Hersh’s Report on bin Laden Killing Corroborated

A media backlash against investigative journalist Seymour Hersh for his report on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden has fueled a perception that it has been wholly discredited. Yet, a key part of Hersh’s report has been corroborated by the New York Times’ Carlotta Gall, a Pakistan newspaper, and partly by NBC News.

Hersh reported a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer approached Jonathan Bank, who was the CIA station chief in the US embassy, and offered to provide information on where bin Laden was located in return for reward money offered in 2001. The CIA did not find bin Laden by spying on his couriers but uncovered his whereabouts because Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, had him essentially on house arrest since 2006.

Gall writes, “Hersh appears to have succeeded in getting both American and Pakistani sources to corroborate it. His sources remain anonymous, but other outlets such as NBC News have since come forward with similar accounts. Finally, the Pakistani daily newspaper The News reported Tuesday that Pakistani intelligence officials have conceded that it was indeed a walk-in who provided the information on Bin Laden. The newspaper names the officer as Brigadier Usman Khalid; the reporter is sufficiently well connected that he should be taken seriously.” Khalid was promised reward money as well as “US citizenship with a new identity.”

“It is the strongest indication to date that the Pakistani military knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts and that it was complicit in hiding a man charged with international terrorism and on the United Nations sanctions list,” Gall concludes.

Gall, whose previous reporting on bin Laden is referenced in the beginning of Hersh’s story, shares, “When I was researching my book, I learned from a high-level member of the Pakistani intelligence service that the ISI had been hiding bin Laden and ran a desk specifically to handle him as an intelligence asset. After the book came out, I learned more: that it was indeed a Pakistani Army brigadier — all the senior officers of the ISI are in the military — who told the CIA where bin Laden was hiding, and that bin Laden was living there with the knowledge and protection of the ISI.”

CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto followed up after NBC News published their report. He asked sources if the US ever paid out a $25 million reward for bin Laden’s capture. Sciutto’s sources told him that some “small payments” were made to Pakistanis, “who helped track the SUV to bin Laden’s courier.” No source told Sciutto that anyone received a $25 million reward.

This does not disprove the main aspects of the story. It is possible he never was paid $25 million and received a smaller reward. Hersh says he was paid in “various chunks.” And, significantly, NBC News’ sources said an asset was paid reward money by the CIA.

Keep in mind: Whoever Hersh talked to with connections to the Pakistan government and the US government did not have to worry about the world’s attention being focused upon whether Obama lied or not, as is the case now. Anyone doing investigative reporting currently has to confront this additional hurdle when speaking to sources, who have to worry about an Obama administration that might zealously prosecute them for confirming any details.

Frances Townsend, former Homeland Security advisor for President George W. Bush, said on CNN, “It was well-known that the Pakistanis were watching our facilities. Somebody with that sort of information would most certainly not have ever walked into one of our facilities,” to dismiss the report of a “walk-in.” But that is why the US government would offer him a plane ride to the US, a new identity and an arrangement that amounts to political asylum. It does not prove that someone from Pakistan’s ISI would never share such sensitive information by going to meet with the CIA station chief, which for someone in the ISI would probably not be all that suspicious.

Of course, now that this “walk-in” has been confirmed, that part of the report will suddenly no longer a “baseless assertion.”

For example, from James Kirchick, who wrote a column for Slate aimed at convincing people Hersh is some kind of “crank”:

…[I]t is not exactly news that officials within Pakistan’s “deep state” might have known of Bin Laden’s location; such reports surfaced almost immediately after the killing took place.

Yes, but the Obama administration’s narrative of events has never incorporated these reports.

*

More generally, a common refrain from those dismissing Hersh’s report is that it does not make any sense. It is “illogical.” CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen called it a “farrago of nonsense.”

Vox’s Max Fisher, in a popular critique of Hersh’s story, suggested that Hersh’s report accused “hundreds of people across three governments of staging a massive international hoax that has gone on for years,” which is not believable. He was referring to the US, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The New York Times even suggested in a report that multiple “claims by Mr. Hersh would have required a cover-up extending from top American, Pakistani and Saudi officials down to midlevel bureaucrats.”

On “Democracy Now!” on May 12, Hersh squarely addressed this suggestion that he was alleging some kind of conspiracy involving hundreds of people across multiple governments:

…Where do you get the notion of hundred or thousand officials? It’s, it’s — we’re talking about a closed society. The White House has a lot of control over the information. The senior Pakistani officials have control over the information. We are talking about a country that went, a dozen, ten years ago through a WMD sort of cover up. The notion that there is some major conspiracy I’m alleging is just sort of — that’s over the top. There’s no major conspiracy here. It’s very easy to control news. We all saw that when the whole thing about the Saddam Hussein and the alleged nuclear weapons. I should think that would be a model for why you might just not be so skeptical of the possibility of holding things…

In addition to the weapons of mass destruction coverup, the CIA has launched ridiculous operations. It conducted a botched operation called “Operation Merlin,” where flawed blueprints of nuclear weapons (including an English list of parts) were provided to Iran by a Russian asset.

Mentioned in Hersh’s report is the CIA’s vaccine drive, which it engaged in to collect DNA that would hopefully prove bin Laden was in the Abbottabad compound. It doomed the agency’s Lebanon spies by adopting the codeword “Pizza” when discussing where agents should meet. In the 1960s, it launched hte “Bay of Pigs” operation. The CIA attempted to assassinate Congo Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba with poison toothpaste. The agency tried numerous harebrained schemes to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro. And the CIA had a program called Project MKULTRA, where they tested LSD and other mind-altering drugs on unwitting suspects.

How much sense do any of these operations make?

Fisher, Bergen, Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor and others have dismissed the story because they do not understand why Pakistan military and intelligence officials would have allowed a raid that would humiliate their country.

Hersh’s report offers an answer. It explains that Pakistan officials wanted shipments of military equipment and “under-the-table cash payments to senior leaders” to resume. It sought more freedom for operations in Afghanistan, as the US was withdrawing troops from the country.

US officials also allegedly engaged in “blackmail,” suggesting they would leak the fact that bin Laden had been in their “backyard” to embarrass Pakistan. Hersh’s sources claim the ISI was using bin Laden to keep tabs on al Qaeda and the Taliban. It would have been very humiliating to have this arrangement with the most wanted terrorist in the world exposed, potentially even more humiliating than having the US launch a unilateral raid in their country.

Yet, again, because these journalists have wholly accepted the Obama administration’s narrative around the hunt for bin Laden, they reflexively dismiss Hersh’s reporting.

Hersh’s reporting shows there is a lot about what the Obama administration has claimed about the killing of bin Laden that may not be true.

Journalists with access to sources should be doing followup reporting like NBC News did. They should be examining key questions raised by Hersh’s report. They should not be inviting former government officials on television to simply mock Hersh and say things like, “Let me break some news for you this morning: aliens abducted President Obama 15 minutes ago and Darth Vader is in the Oval Office making decisions for the United States,” as former deputy director of CIA’s counterterrorism center, Philip Mudd, did on CNN. Nor should they be helping the Obama administration salvage its official story because they enjoyed the Hollywood movie that brought it to life on the silver screen.

Finally, it should be recognized that the “boiler plate” template being used by critics to kill the messenger and cast Hersh as some kind of loon journalist in his twilight years only serves the interests of the deep state. Columns solely focused on Hersh should be regarded as attacks on an investigative journalist, who has dared to poke holes in myths surrounding the assassination operation that killed bin Laden.

Creative Commons Licensed Photo on Flickr by Elizabeth Buie

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

  • wagonjack

    For one thing, I’d believe ANYTHING Seymour Hersh reported over ANYTHING from the CIA, this administration or most of the mainstream news outlets. I CAN understand why the Pakistani government wouldn’t want the news that they helped the US find and kill Bin Laden too. That might have generated a lot of anger against them in Pakistan and the other middle-eastern countries.

  • mulp

    So, Pakistan found and told the US where to kill bin Laden in 2006?

    Why did Bush not kill bin Laden? Did Bush want a reason to invade more nations?

    Why isn’t Hersh telling us what Bush and Cheney were planning by failing to kill bin Laden as they promised?

  • pelham

    Re possible embarrassment for Pakistan: Doesn’t Hearst explain that? If the US had stuck with the original plan and put out a story about bin Laden being killed in the Afghan mountains by a drone strike, the Pakistani government would have had no reason to be embarrassed.

    That said, the immediate and predominant MSM reaction to the Hearst story reveals a lot — about them. As noted, they’re not following up but instead tying themselves up with hissy fits in defense of their mass gullibility falling all over themselves buying the initial White House fairy tale.

    And that’s serving a purpose. It’s sowing confusion to the point that the broader public is probably just throwing up its hands and thinking, “Whatever.” In any event, kudos to Carlotta Gall and NBC News for daring to be exceptions to the MSM rule.

  • bsbafflesbrains

    This could have allot to do with 2016 election. Who the oligarchs want in the WH every 4 years is being argued by the MOTU.

  • mulp

    Let’s see, Hersh has been proven right in that Pakistan had held bin Laden for almost a decade without turning him over to the US government paying them millions of dollars a day because of US fears that terrorists like bin Laden would gain control of Pakistan’s dozens of nukes.

    Doesn’t that refute Hersh’s claim that the US told Pakistan of its plans to get bin Laden and when into Pakistan with conventional helicopters and Pakistan military handed over bin Laden?

    Better yet, why didn’t Pakistan’s military just disappear and kill bin Laden themselves and told no one so everyone would treat bin Laden like Elvis? They could even blame the CIA capturing bin Laden and disappearing him to a CIA black site so the human rights community could be demanding bin Laden be produced so lawyers could seek to free him? Then Hersh could report that bin Laden is in a hole in the Kremlin with CIA and KGB officers torturing bin Laden on alternate weeks, proving that Obama and Putin are just making up conflicts to justify wars because both only want to send Russians and Americans to die killing people.

    I’m thinking Hersh is a has-been who got lucky in the past and is now writing fiction to get back in the limelight, but its bad fiction. He needs to get some advice from Tom Clancy.

  • iamnotarobot

    I’d like to know what they did with bin Laden’s head. The article reported it was one of the few body parts to survive the “firefight.” The larger aspect of ‘news control’ was played out wonderfully by hack director Kathryn Bigelow in Zero Dark Thirty and all the other propaganda that movie spawned for the proles information consumption.

    Hersh should start watching his back.

  • jo6pac

    Why did Bush not kill bin Laden

    The bush clan and laden clan had business dealing back in the day and didn’t you notice every time bush needed something to scare Amerikas sheeple, up popped a new tape of Crazy bin. Magic

    Click on the links in this story for more.

    http://www.moonofalabama.org/2015/05/why-is-the-hersh-abbottabad-story-coming-out-now.html#comments

  • jo6pac

    I’m thinking Hersh is a has-been who got lucky in the past
    You are kidding right? I did answer your question down below.

  • iamnotarobot

    In the article Hersh states the ISI was using bin Laden as leverage, which makes sense, strategically and even culturally. From the article itself:

    “At one point that spring, Pasha offered the Americans a blunt explanation of the reason Pakistan kept bin Laden’s capture a secret, and why it was imperative for the ISI role to remain secret: ‘We needed a hostage to keep tabs on al-Qaida and the Taliban,’ Pasha said, according to the retired official. ‘The ISI was using bin Laden as leverage against Taliban and al-Qaida activities inside Afghanistan and Pakistan. They let the Taliban and al-Qaida leadership know that if they ran operations that clashed with the interests of the ISI, they would turn bin Laden over to us. So if it became known that the Pakistanis had worked with us to get bin Laden at Abbottabad, there would be hell to pay.’”

  • Echo Buster

    If Edward Snowden had gone to Hersh without his documents in tow, would all these critics have said it was just a crazy conspiracy theory? So many people had to keep a secret that big? For all these years? Officials told lies to Congress? Impossible!!!!!

  • Alice X

    Thank you! Good work.

    The Emperor has new clothes – same as the old clothes.

  • http://firedoglake.com/ CTuttle

    FB Ali had visited the Lake before and remarked on a few of my old MENA I/P mashups, jo…! 😉

  • CloudyTheScribbler

    This story clearly isn’t going away — surely not so fast as my posts disappear from Kevin’s facebook page LOL ;. But the New York Times even including Carlotta Gall seem to suggest that some parts of the expose are much more plausible than others. And that assertion is itself at least plausible, especially for those like myself who don’t dismiss the NY Times reporting. This more credible critique of Hersh than the usual chorus of boos and dismissals from folx who know where their bread is buttered, basically, needs to be answered with more going into the weeds. Sure there is a lot of secrecy but some things (like the alleged simultaneously detonated explosives in the WTC on 9/11 according to many) really are much harder to cover up. I wonder if Hersh might do a subsequent article after at least some of his claims have been corroborated like now to answer the plausible doubts cast on other assertions he makes at least from sources that (like Carlotta Gall and the NY Times) have at least some journalistic credibility. What is really amazing is how, while someone with Hersh’s unrivalled record as a journalist can be pooh poohed by CNN and others, people who have made these shameful trashings, when proved false, as with Iraq’s WMDs, never seem to get weeded out of mainstream media and not just Faux News

  • Ben A. Varkentine

    What do you think of this? (The picture aside, which is over 10 years old and clearly chosen to make him look crazy)

    http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2015/05/seymour_hersh_interview_on_his_bin_laden_story_the_new_yorker_journalism.html

  • John de Clef Piñeiro, Esq.

    Could Obama lie about what happened with Bin Laden? YES.

    Did Obama lie about what happened with Bin Laden? WHO KNOWS!

    But we do know that Obama has not come clean with the American people about which private and corporate interests have had direct access to and had substantial input on the TPP.

    And we also know that Obama has been less than candid and truthful when it has come to the TPP’s secret status – it is in fact “classified” and not even the people’s elected representatives can get a copy, take notes, or disclose the contents of the TPP drafts.

    Mr. Obama has also been less than truthful and forthcoming about what the N.S.A. has been doing UNDER HIS WATCH ever since the Edward Snowden disclosures through the press.

    He has even kept on James Clapper, who clearly lied to Congress under oath when he denied that the N.S.A. was involved in massive spying upon Americans and denied that it was engaged in bulk collection of data in contravention of the Fourth Amendment.

    So, could this same Obama lie to us about what happened with Bin Laden? YES.

    Has Obama lied about what happened with Bin Laden? WHO WOULD NOW BE SURPRISED IF HE HAS?

  • H.P. Loathecraft

    Slightly off topic but not much …in 2007 Obama was vigorously campaigning against the evils of NAFTA, promising he’d kick it to the curb.
    Cut to Canadian Consulate leaking to CTV News that the Obama campaign had quietly contacted them about that NAFTA thing, explaining ‘shhh.,.just kidding’.

    CTV reported last week that an Obama aide told Canadian officials he wasn’t serious considering disrupting the continental trade deal.

    The memo is the first evidence of any such discussion to emerge publicly.

    http://www.cbc.ca/m/news/world/canadian-memo-suggests-obama-s-nafta-comments-political-positioning-1.744045

  • H.P. Loathecraft

    Next time someone exclaims that no massive bureaucracy could possibly keep a secret, ask them if they believe if it is possible that a ‘massive bureaucracy’ such as, say, the U.S. Air Force for example, could keep a dire secret such as completely and permanently losing track of an armed hydrogen bomb in proximity to a major eastern U.S. population center for 55 years.

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/09/25/the-case-of-the-missing-h-bomb-2/

  • John de Clef Piñeiro, Esq.

    Thank you for posting this here. It evidences a very early example/symptom of Mr. Obama’s often-noted chronic inability to walk his talk.

    We’re not in a good place and we’re not moving to a good place anytime soon under Mr. Obama.

    Ask the parents whose children were slaughtered at Newtown and elsewhere.

    Ask public employees across the nation who have lost their bargaining rights and jobs.

    Ask the many millions who have joined the ranks of the poor since the messiah of change was first inaugurated.

    Ask the relatives and loved ones of service men and women that have returned psychologically broken, or dismembered, or who have paid with their lives to protect the interests of oil barons and multinational corporations.

    Ask the millions who remain uncovered, or inadequately covered, because a rare moment of opportunity to provide healthcare for all was handed over to a gang of political conservatives to come up with a program so watered down and compromised that millions are still falling through the gaps in coverage.

    Ask the tens of millions of workers for whom there’s no hope or opportunity for employment that pays the bills, let alone any bills, because being unemployed long term now defines who they are.

    Ask the growing ranks of the homeless who are treated as strangers in their own land (including veterans with no prospects).

    Ask the millions of college grads who have incurred oppressive, even overwhelming, debt for an education they can’t even apply to gainful employment.

    Ask the many tens of millions who used to be part of the middle class and now desperately depend on reduced food stamps for their livelihood because Mr. Obama just signed into law (without objection) $8.7 billion in cuts to food assistance to the needy.

    And ask the many many millions of Americans who have been working to save the planet from climate change and who have been denied a climate champion at the highest levels of government.

    No. Instead, Mr. Obama’s limited attention has been focused on just about everything that will divert resources and his attention from our multiple domestic crises in a vain attempt to portray a public identity as an actor (leader?) on the world’s stage.

  • Patriarch

    What Hersh omitted is that, the Pakistani sent them to a house of an OLD man with a beard who resembled bin Laden….motivated ONLY for the reward MONEY.

    Bin Ladin died in 2001 of Marfan Syndrome & kidney failure. There were no dialysis machines in that house. He was a CIA BAG MAN aka “TIM OSMAN”.

    You can google it or read this:

    http://pieczenik.blogspot.com/2015/05/seal-team-6-bin-laden-lies-predicted-14.html

    http://pieczenik.blogspot.com/2012/11/best-bad-osama-bin-laden-death.html

    No DNA proof of bin laden’s death, but the operation got the aka obama’s phony PDF birth certificate off the top of the ny times fold.

    OBAMA’s trump card. Why Cheney despises him.