Seymour Hersh’s 10,000-word bin Laden story — told five years ago in 640 words by Larry Johnson

When Seymour Hersh releases each of his blockbuster reports, what supposedly makes his claims authoritative is, more than anything else, the mere fact that they come from Seymour Hersh.

The reader is meant to trust the word of retired intelligence officials, consultants, and other unnamed experts, because Hersh trusts them. And we are meant to trust Hersh because of his stature as a veteran investigative journalist.

We are being invited to join a circle of confidence. Which is to say, we are being hooked by a confidence trick. Hersh is the confidant of (mostly) anonymous sources of inside information of inestimable quality, and we then become confidants of Hersh when he lets us in on the secrets.

To say this is not to imply that everything Hersh reports should be doubted, but simply to note that his egotistical investment in his own work — the fact that Hersh’s stories invariably end up being in part stories about Hersh — inevitably clouds the picture.

As a result, ensuing debate about the credibility of Hersh’s reports tends to devolve into polarized contests of allegiance. Each side sees the other as having been duped — either duped by a conspiracy theorist (Hersh) or duped by government officials and the mainstream media.

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A week after Osama bin Laden was killed, Larry Johnson wrote a blog post that reads like an outline draft of Hersh’s latest report. Johnson is a retired senior intelligence official who claims to be knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. Maybe he was the “major U.S. source” on whom Hersh relied.

On May 9, 2011, Johnson wrote:

I’ve learned some things from friends who are still active that dramatically alter the picture the White House is desperately trying to paint. Here is what really happened. The U.S. Government learned of Bin Laden’s whereabouts last August when a person walked into a U.S. Embassy and claimed that Pakistan’s intelligence service (ISI) had Bin Laden under control in Abottabad, Pakistan. Naturally the CIA personnel who received this information were skeptical. That’s why the CIA set up a safehouse in Abottabad in September 2010 as reported yesterday in the Washington Post.

The claim that we found Bin Laden because of a courier and the use of enhanced interrogation is simply a cover story. It appears to be an effective cover story because it has many Bush supporters pressing the case that enhanced interrogation worked. The Obama operatives in the White House are quite content to let the Bushies share in this part of the “credit.” Why? It keeps most folks from looking at the claims that don’t add up.

Anyway, the intel collection at the safe house escalated and the CIA began pressing Pakistan’s ISI to come clean on Osama.

As Pakistan’s Dawn notes in an editorial, the Pakistani version of events — the Abbottabad Commission report — has yet to be officially released.

Buried after initial promises that it would be made public, one version of the report has already seen the light of day via a leaked copy to Al Jazeera. That version alone contains a deep, systematic, even fundamental critique of the manner in which the ISI operates.

Surely, it is morally and legally indefensible of the state to hide from the public the only systematic inquiry into the events surrounding perhaps the most humiliating incident in decades here. National security will not be undermined by the publication of a report; national security was undermined by the presence of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil.

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Pakistanis knew where bin Laden was, say U.S. sources

NBC News reports: Two intelligence sources tell NBC News that the year before the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, a “walk in” asset from Pakistani intelligence told the CIA where the most wanted man in the world was hiding – and these two sources plus a third say that the Pakistani government knew where bin Laden was hiding all along.

The U.S. government has always characterized the heroic raid by Seal Team Six that killed bin Laden as a unilateral U.S. operation, and has maintained that the CIA found him by tracking couriers to his walled complex in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The new revelations do not necessarily cast doubt on the overall narrative that the White House began circulating within hours of the May 2011 operation. The official story about how bin Laden was found was constructed in a way that protected the identity and existence of the asset, who also knew who inside the Pakistani government was aware of the Pakistani intelligence agency’s operation to hide bin Laden, according to a special operations officer with prior knowledge of the bin Laden mission. The official story focused on a long hunt for bin Laden’s presumed courier, Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.

While NBC News has long been pursuing leads about a “walk in” and about what Pakistani intelligence knew, both assertions were made public in a London Review of Books article by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Hersh’s story, published over the weekend, raises numerous questions about the White House account of the SEAL operation. It has been strongly disputed both on and off the record by the Obama administration and current and former national security officials. [Continue reading…]

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Blogger accuses Seymour Hersh of ‘plagiarism’ for bin Laden raid story

Politico: In the day following the publication of Seymour Hersh’s scandalous alternative account of the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the prize-winning investigative journalist has been pilloried as a fabulist, a fool, and even a fibber.

But one national security expert has a new insult to throw into the mix: plagiarist.

R.J. Hillhouse, a national security blogger and former college professor, wrote on her blog, “The Spy Who Billed Me” that she had accused the Obama administration of fabricating accounts of its raid that killed Osama bin Laden back in August 2011. Hersh’s story, published in the London Review of Books on Sunday, is “either plagiarism or unoriginal,” wrote Hillhouse.

The blog post Hillhouse is referring to dates back to August 7, 2011, only a few months after Osama bin Laden’s death. In it Hillhouse wrote, like Hersh, that the informant who led the CIA to bin Laden was a walk-in seeking financial compensation, that Pakistani officials were keeping bin Laden under house arrest with Saudi financial support, and that Pakistani officials had cooperated with the clandestine U.S. operation that killed him. [Continue reading…]

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The many problems with Seymour Hersh’s latest conspiracy theory

Max Fisher writes: On Sunday, the legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh finally released a story that he has been rumored to have been working on for years: the truth about the killing of Osama bin Laden. According to Hersh’s 10,000-word story in the London Review of Books, the official history of bin Laden’s death — in which the US tracked him to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan; killed him in a secret raid that infuriated Pakistan; and then buried him at sea — is a lie.

Hersh’s story is amazing to read, alleging a vast American-Pakistani conspiracy to stage the raid and even to fake high-level diplomatic incidents as a sort of cover. But his allegations are largely supported only by two sources, neither of whom has direct knowledge of what happened, both of whom are retired, and one of whom is anonymous. The story is riven with internal contradictions and inconsistencies.

The story simply does not hold up to scrutiny — and, sadly, is in line with Hersh’s recent turn away from the investigative reporting that made him famous into unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

A decade ago, Hersh was one of the most respected investigative journalists on the planet, having broken major stories from the 1969 My Lai massacre to the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal. But more recently, his reports have become less and less credible. He’s claimed that much of the US special forces is controlled by secret members of Opus Dei, that the US military flew Iranian terrorists to Nevada for training, and that the 2014 chemical weapons attack in Syria was a “false flag” staged by the government of Turkey. Those reports have had little proof and, rather than being borne out by subsequent investigations, have been either unsubstantiated or outright debunked. A close reading of Hersh’s bin Laden story suggests it is likely to suffer the same fate. [Continue reading…]

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Seymour Hersh: Osama bin Laden was held hostage by Pakistan’s intelligence services from 2006 until he was killed

Seymour Hersh writes: It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account. The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.

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. [Continue reading…]

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Four years after bin Laden’s death, man who helped track him is in prison

McClatchy reports: Four years after U.S. forces shot dead Osama bin Laden at a house half a mile from Pakistan’s top military academy, the Pakistani doctor who allegedly ran a fake vaccination program for the CIA to find the al Qaida chief – but didn’t find him – is serving a long prison term on questionable charges of aiding an insurgent Pakistani militant group, his attorney said.

Suspected CIA operative Shakil Afridi has paid a heavy price for the huge embarrassment caused to Pakistan’s powerful military and its security services by the discovery of bin Laden: In addition to his 23-year term, his family lives in hiding and the lead attorney of his defense team was shot dead in March in the northern city of Peshawar.

His situation is in stark contrast to that of the two Pakistani militant groups that helped resettle bin Laden in Pakistan in 2002. Harakat-ul-Mujahideen and Jaish-i-Mohammed provided bin Laden with dedicated security teams as he moved around the north of the country before settling in the town of Abbottabad in 2005, retired militants familiar with the operation told McClatchy.

Since Pakistan’s return to democracy in 2008, the two groups have re-emerged as Islamic charities, and their leaders have joined religious parties in political campaigns widely considered to be backed by the Pakistani military’s security services.

“When the sheikh (bin Laden) moved, armed 12-man teams would travel ahead and behind his vehicle. He’d travel with two to four men with good local knowledge of the area they were moving in; they’d be unarmed and disguised,” said a ranking former Harakat operative. He spoke only on the condition of anonymity, citing the dangers of reprisal by former colleagues and arrest by the Pakistani authorities.

The security escorts were part of a Pakistan-wide arrangement provided by the groups to al Qaida and Afghan Taliban VIPs who were fleeing the American forces that invaded Afghanistan after the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., the former militants said. [Continue reading…]

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Obama secretly allowed looser rules for drone strikes in Pakistan

The Wall Street Journal reports: President Barack Obama tightened rules for the U.S. drone program in 2013, but he secretly approved a waiver giving the Central Intelligence Agency more flexibility in Pakistan than anywhere else to strike suspected militants, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The rules were designed to reduce the risk of civilian casualties. Mr. Obama also required that proposed targets pose an imminent threat to the U.S.—but the waiver exempted the CIA from this standard in Pakistan.

Last week, the U.S. officials disclosed that two Western hostages, U.S. and Italian aid workers Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto, were killed on Jan. 15 by a U.S. drone strike aimed at al Qaeda militants in Pakistan. If the exemption had not been in place for Pakistan, the CIA might have been required to gather more intelligence before that strike.

And though support for the drone program remains strong across the U.S. government, the killings have renewed a debate within the administration over whether the CIA should now be reined in or meet the tighter standards that apply to drone programs outside of Pakistan. [Continue reading…]

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Pakistan military’s move on Karachi seen part of ‘creeping coup’

Reuters reports: The chief of Pakistan’s main spy agency is spearheading a campaign to wrest control of the teeming port city of Karachi from a powerful political party, the military’s latest, and some say boldest, foray into civilian life in recent years.

According to military officials, police officers and members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party which has traditionally dominated Karachi, Rizwan Akhtar has decided the time for policing the city from the sidelines is over.

“There is a quiet, creeping takeover of Karachi by the military,” said a government official close to Akhtar, head of of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, which traditionally acts as an extension of army power in Pakistan.

“Karachi is just too big … too much land, too much business, resources. No one party will be allowed to rule Karachi from now on,” added the official, who declined to be named.

The sweltering, violent metropolis is Pakistan’s largest and wealthiest city. It accounts for half of national revenues and hosts the stock exchange, central bank and a giant port.

The military’s crackdown in Karachi started late in 2013, when the murder rate soared and mutilated bodies were dumped in alleyways daily.

The operation, which escalated last month, is officially aimed at criminals and militants, but some say MQM is the real target. [Continue reading…]

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Inside Obama’s drone panopticon: A secret machine with no accountability

The Guardian reports: Of all the reactions to the deaths of two hostages from a missile fired from a US drone, Congressman Adam Schiff provided the deepest insight into the logic underpinning the endless, secret US campaign of global killing.

“To demand a higher standard of proof than they had here could be the end of these types of counter-terrorism operations,” said Schiff, a California Democrat and one of the most senior legislators overseeing those operations.

The standard of proof in the January strike in tribal Pakistan was outlined by the White House press secretary in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s admission about the deaths. An agency that went formally unnamed – likely the CIA, though the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) also conducts drone strikes – identified what Josh Earnest called an “al-Qaida compound” and marked the building, rather than particular terrorists, for destruction.

Thanks to Obama’s rare admission on Thursday, the realities of what are commonly known as “signature strikes” are belatedly and partially on display. Signature strikes, a key aspect for years of what the administration likes to call its “targeted killing” program, permit the CIA and JSOC to kill without requiring them to know who they kill. [Continue reading…]

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Waziristan: The world’s drone-strike capital

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Pakistan could end up charging CIA officials with murder over drone strikes

Time: A landmark case may open the door for a possible multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuit launched by relatives of the alleged 960 civilian victims of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan

A senior judge in Pakistan has ordered police to formally investigate former CIA agents for allegedly authorizing a 2009 drone strike.

If the case moves forward, it may subject the U.S. embassy in Islamabad to sensitive police investigations and even result in U.S. citizens for the first time being charged with murder for covert drone strikes in the South Asian nation.

Last Tuesday, the Islamabad High Court ordered police to open a criminal case against former CIA Islamabad Station Chief Jonathan Bank and ex-CIA legal counsel John A. Rizzo for murder, conspiracy, terrorism and waging war against Pakistan.

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Pakistan parliament backs neutrality in Yemen conflict

Al Jazeera reports: Pakistan’s parliament has unanimously passed a resolution affirming the country’s “neutrality” in the Yemen conflict, in a move that indicates the South Asian country will not be joining a Saudi-led military coalition that is currently fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen.

A joint session of parliament has been debating the issue in the capital Islamabad all week, and unanimously passed the resolution, presented by Ishaq Dar, the finance minister, on Friday afternoon.

The resolution expresses the “desire that Pakistan should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict”, while reaffirming Pakistan’s “unequivocal support of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”.

Members of parliament agreed that Pakistan would “stand shoulder to shoulder” with Saudi Arabia in case of a violation of that country’s territorial integrity, or a threat to Muslim holy sites in Mecca and Medina. [Continue reading…]

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Ground forces expected to enter war in Yemen

BuzzFeed reports: A consensus appears to be building in Riyadh, Cairo, and Islamabad toward inserting ground troops into the conflict in Yemen.

One Egyptian military official told BuzzFeed News the decision had already been made. “Ground forces will enter the war,” the official said on condition of anonymity in order to discuss classified military operations.

The timing of such a move, which would be a significant escalation in the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen, is still being discussed. But the Egyptian military source said it could happen as soon as “two or three days.”

There has been no official comment from the Egyptian government on sending troops or the size of any potential operation. Youssef al-Sharqawy, Egypt’s Ambassador to Yemen, however, refused to rule out ground troops in an interview with al-Monitor on Tuesday.

Two weeks of Saudi airstrikes have failed to halt the advances of the Huthis, a Zaydi-Shi’a group that has taken over large parts of the country. Saudi Arabia, which sees itself locked in a battle with Iran for control of the region, is portraying the Huthis as an Iranian proxy. [Continue reading…]

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Why Pakistan is still undecided about sending troops to fight in Yemen

The Washington Post: War-weary Pakistani lawmakers are balking at committing troops to the Saudi-led campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, complicating efforts by Saudi Arabia to build a broad coalition for a possible ground offensive.

On Wednesday, for the third consecutive day, Pakistan’s Parliament debated whether to send troops, and perhaps aircraft and ships, to the Arabian Peninsula in support of one of the country’s closest allies.

Over the past four decades, the 550,000-member Pakistani army has repeatedly dispatched forces to Saudi Arabia to back a strategic alliance between the two Sunni-dominated nations. But the latest request from Saudi Arabia is prompting strong opposition from several major Pakistani political parties, reflecting the country’s fatigue with armed conflict as well as unease over whether events in Yemen could further inflame sectarian tensions in the Muslim world.

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Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis

Robin McKie writes: Water is the driving force of all nature, Leonardo da Vinci claimed. Unfortunately for our planet, supplies are now running dry – at an alarming rate. The world’s population continues to soar but that rise in numbers has not been matched by an accompanying increase in supplies of fresh water.

The consequences are proving to be profound. Across the globe, reports reveal huge areas in crisis today as reservoirs and aquifers dry up. More than a billion individuals – one in seven people on the planet – now lack access to safe drinking water.

Last week in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, home to 20 million people, and once known as the City of Drizzle,drought got so bad that residents began drilling through basement floors and car parks to try to reach groundwater. City officials warned last week that rationing of supplies was likely soon. Citizens might have access to water for only two days a week, they added.

In California, officials have revealed that the state has entered its fourth year of drought with January this year becoming the driest since meteorological records began. At the same time, per capita water use has continued to rise. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS’s South Asia branch threatens Pakistan

Tom Hussain reports: The recently formed South Asian chapter of ISIL has made a military alliance with the Pakistani Taliban and other militants to resist advancing security forces in the Khyber tribal area bordering Afghanistan, militants and security analysts said.

The alliance has been formed to marshal scattered manpower and weapons, and deploy them under a unified military command supervised by a committee of representatives of the four member factions: Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Khyber-based Lashkar-i-Islam, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and ISIL “Khorasan”.

Khorasan is a historic term used by militants to describe a region including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India.

The involvement of ISIL Khorasan in the alliance represents the group’s first political and military activity in the region after announcing its formation in a video posted on militant websites on January 10.

In the video, a collection of former Pakistani and Afghan Taliban faction commanders swore an oath of allegiance to ISIL chief Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, and named a Pakistani militant, Hafiz Saeed Orakzai, as head of the South Asia chapter. Other commanders were introduced in person and by rank — a risky, defiant move, according to security analysts based in Islamabad.

ISIL Khorasan has a force of fighters numbering in the hundreds, all of them Pakistani tribesmen. [Continue reading…]

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Conflicts that were under-reported in 2014: Libya, Yemen, Assam, The Sudans, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Kenya

Ishaan Tharoor writes: 2014 has been a brutal year. The death toll of Syria’s ongoing civil war likely eclipsed 200,000, while the hideous rise of the Islamic State spurred a U.S.-led bombing campaign. A separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine led to thousands of deaths and clouded relations between the West and Moscow, which is believed to be aiding the rebels. And an Israeli offensive against Hamas militants saw whole stretches of the Gaza Strip reduced to rubble.

Sadly, there was plenty of other mayhem and violence that didn’t make newspaper frontpages as often. Here are seven awful conflicts that merited more attention. [Continue reading…]

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In 2008 Mumbai attacks, piles of spy data, but an uncompleted puzzle

Sebastian Rotella, James Glanz and David E. Sanger report: In the fall of 2008, a 30-year-old computer expert named Zarrar Shah roamed from outposts in the northern mountains of Pakistan to safe houses near the Arabian Sea, plotting mayhem in Mumbai, India’s commercial gem.

Mr. Shah, the technology chief of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani terror group, and fellow conspirators used Google Earth to show militants the routes to their targets in the city. He set up an Internet phone system to disguise his location by routing his calls through New Jersey. Shortly before an assault that would kill 166 people, including six Americans, Mr. Shah searched online for a Jewish hostel and two luxury hotels, all sites of the eventual carnage.

But he did not know that by September, the British were spying on many of his online activities, tracking his Internet searches and messages, according to former American and Indian officials and classified documents disclosed by Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.

They were not the only spies watching. Mr. Shah drew similar scrutiny from an Indian intelligence agency, according to a former official who was briefed on the operation. The United States was unaware of the two agencies’ efforts, American officials say, but had picked up signs of a plot through other electronic and human sources, and warned Indian security officials several times in the months before the attack.

What happened next may rank among the most devastating near-misses in the history of spycraft. The intelligence agencies of the three nations did not pull together all the strands gathered by their high-tech surveillance and other tools, which might have allowed them to disrupt a terror strike so scarring that it is often called India’s 9/11.

“No one put together the whole picture,” said Shivshankar Menon, who was India’s foreign secretary at the time of the attacks and later became the national security adviser. “Not the Americans, not the Brits, not the Indians.” [Continue reading…]

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