Michael Morell: Separating Fact From Seymour Hersh’s Fiction About bin LadenPosted: May 15, 2015
Osama’s body was chopped up and dropped from a helicopter? That’s odd. I saw video of his burial at sea
Michael Morell writes: As a career intelligence officer, I learned that there are few things in life of which you can be absolutely certain. But I am positive that a lengthy new article by journalist Seymour Hersh, which is getting widespread attention with a whole new tale about how Osama bin Laden was brought to justice, is wrong in almost every significant respect.
I can be certain because I was deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency when senior officials from our Counterterrorism Center first brought to CIA Director Leon Panetta and me the news that they had trailed an individual whom they believed was a bin Laden courier to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. And I was there for every meeting that followed as we worked through the evidence that led our analysts to conclude that the most-wanted man in the world was hiding at the compound.
[Order Michael Morell’s book “The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism–From al Qa’ida to ISIS” from Amazon.com]
So I had good reason to know that Mr. Hersh’s 10,000-word story in the London Review of Books was filled with falsehoods. But here’s something I got wrong: I was certain that Mr. Hersh’s allegations would be quickly dismissed. After all, there was a public record about the raid in statements by the White House, Pentagon and CIA, and in books by former officials such as Mr. Panetta, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others. Then there were the media appearances by the Navy SEAL who says he personally shot bin Laden. It should have been clear that either Mr. Hersh’s version of the truth was bogus or that we all had participated in one of the most successful and complex conspiracies in modern history.
Despite the many and obvious holes in Mr. Hersh’s story, his allegations gained some traction. A number of respected news organizations ranging from the New York Times to NBC News picked up slivers of information in Mr. Hersh’s account and essentially said, “Yeah, we heard something like that too.” Almost all of these accounts were attributed to anonymous former officials—many of whom admitted having at best secondhand information. Incredibly, these “I know a guy, who knows a guy who swears that . . .” accounts were given credence over on-the-record statements made in the past four years by people who were in the room—or on the scene.
Mr. Hersh has appeared in the media in recent days saying that when I and others asserted that his report was wrong, we were offering “non-denial denials” because our objections lacked specificity. All right, let me specifically address his major allegations.
• Mr. Hersh says the White House lied when it asserted that the bin Laden raid was, as he puts it, an “all-American affair and that senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services agency (ISI) were not told in advance.” The truth is that the decision not to tell the Pakistanis was made early in the discussions of our options. We would have liked to have made the raid a joint operation with the Pakistanis—what better way to strengthen the bilateral relationship?—but we simply couldn’t trust that someone in the Pakistani system would not tip off bin Laden. I was present during all of these discussions when it was resolved that we wouldn’t inform Pakistan until after the fact.
• Mr. Hersh claims that the Pakistanis cleared the way for U.S. helicopters to cross their airspace. Wrong again. With Director Panetta, I was in the CIA operations center for the raid monitoring the Pakistani response, concerned that they would detect the flight as it crossed the Afghan-Pak border and flew to its target in Abbottabad.
• He claims that we learned of bin Laden’s location not from following the courier and from excellent intelligence analysis, but from a Pakistani intelligence officer who walked into the U.S. Embassy…(read more)
Mr. Morell, a former deputy director of the CIA, is the author of “The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism—From al Qa’ida to ISIS,” published this week by Twelve.
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- Can Only Seymour Hersh See Through the Fog of War? (nationalreview.com)
- US Navy Investigating Former SEAL for Disclosing Too Much on OBL Raid (thegatewaypundit.com)
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