ISRAELI SPECIAL FORCES ASSASSINATED SENIOR SYRIAN OFFICIAL

On Aug. 1, 2008, a small team of Israeli commandos entered the waters near Tartus, Syria, and shot and killed a Syrian general as he was holding a dinner party at his seaside weekend home. Muhammad Suleiman, a top aide to the Syrian president, was shot in the head and neck, and the Israeli military team escaped by sea.

While Israel has never spoken about its involvement, secret U.S. intelligence files confirm that Israeli special operations forces assassinated the general while he vacationed at his luxury villa on the Syrian coast.

The internal National Security Agency document, provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, is the first official confirmation that the assassination of Suleiman was an Israeli military operation, and ends speculation that an internal dispute within the Syrian government led to his death.

A top-secret entry in the NSA’s internal version of Wikipedia, called Intellipedia, described the assassination by “Israeli naval commandos” near the port town of Tartus as the “first known instance of Israel targeting a legitimate government official.” The details of the assassination were included in a “Manhunting Timeline” within the NSA’s intelligence repository.

According to three former U.S. intelligence officers with extensive experience in the Middle East, the document’s classification markings indicate that the NSA learned of the assassination through surveillance. The officials asked that they not be identified, because they were discussing classified information.

The information in the document is labeled “SI,” which means that the intelligence was collected by monitoring communications signals. “We’ve had access to Israeli military communications for some time,” said one of the former U.S. intelligence officers.

The former officer said knowledge within the NSA about surveillance of Israeli military units is especially sensitive because the NSA has Israeli intelligence officers working jointly with its officers at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland.

Brig. Gen. Suleiman was a top military and intelligence adviser to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, and was suspected of being behind the Syrian government’s efforts to facilitate Iran’s provision of arms and military training to Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon. Suleiman was also reported to have been in charge of the security and construction of Syria’s Al Kibar nuclear facility, which Israel destroyed in a 2007 air attack. The NSA document described part of Suleiman’s responsibilities as “sensitive military issues.”

Israel’s involvement in Suleiman’s assassination raises questions about both the purpose of the killing, as well as whether Israel violated international law in conducting the operation.

“The Israelis may have had many good reasons to kill [Suleiman],” said Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor of international law at Notre Dame. “But under international law it’s absolutely clear that in Syria in 2008, they had no rights under the laws of war because at the time there was no armed conflict. They had no right to kill General Suleiman.”

The Assad government withheld news of the assassination for four days before announcing Suleiman’s death. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement.

According to a classified State Department cable published online by WikiLeaks, the Syrian government’s investigation into the killing turned up $80 million in cash in Suleiman’s home. “[Assad] was said to be devastated by the discovery, and, fearing [Suleiman] had betrayed him, redirected the investigation from solving his murder to finding out how the general had acquired so much money,” the cable noted.

Last year, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah told journalists that the Israeli government killed Suleiman, and that the assassination was “linked” to Suleiman’s role in the July 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

“For them it’s not only payback, but mitigates future operations,” said one of the retired intelligence officers, who has worked with the Israelis but does not have direct knowledge of the Suleiman assassination. “They will take a target of opportunity if it presents itself.”

The Israeli assassination of Suleiman came less than six months after a joint Mossad-CIA team assassinated a top Hezbollah operative in the heart of Damascus, according to several current and former U.S. military and intelligence officials. U.S. and Israeli involvement in that attack, which targeted Hezbollah operative Imad Mughniyeh, was first reported in detail by the Washington Post. The CIA had long sought Mughniyeh for his role in several terrorist attacks against Americans, including the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, which left 241 American service members dead.

The NSA declined to comment. A spokesperson for the Israeli Prime Minister did not respond to several requests for comment.

Matthew Cole
July 15 2015, 1:23 p.m.

Find this story at 15 July 2015

Copyright https://firstlook.org/theintercept/

The Killing of Osama bin Laden (2015)

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.

‘When your version comes out – if you do it – people in Pakistan will be tremendously grateful,’ Durrani told me. ‘For a long time people have stopped trusting what comes out about bin Laden from the official mouths. There will be some negative political comment and some anger, but people like to be told the truth, and what you’ve told me is essentially what I have heard from former colleagues who have been on a fact-finding mission since this episode.’ As a former ISI head, he said, he had been told shortly after the raid by ‘people in the “strategic community” who would know’ that there had been an informant who had alerted the US to bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, and that after his killing the US’s betrayed promises left Kayani and Pasha exposed.

The major US source for the account that follows is a retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. He also was privy to many aspects of the Seals’ training for the raid, and to the various after-action reports. Two other US sources, who had access to corroborating information, have been longtime consultants to the Special Operations Command. I also received information from inside Pakistan about widespread dismay among the senior ISI and military leadership – echoed later by Durrani – over Obama’s decision to go public immediately with news of bin Laden’s death. The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

*

It began with a walk-in. In August 2010 a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer approached Jonathan Bank, then the CIA’s station chief at the US embassy in Islamabad. He offered to tell the CIA where to find bin Laden in return for the reward that Washington had offered in 2001. Walk-ins are assumed by the CIA to be unreliable, and the response from the agency’s headquarters was to fly in a polygraph team. The walk-in passed the test. ‘So now we’ve got a lead on bin Laden living in a compound in Abbottabad, but how do we really know who it is?’ was the CIA’s worry at the time, the retired senior US intelligence official told me.

The US initially kept what it knew from the Pakistanis. ‘The fear was that if the existence of the source was made known, the Pakistanis themselves would move bin Laden to another location. So only a very small number of people were read into the source and his story,’ the retired official said. ‘The CIA’s first goal was to check out the quality of the informant’s information.’ The compound was put under satellite surveillance. The CIA rented a house in Abbottabad to use as a forward observation base and staffed it with Pakistani employees and foreign nationals. Later on, the base would serve as a contact point with the ISI; it attracted little attention because Abbottabad is a holiday spot full of houses rented on short leases. A psychological profile of the informant was prepared. (The informant and his family were smuggled out of Pakistan and relocated in the Washington area. He is now a consultant for the CIA.)

‘By October the military and intelligence community were discussing the possible military options. Do we drop a bunker buster on the compound or take him out with a drone strike? Perhaps send someone to kill him, single assassin style? But then we’d have no proof of who he was,’ the retired official said. ‘We could see some guy is walking around at night, but we have no intercepts because there’s no commo coming from the compound.’

In October, Obama was briefed on the intelligence. His response was cautious, the retired official said. ‘It just made no sense that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad. It was just too crazy. The president’s position was emphatic: “Don’t talk to me about this any more unless you have proof that it really is bin Laden.”’ The immediate goal of the CIA leadership and the Joint Special Operations Command was to get Obama’s support. They believed they would get this if they got DNA evidence, and if they could assure him that a night assault of the compound would carry no risk. The only way to accomplish both things, the retired official said, ‘was to get the Pakistanis on board’.

During the late autumn of 2010, the US continued to keep quiet about the walk-in, and Kayani and Pasha continued to insist to their American counterparts that they had no information about bin Laden’s whereabouts. ‘The next step was to figure out how to ease Kayani and Pasha into it – to tell them that we’ve got intelligence showing that there is a high-value target in the compound, and to ask them what they know about the target,’ the retired official said. ‘The compound was not an armed enclave – no machine guns around, because it was under ISI control.’ The walk-in had told the US that bin Laden had lived undetected from 2001 to 2006 with some of his wives and children in the Hindu Kush mountains, and that ‘the ISI got to him by paying some of the local tribal people to betray him.’ (Reports after the raid placed him elsewhere in Pakistan during this period.) Bank was also told by the walk-in that bin Laden was very ill, and that early on in his confinement at Abbottabad, the ISI had ordered Amir Aziz, a doctor and a major in the Pakistani army, to move nearby to provide treatment. ‘The truth is that bin Laden was an invalid, but we cannot say that,’ the retired official said. ‘“You mean you guys shot a cripple? Who was about to grab his AK-47?”’

‘It didn’t take long to get the co-operation we needed, because the Pakistanis wanted to ensure the continued release of American military aid, a good percentage of which was anti-terrorism funding that finances personal security, such as bullet-proof limousines and security guards and housing for the ISI leadership,’ the retired official said. He added that there were also under-the-table personal ‘incentives’ that were financed by off-the-books Pentagon contingency funds. ‘The intelligence community knew what the Pakistanis needed to agree – there was the carrot. And they chose the carrot. It was a win-win. We also did a little blackmail. We told them we would leak the fact that you’ve got bin Laden in your backyard. We knew their friends and enemies’ – the Taliban and jihadist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan – ‘would not like it.’

A worrying factor at this early point, according to the retired official, was Saudi Arabia, which had been financing bin Laden’s upkeep since his seizure by the Pakistanis. ‘The Saudis didn’t want bin Laden’s presence revealed to us because he was a Saudi, and so they told the Pakistanis to keep him out of the picture. The Saudis feared if we knew we would pressure the Pakistanis to let bin Laden start talking to us about what the Saudis had been doing with al-Qaida. And they were dropping money – lots of it. The Pakistanis, in turn, were concerned that the Saudis might spill the beans about their control of bin Laden. The fear was that if the US found out about bin Laden from Riyadh, all hell would break out. The Americans learning about bin Laden’s imprisonment from a walk-in was not the worst thing.’

Despite their constant public feuding, American and Pakistani military and intelligence services have worked together closely for decades on counterterrorism in South Asia. Both services often find it useful to engage in public feuds ‘to cover their asses’, as the retired official put it, but they continually share intelligence used for drone attacks, and co-operate on covert operations. At the same time, it’s understood in Washington that elements of the ISI believe that maintaining a relationship with the Taliban leadership inside Afghanistan is essential to national security. The ISI’s strategic aim is to balance Indian influence in Kabul; the Taliban is also seen in Pakistan as a source of jihadist shock troops who would back Pakistan against India in a confrontation over Kashmir.

Adding to the tension was the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, often depicted in the Western press as an ‘Islamic bomb’ that might be transferred by Pakistan to an embattled nation in the Middle East in the event of a crisis with Israel. The US looked the other way when Pakistan began building its weapons system in the 1970s and it’s widely believed it now has more than a hundred nuclear warheads. It’s understood in Washington that US security depends on the maintenance of strong military and intelligence ties to Pakistan. The belief is mirrored in Pakistan.

‘The Pakistani army sees itself as family,’ the retired official said. ‘Officers call soldiers their sons and all officers are “brothers”. The attitude is different in the American military. The senior Pakistani officers believe they are the elite and have got to look out for all of the people, as keepers of the flame against Muslim fundamentalism. The Pakistanis also know that their trump card against aggression from India is a strong relationship with the United States. They will never cut their person-to-person ties with us.’

Like all CIA station chiefs, Bank was working undercover, but that ended in early December 2010 when he was publicly accused of murder in a criminal complaint filed in Islamabad by Karim Khan, a Pakistani journalist whose son and brother, according to local news reports, had been killed by a US drone strike. Allowing Bank to be named was a violation of diplomatic protocol on the part of the Pakistani authorities, and it brought a wave of unwanted publicity. Bank was ordered to leave Pakistan by the CIA, whose officials subsequently told the Associated Press he was transferred because of concerns for his safety. The New York Times reported that there was ‘strong suspicion’ the ISI had played a role in leaking Bank’s name to Khan. There was speculation that he was outed as payback for the publication in a New York lawsuit a month earlier of the names of ISI chiefs in connection with the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008. But there was a collateral reason, the retired official said, for the CIA’s willingness to send Bank back to America. The Pakistanis needed cover in case their co-operation with the Americans in getting rid of bin Laden became known. The Pakistanis could say: “You’re talking about me? We just kicked out your station chief.”’

*

The bin Laden compound was less than two miles from the Pakistan Military Academy, and a Pakistani army combat battalion headquarters was another mile or so away. Abbottabad is less than 15 minutes by helicopter from Tarbela Ghazi, an important base for ISI covert operations and the facility where those who guard Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal are trained. ‘Ghazi is why the ISI put bin Laden in Abbottabad in the first place,’ the retired official said, ‘to keep him under constant supervision.’

The risks for Obama were high at this early stage, especially because there was a troubling precedent: the failed 1980 attempt to rescue the American hostages in Tehran. That failure was a factor in Jimmy Carter’s loss to Ronald Reagan. Obama’s worries were realistic, the retired official said. ‘Was bin Laden ever there? Was the whole story a product of Pakistani deception? What about political blowback in case of failure?’ After all, as the retired official said, ‘If the mission fails, Obama’s just a black Jimmy Carter and it’s all over for re-election.’

Obama was anxious for reassurance that the US was going to get the right man. The proof was to come in the form of bin Laden’s DNA. The planners turned for help to Kayani and Pasha, who asked Aziz to obtain the specimens. Soon after the raid the press found out that Aziz had been living in a house near the bin Laden compound: local reporters discovered his name in Urdu on a plate on the door. Pakistani officials denied that Aziz had any connection to bin Laden, but the retired official told me that Aziz had been rewarded with a share of the $25 million reward the US had put up because the DNA sample had showed conclusively that it was bin Laden in Abbottabad. (In his subsequent testimony to a Pakistani commission investigating the bin Laden raid, Aziz said that he had witnessed the attack on Abbottabad, but had no knowledge of who was living in the compound and had been ordered by a superior officer to stay away from the scene.)

Bargaining continued over the way the mission would be executed. ‘Kayani eventually tells us yes, but he says you can’t have a big strike force. You have to come in lean and mean. And you have to kill him, or there is no deal,’ the retired official said. The agreement was struck by the end of January 2011, and Joint Special Operations Command prepared a list of questions to be answered by the Pakistanis: ‘How can we be assured of no outside intervention? What are the defences inside the compound and its exact dimensions? Where are bin Laden’s rooms and exactly how big are they? How many steps in the stairway? Where are the doors to his rooms, and are they reinforced with steel? How thick?’ The Pakistanis agreed to permit a four-man American cell – a Navy Seal, a CIA case officer and two communications specialists – to set up a liaison office at Tarbela Ghazi for the coming assault. By then, the military had constructed a mock-up of the compound in Abbottabad at a secret former nuclear test site in Nevada, and an elite Seal team had begun rehearsing for the attack.

The US had begun to cut back on aid to Pakistan – to ‘turn off the spigot’, in the retired official’s words. The provision of 18 new F-16 fighter aircraft was delayed, and under-the-table cash payments to the senior leaders were suspended. In April 2011 Pasha met the CIA director, Leon Panetta, at agency headquarters. ‘Pasha got a commitment that the United States would turn the money back on, and we got a guarantee that there would be no Pakistani opposition during the mission,’ the retired official said. ‘Pasha also insisted that Washington stop complaining about Pakistan’s lack of co-operation with the American war on terrorism.’ 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.’

At one of his meetings with Panetta, according to the retired official and a source within the CIA, Pasha was asked by a senior CIA official whether he saw himself as acting in essence as an agent for al-Qaida and the Taliban. ‘He answered no, but said the ISI needed to have some control.’ The message, as the CIA saw it, according to the retired official, was that Kayani and Pasha viewed bin Laden ‘as a resource, and they were more interested in their [own] survival than they were in the United States’.

A Pakistani with close ties to the senior leadership of the ISI told me that ‘there was a deal with your top guys. We were very reluctant, but it had to be done – not because of personal enrichment, but because all of the American aid programmes would be cut off. Your guys said we will starve you out if you don’t do it, and the okay was given while Pasha was in Washington. The deal was not only to keep the taps open, but Pasha was told there would be more goodies for us.’ The Pakistani said that Pasha’s visit also resulted in a commitment from the US to give Pakistan ‘a freer hand’ in Afghanistan as it began its military draw-down there. ‘And so our top dogs justified the deal by saying this is for our country.’

*

Pasha and Kayani were responsible for ensuring that Pakistan’s army and air defence command would not track or engage with the US helicopters used on the mission. The American cell at Tarbela Ghazi was charged with co-ordinating communications between the ISI, the senior US officers at their command post in Afghanistan, and the two Black Hawk helicopters; the goal was to ensure that no stray Pakistani fighter plane on border patrol spotted the intruders and took action to stop them. The initial plan said that news of the raid shouldn’t be announced straightaway. All units in the Joint Special Operations Command operate under stringent secrecy and the JSOC leadership believed, as did Kayani and Pasha, that the killing of bin Laden would not be made public for as long as seven days, maybe longer. Then a carefully constructed cover story would be issued: Obama would announce that DNA analysis confirmed that bin Laden had been killed in a drone raid in the Hindu Kush, on Afghanistan’s side of the border. The Americans who planned the mission assured Kayani and Pasha that their co-operation would never be made public. It was understood by all that if the Pakistani role became known, there would be violent protests – bin Laden was considered a hero by many Pakistanis – and Pasha and Kayani and their families would be in danger, and the Pakistani army publicly disgraced.

It was clear to all by this point, the retired official said, that bin Laden would not survive: ‘Pasha told us at a meeting in April that he could not risk leaving bin Laden in the compound now that we know he’s there. Too many people in the Pakistani chain of command know about the mission. He and Kayani had to tell the whole story to the directors of the air defence command and to a few local commanders.

‘Of course the guys knew the target was bin Laden and he was there under Pakistani control,’ the retired official said. ‘Otherwise, they would not have done the mission without air cover. It was clearly and absolutely a premeditated murder.’ A former Seal commander, who has led and participated in dozens of similar missions over the past decade, assured me that ‘we were not going to keep bin Laden alive – to allow the terrorist to live. By law, we know what we’re doing inside Pakistan is a homicide. We’ve come to grips with that. Each one of us, when we do these missions, say to ourselves, “Let’s face it. We’re going to commit a murder.”’ The White House’s initial account claimed that bin Laden had been brandishing a weapon; the story was aimed at deflecting those who questioned the legality of the US administration’s targeted assassination programme. The US has consistently maintained, despite widely reported remarks by people involved with the mission, that bin Laden would have been taken alive if he had immediately surrendered.

*

At the Abbottabad compound ISI guards were posted around the clock to keep watch over bin Laden and his wives and children. They were under orders to leave as soon as they heard the rotors of the US helicopters. The town was dark: the electricity supply had been cut off on the orders of the ISI hours before the raid began. One of the Black Hawks crashed inside the walls of the compound, injuring many on board. ‘The guys knew the TOT [time on target] had to be tight because they would wake up the whole town going in,’ the retired official said. The cockpit of the crashed Black Hawk, with its communication and navigational gear, had to be destroyed by concussion grenades, and this would create a series of explosions and a fire visible for miles. Two Chinook helicopters had flown from Afghanistan to a nearby Pakistani intelligence base to provide logistical support, and one of them was immediately dispatched to Abbottabad. But because the helicopter had been equipped with a bladder loaded with extra fuel for the two Black Hawks, it first had to be reconfigured as a troop carrier. The crash of the Black Hawk and the need to fly in a replacement were nerve-wracking and time-consuming setbacks, but the Seals continued with their mission. There was no firefight as they moved into the compound; the ISI guards had gone. ‘Everyone in Pakistan has a gun and high-profile, wealthy folks like those who live in Abbottabad have armed bodyguards, and yet there were no weapons in the compound,’ the retired official pointed out. Had there been any opposition, the team would have been highly vulnerable. Instead, the retired official said, an ISI liaison officer flying with the Seals guided them into the darkened house and up a staircase to bin Laden’s quarters. The Seals had been warned by the Pakistanis that heavy steel doors blocked the stairwell on the first and second-floor landings; bin Laden’s rooms were on the third floor. The Seal squad used explosives to blow the doors open, without injuring anyone. One of bin Laden’s wives was screaming hysterically and a bullet – perhaps a stray round – struck her knee. Aside from those that hit bin Laden, no other shots were fired. (The Obama administration’s account would hold otherwise.)

‘They knew where the target was – third floor, second door on the right,’ the retired official said. ‘Go straight there. Osama was cowering and retreated into the bedroom. Two shooters followed him and opened up. Very simple, very straightforward, very professional hit.’ Some of the Seals were appalled later at the White House’s initial insistence that they had shot bin Laden in self-defence, the retired official said. ‘Six of the Seals’ finest, most experienced NCOs, faced with an unarmed elderly civilian, had to kill him in self-defence? The house was shabby and bin Laden was living in a cell with bars on the window and barbed wire on the roof. The rules of engagement were that if bin Laden put up any opposition they were authorised to take lethal action. But if they suspected he might have some means of opposition, like an explosive vest under his robe, they could also kill him. So here’s this guy in a mystery robe and they shot him. It’s not because he was reaching for a weapon. The rules gave them absolute authority to kill the guy.’ The later White House claim that only one or two bullets were fired into his head was ‘bullshit’, the retired official said. ‘The squad came through the door and obliterated him. As the Seals say, “We kicked his ass and took his gas.”’

After they killed bin Laden, ‘the Seals were just there, some with physical injuries from the crash, waiting for the relief chopper,’ the retired official said. ‘Twenty tense minutes. The Black Hawk is still burning. There are no city lights. No electricity. No police. No fire trucks. They have no prisoners.’ Bin Laden’s wives and children were left for the ISI to interrogate and relocate. ‘Despite all the talk,’ the retired official continued, there were ‘no garbage bags full of computers and storage devices. The guys just stuffed some books and papers they found in his room in their backpacks. The Seals weren’t there because they thought bin Laden was running a command centre for al-Qaida operations, as the White House would later tell the media. And they were not intelligence experts gathering information inside that house.’

On a normal assault mission, the retired official said, there would be no waiting around if a chopper went down. ‘The Seals would have finished the mission, thrown off their guns and gear, and jammed into the remaining Black Hawk and di-di-maued’ – Vietnamese slang for leaving in a rush – ‘out of there, with guys hanging out of the doors. They would not have blown the chopper – no commo gear is worth a dozen lives – unless they knew they were safe. Instead they stood around outside the compound, waiting for the bus to arrive.’ Pasha and Kayani had delivered on all their promises.

*

The backroom argument inside the White House began as soon as it was clear that the mission had succeeded. Bin Laden’s body was presumed to be on its way to Afghanistan. Should Obama stand by the agreement with Kayani and Pasha and pretend a week or so later that bin Laden had been killed in a drone attack in the mountains, or should he go public immediately? The downed helicopter made it easy for Obama’s political advisers to urge the latter plan. The explosion and fireball would be impossible to hide, and word of what had happened was bound to leak. Obama had to ‘get out in front of the story’ before someone in the Pentagon did: waiting would diminish the political impact.

Not everyone agreed. Robert Gates, the secretary of defence, was the most outspoken of those who insisted that the agreements with Pakistan had to be honoured. In his memoir, Duty, Gates did not mask his anger:

Before we broke up and the president headed upstairs to tell the American people what had just happened, I reminded everyone that the techniques, tactics and procedures the Seals had used in the bin Laden operation were used every night in Afghanistan … it was therefore essential that we agree not to release any operational details of the raid. That we killed him, I said, is all we needed to say. Everybody in that room agreed to keep mum on details. That commitment lasted about five hours. The initial leaks came from the White House and CIA. They just couldn’t wait to brag and to claim credit. The facts were often wrong … Nonetheless the information just kept pouring out. I was outraged and at one point, told [the national security adviser, Tom] Donilon, ‘Why doesn’t everybody just shut the fuck up?’ To no avail.

Obama’s speech was put together in a rush, the retired official said, and was viewed by his advisers as a political document, not a message that needed to be submitted for clearance to the national security bureaucracy. This series of self-serving and inaccurate statements would create chaos in the weeks following. Obama said that his administration had discovered that bin Laden was in Pakistan through ‘a possible lead’ the previous August; to many in the CIA the statement suggested a specific event, such as a walk-in. The remark led to a new cover story claiming that the CIA’s brilliant analysts had unmasked a courier network handling bin Laden’s continuing flow of operational orders to al-Qaida. Obama also praised ‘a small team of Americans’ for their care in avoiding civilian deaths and said: ‘After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.’ Two more details now had to be supplied for the cover story: a description of the firefight that never happened, and a story about what happened to the corpse. Obama went on to praise the Pakistanis: ‘It’s important to note that our counterterrorism co-operation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding.’ That statement risked exposing Kayani and Pasha. The White House’s solution was to ignore what Obama had said and order anyone talking to the press to insist that the Pakistanis had played no role in killing bin Laden. Obama left the clear impression that he and his advisers hadn’t known for sure that bin Laden was in Abbottabad, but only had information ‘about the possibility’. This led first to the story that the Seals had determined they’d killed the right man by having a six-foot-tall Seal lie next to the corpse for comparison (bin Laden was known to be six foot four); and then to the claim that a DNA test had been performed on the corpse and demonstrated conclusively that the Seals had killed bin Laden. But, according to the retired official, it wasn’t clear from the Seals’ early reports whether all of bin Laden’s body, or any of it, made it back to Afghanistan.

Gates wasn’t the only official who was distressed by Obama’s decision to speak without clearing his remarks in advance, the retired official said, ‘but he was the only one protesting. Obama didn’t just double-cross Gates, he double-crossed everyone. This was not the fog of war. The fact that there was an agreement with the Pakistanis and no contingency analysis of what was to be disclosed if something went wrong – that wasn’t even discussed. And once it went wrong, they had to make up a new cover story on the fly.’ There was a legitimate reason for some deception: the role of the Pakistani walk-in had to be protected.

The White House press corps was told in a briefing shortly after Obama’s announcement that the death of bin Laden was ‘the culmination of years of careful and highly advanced intelligence work’ that focused on tracking a group of couriers, including one who was known to be close to bin Laden. Reporters were told that a team of specially assembled CIA and National Security Agency analysts had traced the courier to a highly secure million-dollar compound in Abbottabad. After months of observation, the American intelligence community had ‘high confidence’ that a high-value target was living in the compound, and it was ‘assessed that there was a strong probability that [it] was Osama bin Laden’. The US assault team ran into a firefight on entering the compound and three adult males – two of them believed to be the couriers – were slain, along with bin Laden. Asked if bin Laden had defended himself, one of the briefers said yes: ‘He did resist the assault force. And he was killed in a firefight.’

The next day John Brennan, then Obama’s senior adviser for counterterrorism, had the task of talking up Obama’s valour while trying to smooth over the misstatements in his speech. He provided a more detailed but equally misleading account of the raid and its planning. Speaking on the record, which he rarely does, Brennan said that the mission was carried out by a group of Navy Seals who had been instructed to take bin Laden alive, if possible. He said the US had no information suggesting that anyone in the Pakistani government or military knew bin Laden’s whereabouts: ‘We didn’t contact the Pakistanis until after all of our people, all of our aircraft were out of Pakistani airspace.’ He emphasised the courage of Obama’s decision to order the strike, and said that the White House had no information ‘that confirmed that bin Laden was at the compound’ before the raid began. Obama, he said, ‘made what I believe was one of the gutsiest calls of any president in recent memory’. Brennan increased the number killed by the Seals inside the compound to five: bin Laden, a courier, his brother, a bin Laden son, and one of the women said to be shielding bin Laden.

Asked whether bin Laden had fired on the Seals, as some reporters had been told, Brennan repeated what would become a White House mantra: ‘He was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in. And whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don’t know … Here is bin Laden, who has been calling for these attacks … living in an area that is far removed from the front, hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield … [It] just speaks to I think the nature of the individual he was.’

Gates also objected to the idea, pushed by Brennan and Leon Panetta, that US intelligence had learned of bin Laden’s whereabouts from information acquired by waterboarding and other forms of torture. ‘All of this is going on as the Seals are flying home from their mission. The agency guys know the whole story,’ the retired official said. ‘It was a group of annuitants who did it.’ (Annuitants are retired CIA officers who remain active on contract.) ‘They had been called in by some of the mission planners in the agency to help with the cover story. So the old-timers come in and say why not admit that we got some of the information about bin Laden from enhanced interrogation?’ At the time, there was still talk in Washington about the possible prosecution of CIA agents who had conducted torture.

‘Gates told them this was not going to work,’ the retired official said. ‘He was never on the team. He knew at the eleventh hour of his career not to be a party to this nonsense. But State, the agency and the Pentagon had bought in on the cover story. None of the Seals thought that Obama was going to get on national TV and announce the raid. The Special Forces command was apoplectic. They prided themselves on keeping operational security.’ There was fear in Special Operations, the retired official said, that ‘if the true story of the missions leaked out, the White House bureaucracy was going to blame it on the Seals.’

The White House’s solution was to silence the Seals. On 5 May, every member of the Seal hit team – they had returned to their base in southern Virginia – and some members of the Joint Special Operations Command leadership were presented with a nondisclosure form drafted by the White House’s legal office; it promised civil penalties and a lawsuit for anyone who discussed the mission, in public or private. ‘The Seals were not happy,’ the retired official said. But most of them kept quiet, as did Admiral William McRaven, who was then in charge of JSOC. ‘McRaven was apoplectic. He knew he was fucked by the White House, but he’s a dyed-in-the-wool Seal, and not then a political operator, and he knew there’s no glory in blowing the whistle on the president. When Obama went public with bin Laden’s death, everyone had to scramble around for a new story that made sense, and the planners were stuck holding the bag.’

Within days, some of the early exaggerations and distortions had become obvious and the Pentagon issued a series of clarifying statements. No, bin Laden was not armed when he was shot and killed. And no, bin Laden did not use one of his wives as a shield. The press by and large accepted the explanation that the errors were the inevitable by-product of the White House’s desire to accommodate reporters frantic for details of the mission.

One lie that has endured is that the Seals had to fight their way to their target. Only two Seals have made any public statement: No Easy Day, a first-hand account of the raid by Matt Bissonnette, was published in September 2012; and two years later Rob O’Neill was interviewed by Fox News. Both men had resigned from the navy; both had fired at bin Laden. Their accounts contradicted each other on many details, but their stories generally supported the White House version, especially when it came to the need to kill or be killed as the Seals fought their way to bin Laden. O’Neill even told Fox News that he and his fellow Seals thought ‘We were going to die.’ ‘The more we trained on it, the more we realised … this is going to be a one-way mission.’

But the retired official told me that in their initial debriefings the Seals made no mention of a firefight, or indeed of any opposition. The drama and danger portrayed by Bissonnette and O’Neill met a deep-seated need, the retired official said: ‘Seals cannot live with the fact that they killed bin Laden totally unopposed, and so there has to be an account of their courage in the face of danger. The guys are going to sit around the bar and say it was an easy day? That’s not going to happen.’

There was another reason to claim there had been a firefight inside the compound, the retired official said: to avoid the inevitable question that would arise from an uncontested assault. Where were bin Laden’s guards? Surely, the most sought-after terrorist in the world would have around-the-clock protection. ‘And one of those killed had to be the courier, because he didn’t exist and we couldn’t produce him. The Pakistanis had no choice but to play along with it.’ (Two days after the raid, Reuters published photographs of three dead men that it said it had purchased from an ISI official. Two of the men were later identified by an ISI spokesman as being the alleged courier and his brother.)

*

Five days after the raid the Pentagon press corps was provided with a series of videotapes that were said by US officials to have been taken from a large collection the Seals had removed from the compound, along with as many as 15 computers. Snippets from one of the videos showed a solitary bin Laden looking wan and wrapped in a blanket, watching what appeared to be a video of himself on television. An unnamed official told reporters that the raid produced a ‘treasure trove … the single largest collection of senior terrorist materials ever’, which would provide vital insights into al-Qaida’s plans. The official said the material showed that bin Laden ‘remained an active leader in al-Qaida, providing strategic, operational and tactical instructions to the group … He was far from a figurehead [and] continued to direct even tactical details of the group’s management and to encourage plotting’ from what was described as a command-and-control centre in Abbottabad. ‘He was an active player, making the recent operation even more essential for our nation’s security,’ the official said. The information was so vital, he added, that the administration was setting up an inter-agency task force to process it: ‘He was not simply someone who was penning al-Qaida strategy. He was throwing operational ideas out there and he was also specifically directing other al-Qaida members.’

These claims were fabrications: there wasn’t much activity for bin Laden to exercise command and control over. The retired intelligence official said that the CIA’s internal reporting shows that since bin Laden moved to Abbottabad in 2006 only a handful of terrorist attacks could be linked to the remnants of bin Laden’s al-Qaida. ‘We were told at first,’ the retired official said, ‘that the Seals produced garbage bags of stuff and that the community is generating daily intelligence reports out of this stuff. And then we were told that the community is gathering everything together and needs to translate it. But nothing has come of it. Every single thing they have created turns out not to be true. It’s a great hoax – like the Piltdown man.’ The retired official said that most of the materials from Abbottabad were turned over to the US by the Pakistanis, who later razed the building. The ISI took responsibility for the wives and children of bin Laden, none of whom was made available to the US for questioning.

‘Why create the treasure trove story?’ the retired official said. ‘The White House had to give the impression that bin Laden was still operationally important. Otherwise, why kill him? A cover story was created – that there was a network of couriers coming and going with memory sticks and instructions. All to show that bin Laden remained important.’

In July 2011, the Washington Post published what purported to be a summary of some of these materials. The story’s contradictions were glaring. It said the documents had resulted in more than four hundred intelligence reports within six weeks; it warned of unspecified al-Qaida plots; and it mentioned arrests of suspects ‘who are named or described in emails that bin Laden received’. The Post didn’t identify the suspects or reconcile that detail with the administration’s previous assertions that the Abbottabad compound had no internet connection. Despite their claims that the documents had produced hundreds of reports, the Post also quoted officials saying that their main value wasn’t the actionable intelligence they contained, but that they enabled ‘analysts to construct a more comprehensive portrait of al-Qaida’.

In May 2012, the Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point, a private research group, released translations it had made under a federal government contract of 175 pages of bin Laden documents. Reporters found none of the drama that had been touted in the days after the raid. Patrick Cockburn wrote about the contrast between the administration’s initial claims that bin Laden was the ‘spider at the centre of a conspiratorial web’ and what the translations actually showed: that bin Laden was ‘delusional’ and had ‘limited contact with the outside world outside his compound’.

The retired official disputed the authenticity of the West Point materials: ‘There is no linkage between these documents and the counterterrorism centre at the agency. No intelligence community analysis. When was the last time the CIA: 1) announced it had a significant intelligence find; 2) revealed the source; 3) described the method for processing the materials; 4) revealed the time-line for production; 5) described by whom and where the analysis was taking place, and 6) published the sensitive results before the information had been acted on? No agency professional would support this fairy tale.’

*

In June 2011, it was reported in the New York Times, the Washington Post and all over the Pakistani press that Amir Aziz had been held for questioning in Pakistan; he was, it was said, a CIA informant who had been spying on the comings and goings at the bin Laden compound. Aziz was released, but the retired official said that US intelligence was unable to learn who leaked the highly classified information about his involvement with the mission. Officials in Washington decided they ‘could not take a chance that Aziz’s role in obtaining bin Laden’s DNA also would become known’. A sacrificial lamb was needed, and the one chosen was Shakil Afridi, a 48-year-old Pakistani doctor and sometime CIA asset, who had been arrested by the Pakistanis in late May and accused of assisting the agency. ‘We went to the Pakistanis and said go after Afridi,’ the retired official said. ‘We had to cover the whole issue of how we got the DNA.’ It was soon reported that the CIA had organised a fake vaccination programme in Abbottabad with Afridi’s help in a failed attempt to obtain bin Laden’s DNA. Afridi’s legitimate medical operation was run independently of local health authorities, was well financed and offered free vaccinations against hepatitis B. Posters advertising the programme were displayed throughout the area. Afridi was later accused of treason and sentenced to 33 years in prison because of his ties to an extremist. News of the CIA-sponsored programme created widespread anger in Pakistan, and led to the cancellation of other international vaccination programmes that were now seen as cover for American spying.

The retired official said that Afridi had been recruited long before the bin Laden mission as part of a separate intelligence effort to get information about suspected terrorists in Abbottabad and the surrounding area. ‘The plan was to use vaccinations as a way to get the blood of terrorism suspects in the villages.’ Afridi made no attempt to obtain DNA from the residents of the bin Laden compound. The report that he did so was a hurriedly put together ‘CIA cover story creating “facts”’ in a clumsy attempt to protect Aziz and his real mission. ‘Now we have the consequences,’ the retired official said. ‘A great humanitarian project to do something meaningful for the peasants has been compromised as a cynical hoax.’ Afridi’s conviction was overturned, but he remains in prison on a murder charge.

*

In his address announcing the raid, Obama said that after killing bin Laden the Seals ‘took custody of his body’. The statement created a problem. In the initial plan it was to be announced a week or so after the fact that bin Laden was killed in a drone strike somewhere in the mountains on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border and that his remains had been identified by DNA testing. But with Obama’s announcement of his killing by the Seals everyone now expected a body to be produced. Instead, reporters were told that bin Laden’s body had been flown by the Seals to an American military airfield in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, and then straight to the USS Carl Vinson, a supercarrier on routine patrol in the North Arabian Sea. Bin Laden had then been buried at sea, just hours after his death. The press corps’s only sceptical moments at John Brennan’s briefing on 2 May were to do with the burial. The questions were short, to the point, and rarely answered. ‘When was the decision made that he would be buried at sea if killed?’ ‘Was this part of the plan all along?’ ‘Can you just tell us why that was a good idea?’ ‘John, did you consult a Muslim expert on that?’ ‘Is there a visual recording of this burial?’ When this last question was asked, Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, came to Brennan’s rescue: ‘We’ve got to give other people a chance here.’

‘We thought the best way to ensure that his body was given an appropriate Islamic burial,’ Brennan said, ‘was to take those actions that would allow us to do that burial at sea.’ He said ‘appropriate specialists and experts’ were consulted, and that the US military was fully capable of carrying out the burial ‘consistent with Islamic law’. Brennan didn’t mention that Muslim law calls for the burial service to be conducted in the presence of an imam, and there was no suggestion that one happened to be on board the Carl Vinson.

In a reconstruction of the bin Laden operation for Vanity Fair, Mark Bowden, who spoke to many senior administration officials, wrote that bin Laden’s body was cleaned and photographed at Jalalabad. Further procedures necessary for a Muslim burial were performed on the carrier, he wrote, ‘with bin Laden’s body being washed again and wrapped in a white shroud. A navy photographer recorded the burial in full sunlight, Monday morning, May 2.’ Bowden described the photos:

One frame shows the body wrapped in a weighted shroud. The next shows it lying diagonally on a chute, feet overboard. In the next frame the body is hitting the water. In the next it is visible just below the surface, ripples spreading outward. In the last frame there are only circular ripples on the surface. The mortal remains of Osama bin Laden were gone for good.

Bowden was careful not to claim that he had actually seen the photographs he described, and he recently told me he hadn’t seen them: ‘I’m always disappointed when I can’t look at something myself, but I spoke with someone I trusted who said he had seen them himself and described them in detail.’ Bowden’s statement adds to the questions about the alleged burial at sea, which has provoked a flood of Freedom of Information Act requests, most of which produced no information. One of them sought access to the photographs. The Pentagon responded that a search of all available records had found no evidence that any photographs had been taken of the burial. Requests on other issues related to the raid were equally unproductive. The reason for the lack of response became clear after the Pentagon held an inquiry into allegations that the Obama administration had provided access to classified materials to the makers of the film Zero Dark Thirty. The Pentagon report, which was put online in June 2013, noted that Admiral McRaven had ordered the files on the raid to be deleted from all military computers and moved to the CIA, where they would be shielded from FOIA requests by the agency’s ‘operational exemption’.

McRaven’s action meant that outsiders could not get access to the Carl Vinson’s unclassified logs. Logs are sacrosanct in the navy, and separate ones are kept for air operations, the deck, the engineering department, the medical office, and for command information and control. They show the sequence of events day by day aboard the ship; if there has been a burial at sea aboard the Carl Vinson, it would have been recorded.

There wasn’t any gossip about a burial among the Carl Vinson’s sailors. The carrier concluded its six-month deployment in June 2011. When the ship docked at its home base in Coronado, California, Rear Admiral Samuel Perez, commander of the Carl Vinson carrier strike group, told reporters that the crew had been ordered not to talk about the burial. Captain Bruce Lindsey, skipper of the Carl Vinson, told reporters he was unable to discuss it. Cameron Short, one of the crew of the Carl Vinson, told the Commercial-News of Danville, Illinois, that the crew had not been told anything about the burial. ‘All he knows is what he’s seen on the news,’ the newspaper reported.

The Pentagon did release a series of emails to the Associated Press. In one of them, Rear Admiral Charles Gaouette reported that the service followed ‘traditional procedures for Islamic burial’, and said none of the sailors on board had been permitted to observe the proceedings. But there was no indication of who washed and wrapped the body, or of which Arabic speaker conducted the service.

Within weeks of the raid, I had been told by two longtime consultants to Special Operations Command, who have access to current intelligence, that the funeral aboard the Carl Vinson didn’t take place. One consultant told me that bin Laden’s remains were photographed and identified after being flown back to Afghanistan. The consultant added: ‘At that point, the CIA took control of the body. The cover story was that it had been flown to the Carl Vinson.’ The second consultant agreed that there had been ‘no burial at sea’. He added that ‘the killing of bin Laden was political theatre designed to burnish Obama’s military credentials … The Seals should have expected the political grandstanding. It’s irresistible to a politician. Bin Laden became a working asset.’ Early this year, speaking again to the second consultant, I returned to the burial at sea. The consultant laughed and said: ‘You mean, he didn’t make it to the water?’

The retired official said there had been another complication: some members of the Seal team had bragged to colleagues and others that they had torn bin Laden’s body to pieces with rifle fire. The remains, including his head, which had only a few bullet holes in it, were thrown into a body bag and, during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad, some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains – or so the Seals claimed. At the time, the retired official said, the Seals did not think their mission would be made public by Obama within a few hours: ‘If the president had gone ahead with the cover story, there would have been no need to have a funeral within hours of the killing. Once the cover story was blown, and the death was made public, the White House had a serious “Where’s the body?” problem. The world knew US forces had killed bin Laden in Abbottabad. Panic city. What to do? We need a “functional body” because we have to be able to say we identified bin Laden via a DNA analysis. It would be navy officers who came up with the “burial at sea” idea. Perfect. No body. Honourable burial following sharia law. Burial is made public in great detail, but Freedom of Information documents confirming the burial are denied for reasons of “national security”. It’s the classic unravelling of a poorly constructed cover story – it solves an immediate problem but, given the slightest inspection, there is no back-up support. There never was a plan, initially, to take the body to sea, and no burial of bin Laden at sea took place.’ The retired official said that if the Seals’ first accounts are to be believed, there wouldn’t have been much left of bin Laden to put into the sea in any case.

*

It was inevitable that the Obama administration’s lies, misstatements and betrayals would create a backlash. ‘We’ve had a four-year lapse in co-operation,’ the retired official said. ‘It’s taken that long for the Pakistanis to trust us again in the military-to-military counterterrorism relationship – while terrorism was rising all over the world … They felt Obama sold them down the river. They’re just now coming back because the threat from Isis, which is now showing up there, is a lot greater and the bin Laden event is far enough away to enable someone like General Durrani to come out and talk about it.’ Generals Pasha and Kayani have retired and both are reported to be under investigation for corruption during their time in office.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s long-delayed report on CIA torture, released last December, documented repeated instances of official lying, and suggested that the CIA’s knowledge of bin Laden’s courier was sketchy at best and predated its use of waterboarding and other forms of torture. The report led to international headlines about brutality and waterboarding, along with gruesome details about rectal feeding tubes, ice baths and threats to rape or murder family members of detainees who were believed to be withholding information. Despite the bad publicity, the report was a victory for the CIA. Its major finding – that the use of torture didn’t lead to discovering the truth – had already been the subject of public debate for more than a decade. Another key finding – that the torture conducted was more brutal than Congress had been told – was risible, given the extent of public reporting and published exposés by former interrogators and retired CIA officers. The report depicted tortures that were obviously contrary to international law as violations of rules or ‘inappropriate activities’ or, in some cases, ‘management failures’. Whether the actions described constitute war crimes was not discussed, and the report did not suggest that any of the CIA interrogators or their superiors should be investigated for criminal activity. The agency faced no meaningful consequences as a result of the report.

The retired official told me that the CIA leadership had become experts in derailing serious threats from Congress: ‘They create something that is horrible but not that bad. Give them something that sounds terrible. “Oh my God, we were shoving food up a prisoner’s ass!” Meanwhile, they’re not telling the committee about murders, other war crimes, and secret prisons like we still have in Diego Garcia. The goal also was to stall it as long as possible, which they did.’

The main theme of the committee’s 499-page executive summary is that the CIA lied systematically about the effectiveness of its torture programme in gaining intelligence that would stop future terrorist attacks in the US. The lies included some vital details about the uncovering of an al-Qaida operative called Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who was said to be the key al-Qaida courier, and the subsequent tracking of him to Abbottabad in early 2011. The agency’s alleged intelligence, patience and skill in finding al-Kuwaiti became legend after it was dramatised in Zero Dark Thirty.

The Senate report repeatedly raised questions about the quality and reliability of the CIA’s intelligence about al-Kuwaiti. In 2005 an internal CIA report on the hunt for bin Laden noted that ‘detainees provide few actionable leads, and we have to consider the possibility that they are creating fictitious characters to distract us or to absolve themselves of direct knowledge about bin Ladin [sic].’ A CIA cable a year later stated that ‘we have had no success in eliciting actionable intelligence on bin Laden’s location from any detainees.’ The report also highlighted several instances of CIA officers, including Panetta, making false statements to Congress and the public about the value of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ in the search for bin Laden’s couriers.

Obama today is not facing re-election as he was in the spring of 2011. His principled stand on behalf of the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran says much, as does his decision to operate without the support of the conservative Republicans in Congress. High-level lying nevertheless remains the modus operandi of US policy, along with secret prisons, drone attacks, Special Forces night raids, bypassing the chain of command, and cutting out those who might say no.

Seymour M. Hersh
21 May 2015

Find this story at 21 May 2015

Copyright © LRB Limited 2015

Seymour Hersh’s 10,000-word bin Laden story — told four years ago in 640 words by Larry Johnson (2011 – 2015)

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.

*

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.

PAUL WOODWARD 05/12/2015

Find this story at 12 May 2015

Copyright © 2015

Bin Ladin’s Bookshelf

On May 20, 2015, the ODNI released a sizeable tranche of documents recovered during the raid on the compound used to hide Usama bin Ladin. The release, which followed a rigorous interagency review, aligns with the President’s call for increased transparency–consistent with national security prerogatives–and the 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act, which required the ODNI to conduct a review of the documents for release.

The release contains two sections. The first is a list of non-classified, English-language material found in and around the compound. The second is a selection of now-declassified documents.

The Intelligence Community will be reviewing hundreds more documents in the near future for possible declassification and release. An interagency taskforce under the auspices of the White House and with the agreement of the DNI is reviewing all documents which supported disseminated intelligence cables, as well as other relevant material found around the compound. All documents whose publication will not hurt ongoing operations against al-Qa‘ida or their affiliates will be released.

Pointer Now Declassified Material (103 items)

06 Ramadan (Arabic Language Version) *
A Letter to the Sunnah people in Syria (Arabic Language Version)
Afghani Opportunity (Arabic Language Version)
CALL FOR GUIDANCE AND REFORM 13 April 1994 (Arabic Language Version)
Despotism of Big Money (VIDEO: Arabic Language Version)
German Economy (Arabic Language Version)
Gist of conversation Oct 11 (Arabic Language Version) *
Ideas as discussion with the sons of the Peninsula (Arabic Language Version)
Instructions to Applicants (Arabic Language Version)
Jihad and Reform Front 22 May 2007 (Arabic Language Version)
Lessons learned following the fall of the Islamic Emirate (Arabic Language Version)
Letter about revolutions (Arabic Language Version)
Letter Addressed to Atiyah (Arabic Language Version)
Letter addressed to Shaykh (Arabic Language Version)
Letter Ansar Al-Sunnah Group (Arabic Language Version)
Letter dtd 07 August 2010 (Arabic Language Version) *
Letter dtd 09 August 2010 (Arabic Language Version)
Letter dtd 13 Oct 2010 (Arabic Language Version) *
Letter dtd 16 December 2007 (Arabic Language Version)
Letter dtd 18 JUL 2010 (Arabic Language Version) *
Letter dtd 21 May 2007 (Arabic Language Version)
Letter dtd 30 October 2010 (Arabic Language Version)
Letter dtd 5 April 2011 (Arabic Language Version) *
Letter dtd March 2008 (Arabic Language Version)
Letter dtd November 24 2010 (Arabic Language Version) *
Letter from Abu Abdallah to his mother 2 (Arabic Language Version)
Letter from Abu Abdullah to his mother (Arabic Language Version)
Letter from Al-Zawahiri dtd August 2003 (Arabic Language Version)
Letter from Hafiz (Arabic Language Version)
Letter from Hamzah to father dtd July 2009 (Arabic Language Version)
Letter from Khalid to ‘Abd-al-Latif (Arabic Language Version)
Letter from Khalid to Abdullah and Abu al-Harish (Arabic Language Version)
Letter from Khalid to his son (Arabic Language Version)
Letter from Qari, early April (Arabic Language Version)
Letter from UBL to Atiyah (Arabic Language Version) *
Letter from Zamray dtd 07 August 2010 (Arabic Language Version)
Letter Implications of Climate Change (Arabic Language Version)
Letter re Fatwas of the Permanent Committee (Arabic Language Version)
Letter regarding Abu al-Hasan (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to ‘Abd Al-Latif dtd 29 December 2009 (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Abdallah (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to ‘Abd-al-Rahman (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Abu ‘Abdallah al-Hajj (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Abu Sulayman (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Aunt (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Aunt Umm-Khalid (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Badr Khan 3 Dec 2002 (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Brother Fatimah (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Brother from Abu Abdallah (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to brother Hamzah (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Brother Ilyas al- (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to brother Yahya (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to daughter Umm-Mu’adh (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Hakimullah Mahsud, Leader of the Taliban Movement (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Hamza (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Muhammad Aslam dtd 22 April 2011 (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Mujahidin in Somalia dtd 28 December 2006 (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to my beloved Brother (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Shaykh Abu Abdallah dtd 17 July 2010 (Arabic Language Version) *
Letter to Shaykh Abu Abdallah dtd 2 September 2009 (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Shaykh Abu Yahya (Arabic Language Version) *
Letter to Shaykh Abu Yahya 2 (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Shaykh Abu-al-Layth, Shaykh Abu-Yahya, Shaykh ‘Abdallah Sa’id (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Shaykh Azmaray dtd 4 February 2008 (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Shaykh from Abu Abdallah (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Shaykh Mahmud (Arabic Language Version) *
Letter to Shaykh Mahmud 26 September 2010 (Arabic Language Version) *
Letter to Shaykh Mahmud and Shaykh Abu Yahya (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to sister Um-‘Abd-al-Rahman (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to sons ‘Uthman, Muhammad, Hamzah, wife Um Hamzah (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Special Committee of al-Jihad’s Qa’ida of the Mujahidin Affairs in Iraq and to the Ansar al-Sunnah Army (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to the American people (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to UBL from daughter Khadijah (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Um ‘Abd-al-Rahman dtd 26 April 2011 (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Um Abid al-Rahman (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Um Sa’ad from aunt Um Khalid (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Umm Khalid from Sarah (Arabic Language Version)
Letter to Uthman (Arabic Language Version) *
Letter to wife (VIDEO: Arabic Language Version)
Message for all Muslims following US State of Union Address (Arabic Language Version)
Message for general Islamic nation (Arabic Language Version)
Message for Islamic Ummah in general (Arabic Language Version)
Message from Abu Hammam al-Ghurayb (Arabic Language Version)
Message to Muslim brothers in Iraq and to the Islamic nation (Arabic Language Version)
Report on External Operations (Arabic Language Version) *
Request for Documents from CTC (Arabic Language Version)
Spreadsheet (Arabic Language Version)
Study Paper about the Kampala Raid in Uganda (Arabic Language Version)
Suggestion to end the Yemen Revolution (Arabic Language Version)
Summary on situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Arabic Language Version)
Terror Franchise (No Arabic Version) *
Undated letter (Arabic Language Version)
Undated letter 2 (Arabic Language Version)
Undated Letter 3 (Arabic Language Version)
Undated letter from Khalid Habib (Arabic Language Version)
Undated letter re Afghanistan (Arabic Language Version)
Undated message re Egypt demonstrations (Arabic Language Version)
Undated statement (Arabic Language Version)
Undated statement 2 (Arabic Language Version)
Undated statement re American conversions to Islam (Arabic Language Version)
Verbally released document for the Naseer trial (Arabic Language Version) *
VIDEO: Capture of handwritten note
Zamrai (UBL) letter to Unis (Arabic Language Version) *
* Previously declassified for federal prosecutions.

| HIDE SECTION |

Pointer Publicly Available U.S. Government Documents (75 items)

Pointer English Language Books (39 items)

Pointer Material Published by Violent Extremists & Terror Groups (35 items)

Pointer Materials Regarding France (19 items)

Pointer Media Articles (33 items)

Pointer Other Religious Documents (11 items)

Pointer Think Tank & Other Studies (40 items)

Pointer Software & Technical Manuals (30 items)

Pointer Other Miscellaneous Documents (14 items)

Pointer Documents Probably Used by Other Compound Residents (10 items)

This list contains U.S. person information that is being released in accordance with the Fiscal Year 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act (section 309) requirement that the Director of National Intelligence conduct a declassification review of certain items collected during the mission that killed Usama bin Ladin on May 1, 2011, and make publicly available any information declassified as a result of such review.

All publications are unclassified and available commercially or in the public domain.

The U.S. Intelligence Community does not endorse any of the publications on this list.

Find this story at May 2015

Bin Laden Turned in by Informant — Courier Was Cover Story (2011)

Forget the cover story of waterboarding-leads-to-courier-leads-to bin Laden (not to deny the effectiveness of waterboarding, but it’s just not applicable in this case.) Sources in the intelligence community tell me that after years of trying and one bureaucratically insane near-miss in Yemen, the US government killed OBL because a Pakistani intelligence officer came forward to collect the approximately $25 million reward from the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program.

The informant was a walk-in.

The ISI officer came forward to claim the substantial reward and to broker US citizenship for his family. My sources tell me that the informant claimed that the Saudis were paying off the Pakistani military and intelligence (ISI) to essentially shelter and keep bin Laden under house arrest in Abbottabad, a city with such a high concentration of military that I’m told there’s no equivalent in the US.

The CIA and friends then set about proving that OBL was indeed there. And they did.

Next they approached the chiefs of the Pakistani military and the ISI. The US was going to come in with or without them. The CIA offered them a deal they couldn’t refuse: they would double what the Saudis were paying them to keep bin Laden if they cooperated with the US. Or they could refuse the deal and live with the consequences: the Saudis would stop paying and there would be the international embarassment…

The ISI and Pakistani military were cooperating with the US on the raid.

The cooperation was why there were no troops in Abottabad. They were all pulled out. It had always seemed very far-fetched to me that a helicopter could crash and later destroyed in an area with such high military concentration without the Pakistanis noticing. But then it seemed even wilder to believe that a US Navy SEAL (DEVGRU) actually shot a woman who rushed them in the leg. Yeah, right. I know these guys. They only way they’ll shoot a woman in the leg is if they are double tapping a head or chest and that leg got in the way.

DEVGRU shoots to kill.

The cover story was going to be a drone strike in Pakistan. Things went south when the helicopter crashed. The White House freaked and the cooperating Pakistanis were thrown under the bus.

Splat.

Obama Shaka

Although the White House really pissed off the intel and DEVGRU guys with their knee-jerk reaction that tossed the Pakistanis under the proverbial bus, ironically it did have the same outcome as the original CIA cover story: the way they were treated, no one believes Generals Kiyani and Pasha were cooperating with the US.

Big shaka for that, Barry!

August 07, 2011

by R J Hillhouse

Find this story at 7 August 2011

© Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 by R J Hillhouse

Why Seymour Hersh’s story on Osama bin Laden’s death rings true (2015)

Adnan Khan explains why Hersh’s controversial story about the al Qaeda leader’s killing could be true—and demands our attention

This week, Seymour Hersh, America’s most famous and controversial investigative journalist, caused an uproar with his allegations that the U.S. government account of the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan was a lie. According to his version of events, published in the London Review of Books, bin Laden was not only living under the protection of the Pakistani military but the raid that nabbed him was planned and executed with Pakistani consent.

Critics, White House officials in particular, have strongly condemned the allegations, accusing Hersh of conspiratorial excess. Hersh relies on anonymous sources and unnamed insiders, they say, and builds a narrative of events that are impossible to verify. Nonetheless, based on my own experiences reporting in Pakistan, his story does ring true.

And here’s why:

In November 2009, one and half years before the Navy SEAL operation that killed him, I was told by a Pakistani militant that Osama bin Laden was in a safehouse in Abbottabad, a garrison city 100 km north of the Pakistani capital Islamabad. The militant, a former member of the Lashkar e Taiba (LeT), one of Pakistan’s most powerful jihadi groups with close ties to the Pakistani military, was absolutely certain.

“Osama bin Laden is here,” he told me while we were driving through the town on our way to the capital. “The ISI are protecting him. The senior LeT commanders are close with the ISI. They all know he’s here.”

I didn’t believe him. Abbottabad is one of Pakistan’s most important military cities, home to the Pakistan Military Academy, the equivalent of West Point. Much of its population is made up of retired military officers.

But nine months later, according to Hersh’s account, a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer would walk into the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and tell the CIA station chief more or less the same thing: Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad.

I’ve kept that bit of information to myself these past few years. Even while I was back in Abbottabad covering the killing of bin Laden in May 2011, I said nothing about it, partly because by then my source, the former LeT fighter, had disappeared.

So why am I revealing this now?

I think it’s important, after Seymour Hersh’s revelations, to revisit what happened in the lead-up to an event that possibly changed the course of history.

At the time, the event certainly felt like theatre. There was a great deal of circumstantial evidence that clashed with the official narrative being put forth. The Pakistani military denied they had any knowledge of bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad; the Americans denied they had carried out the raid with Pakistani consent. According to President Barack Obama’s version of events, detailed in a press conference hours after the operation, this was a monumental act of derring-do, carried out by the world’s premier military using elite soldiers and top-secret technology. It was a Hollywood script (and would later become one, the 2013 Academy Award-nominated Zero Dark Thirty) complete with easily identifiable heroes and villains. None of it sat very well with me.

This is what I knew: a mid-level militant from a group with known ties to Pakistan’s intelligence services knew bin Laden was in Abbottabad. If he knew, it’s fair to say the Pakistani military knew. Locals I spoke to in the neighbourhood of the compound where bin Laden was staying all told me it was an ISI facility. The white Potohar jeeps they saw almost daily were a dead giveaway: “The ISI bought thousands of those cars in the late 1990s for its officers,” an ISI insider told me at the time. “It’s a running joke in Pakistan: if you see a white Potohar in your rearview mirror, be careful, the ISI is on your tail.”

Other ISI contacts were dumbfounded: how could a U.S. Navy Seal team manage to fly into one of the most heavily guarded garrison cities in Pakistan, carry out an assault lasting nearly an hour—in a quiet residential neighbourhood two kilometres from an elite military college—and then fly out without any response from the Pakistani military?

Someone had to have known, I was told repeatedly, and that someone had to be at the highest level of the military command. The U.S. had to have had Pakistani blessing for the operation.

What Hersh provides is more detail. More importantly, he offers us the opportunity to question the widening gap between what our leaders are doing and what they tell us they are doing. According to his view, we are living through an era of scripted events, engineered realities designed to achieve political goals. If his view is true – and there is mounting evidence that it is – then it deserves our attention.

Adnan R. Khan
May 15, 2015

Find this story at 15 May 2015

© 2001-2015 Rogers Media.

Osama bin Laden ‘protected by Pakistan in return for Saudi cash’ (2011)

Osama bin Laden was protected by elements of Pakistan’s security apparatus in return for millions of dollars of Saudi cash, according to a controversial new account of the operation to kill the world’s most wanted man.

Raelynn Hillhouse, an American security analyst, claims his whereabouts were finally revealed when a Pakistani intelligence officer came forward to claim the $25m (£15 million) bounty on the al-Qaeda leader’s head.
Her version, based on evidence from sources in what she calls the “intelligence community”, contradicts the official account that bin Laden was tracked down through his trusted courier.
Pakistani officials have always denied that bin Laden was sheltered or that Islamabad had any knowledge of the secret mission that killed him.
But Dr Hillhouse, who is known for her links to private military contractors that work extensively with the CIA, says Pakistan gave permission for a covert mission which would then be covered up by claiming bin Laden had been killed in a drone strike.
“The [Inter-Services Intelligence] officer came forward to claim the substantial reward and to broker US citizenship for his family,” she writes on her intelligence blog, The Spy Who Billed Me.
Related Articles
Pakistan: 20 militants killed in drone strike 10 Aug 2011
Osama bin Laden raid: top 10 discoveries 24 Jun 2011
“My sources tell me that the informant claimed that the Saudis were paying off the Pakistani military and intelligence (ISI) to essentially shelter and keep bin Laden under house arrest in Abbottabad, a city with such a high concentration of military that I’m told there’s no equivalent in the US.” After confirming bin Laden’s presence in the military town, the US approached Pakistan’s military leaders securing their co-operation in return for cash and a chance to avoid public humiliation.
The theory, if true, would explain how American black hawk helicopters were then able to fly deep into Pakistan territory in May without encountering resistance.
The plan only unravelled when one of the helicopters crash-landed, blowing the cover story.
“The co-operation was why there were no troops in Abottabad,” writes Dr Hillhouse. “It had always seemed very far-fetched to me that a helicopter could crash and later be destroyed in an area with such high military concentration without the Pakistanis noticing.” In the immediate aftermath of the raid, some residents of Abbottabad, where bin Laden had lived for five years, said they had received mysterious visits a night earlier warning them to stay inside with their lights off.
However, a senior Pakistani security official denied that the ISI had sheltered bin Laden.
“We don’t use toilet paper – we wash,” he said. “But toilet paper is all this theory is good for.”
A spokesman for the US department of defense said: “We have no additional operational details, or comments on operational details, to make at this time.”

Rob Crilly By Rob Crilly, Islamabad12:35PM BST 10 Aug 2011

Find this story at 10 August 2011

© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2015

Questions Raised by Real Story of How US Found Bin Laden (2011)

The real story of how the US found bin Laden raises some key questions, namely:

August 11, 2011

by R J Hillhouse

Find this story at 11 August 2011

© Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 by R J Hillhouse

Pakistan ‘paid’ to protect bin Laden (2011)

OSAMA bin Laden was protected by elements of Pakistan’s security apparatus in return for millions of dollars of Saudi cash, according to an account of the operation to kill the world’s most wanted man.

Raelynn Hillhouse, an American security analyst, claimed that bin Laden’s whereabouts were revealed when a Pakistani intelligence officer came forward to claim the long-standing $US25 million ($A24.2 million) bounty on the al-Qaeda leader’s head.

Her version, based on information from ”intelligence community” sources, contradicts the official account that bin Laden was tracked down through surveillance of his courier.

Pakistani officials have always denied that bin Laden was sheltered in the country, or that Islamabad had any prior knowledge of the secret mission in which he was killed. ”The [Inter-Services Intelligence] officer came forward to claim the substantial reward and to broker US citizenship for his family,” she writes on her intelligence blog, The Spy Who Billed Me.

”My sources tell me that the informant claimed that the Saudis were paying off the Pakistani military and intelligence to essentially shelter and keep bin Laden under house arrest in Abbottabad.”

August 12, 2011

Find this story at 12 August 2011

Copyright © 2015 Fairfax Media

BND soll CIA angeblich Hinweis auf Bin­Laden­Versteckgegeben haben ­

Mitten in der BND­Affäre verbreitet sich diese Nachricht: Der Bundesnachrichtendienst soll
den Amerikanern einen entscheidenden Hinweis gegeben haben, der zur Ergreifung von
Osama Bin Laden führte. Ist das plausibel?
Hat der deutsche Geheimdienst BND den Amerikanern bei der Ergreifung von Osama Bin Laden
entscheidend geholfen? Das berichtet die “Bild am Sonntag” (BamS) unter Berufung auf USGeheimdienstkreise.
Demnach soll ein Agent des Bundesnachrichtendienstes angeblich den
Hinweis auf das Versteck des Terroristen in Pakistan gegeben haben.
Die Nachricht kommt zu einer Zeit, in der der BND erheblich in der Kritik steht: Der Dienst hat der
amerikanischen NSA beim massenhaften Ausspionieren von Zielen in Deutschland und Europa
geholfen, der Verdacht der Wirtschaftsspionage steht im Raum. Ausgerechnet jetzt verbreitet sich
die Nachricht von der angeblichen Heldentat des BND im Fall Bin Laden. Kann man das glauben?
Laut “BamS” gibt es einen Insider in US­Geheimdienstkreisen, der die “grundsätzliche Bedeutung”
des Bin­Laden­Hinweises der deutschen Kollegen betone und die Zusammenarbeit der Deutschen
und Amerikaner in dem Fall lobe. “Es gibt eine Menge zu kritisieren an der Zusammenarbeit
zwischen deutschen und US­Geheimdiensten”, schreibt die Zeitung in ihrer Online­Ausgabe. “Aber
es gab durchaus auch Erfolge im Kampf gegen den Terror.”
Bemerkenswert: Bislang war nie etwas von einer entscheidenden deutschen Rolle bei der
Ergreifung Bin Ladens bekannt geworden. Im Gegenteil: Experten halten den BND in Pakistan für
relativ ahnungslos, Erkenntnisse hat der Dienst dort fast nur über deutsche Dschihadisten.
Hinweis von pakistanisch­deutschem Doppelagenten?
Die offizielle Version der US­Regierung zur Tötung des Qaida­Chefs in der Nacht auf den 2. Mai
2011 besagt, dass ein Team von US­Navy­Seals per Hubschrauber von Afghanistan im Tiefflug
nach Abbottabad eilte, einer Bergstadt etwa 60 Kilometer nördlich der Hauptstadt Islamabad.
Dort seilten sich Soldaten ab und fanden Bin Laden in einer hoch ummauerten Villa.
Sie töteten den Terrorfürsten, nahmen den Leichnam mit und bestatteten den meistgesuchten
Mann der Welt noch am selben Tag von einem Flugzeugträger aus im Arabischen Meer. Die
pakistanische Regierung wurde ­ so die offizielle Version ­ über den Einsatz erst informiert, als die
Helikopter schon in pakistanischen Luftraum eingedrungen waren.
Den Hinweis auf das Versteck haben die Amerikaner nach eigenen Angaben von Bin Ladens Kurier
al­Kuwaiti bekommen. Die “BamS” hingegen berichtet nun: Der Hinweis zu Bin Ladens
Aufenthaltsort sei damals von einem Agenten des pakistanischen Geheimdienstes Inter­Services
Intelligence gekommen ­ und dieser Agent habe seit Jahren auch für den BND gearbeitet. Die
Information des Doppelagenten soll dann an die USA weitergeleitet worden sein und habe einen
­ ohnehin bereits bestehenden ­ Verdacht der CIA erhärtet.
Bleibt die Frage: Warum hat der Doppelagent nicht direkt die Amerikaner informiert? In diesem
Fall hätte er eine dicke Belohnung einstreichen können. Warum also sollte die Information erst an
den ­ eher trägen, nicht übermäßig zahlungswilligen ­ BND gegangen sein?
Zweifel an der offiziellen Version im Fall Bin Laden gibt es immer wieder. Erst in der vergangenen
Woche hatte Pulitzer­Preisträger Seymour M. Hersh die Darstellung des Weißen Hauses kritisiert ­
und eine eigene Theorie vorgelegt. In der “London Review of Books” schreibt Hersh, US­Präsident
Barack Obama habe gelogen. Washington habe Islamabad viel früher in die geplante Aktion
eingeweiht. Beweise legte er für seine Theorie nicht vor.

brk/kaz/wal

16. Mai 2015, 23:52 Uhr

Find this story at 16 May 2015

© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2015

BND half bei der Jagd auf Osama bin Laden BamS erklärt die Operation „Neptune’s Spear“

Es gibt eine Menge zu kritisieren an der Zusammenarbeit zwischen deutschen und US-Geheimdiensten. Aber es gab durchaus auch Erfolge im Kampf gegen den Terror…
Seit Wochen steht der Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) unter Beschuss, weil er an illegalen Abhöraktionen der Amerikaner beteiligt gewesen sein soll. Es geht um den Verdacht der Wirtschaftsspionage.
Den Geheimdiensten beider Länder kommt wohl nicht ungelegen, dass ausgerechnet jetzt ihre Zusammenarbeit bei einer der spektakulärsten Anti-Terror-Operationen bekannt wird – der Jagd auf Osama bin Laden!
Nach BamS-Informationen leistete der BND wichtige Hilfe bei der Suche nach dem damals meist­- gesuchten Terroristen der Welt. US-Geheimdienstkreise betonen, die Hinweise der Deutschen hätten für die Operation eine „grundsätzliche Bedeutung“ gehabt.
Bin Laden (Codename: Geronimo), Gründer und Anführer des Terrornetzwerks al-Qaida, war am 2. Mai 2011 von einer US-Spezialeinheit getötet worden – fast zehn Jahre nach den Anschlägen vom 11. September in Amerika, die er befohlen hatte.
VergrößernOsama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden wurde am 2. Mai 2011 von US-Spezialeinheiten in Abbottabad (Pakistan) erschossen. Der BND gab wichtige Hinweise
Foto: dpa Picture-Alliance
Jahrelang jagte Amerika den Terrorfürsten vergeblich, bin Laden schien vom Erdboden verschluckt. Bis der BND den US-Geheimdienst CIA darüber informierte, dass sich Osama bin Laden mit Wissen pakistanischer Sicherheitsbehörden in Pakistan versteckt. Der Hinweis kam von einem Agenten des pakistanischen Geheimdienstes Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), der seit Jahren für den BND arbeitete.
Jetzt wussten die Amerikaner, wo sie suchen mussten. Der Tipp des BND hatte einen Verdacht der CIA erhärtet, dem der Geheimdienst nun mit größtem technischen und personellen Aufwand nachging. Denn seit 2007 waren die US-Geheimdienstler der Spur eines Bin-Laden-Kuriers gefolgt, der unter dem Decknamen al-Kuwaiti („Der Kuwaiter“) von Pakistan aus operierte.
Im August 2010 führte der Mann, den die Amerikaner überwachten, die Fahnder schließlich zu bin Ladens Versteck: einem stark befestigten Anwesen im nordpakistanischen Städtchen Abbottabad – knapp einen Kilometer entfernt von einer pakistanischen Militärakademie.
VergrößernLogo vom Bundesnachrichtendienst BND
Das Logo des Bundesnachrichtendienstes
Weitere sieben Monate sammelte die CIA Informationen. Dann stand fest: Bin Laden lebt in dem dreistöckigen Gebäudekomplex. Unter größter Geheimhaltung begannen die Vorbereitungen für die Militäroperation „Neptune’s Spear“ (Neptuns Dreizack), bei der Osama bin Laden getötet wurde.
Auch in dieser Phase gab der BND den Amerikanern wichtige Unterstützung. Deren größte Sorge war, dass Osama bin Laden oder die pakistanischen Sicherheitsbehörden von den Vorbereitungen der Geheimoperation etwas mitbekommen könnten. Dann hätte die Aktion wohl abgeblasen werden müssen.
Deshalb überwachte die Abhörstation im bayerischen Bad Aibling rund um die Uhr den Telefon- und Mailverkehr in Nordpakistan. Dadurch konnten die Amerikaner sicher sein, dass „Neptune’s Spear“ nicht aufgeflogen war. In der Nacht zum 2. Mai 2011 starteten dann vier Hubschrauber mit Elitekämpfern der „Navy Seals Team 6“ Richtung Abbottabad.

16.05.2015 – 22:21 Uhr
BILD am Sonntag
Von KAYHAN ÖZGENC, ALEXANDER RACKOW, JAN C. WEHMEYER UND OLAF WILKE

Find this story at 16 May 2015

Copyright www.bild.de

The Misfire in Hersh’s Big Bin Laden Story

Seymour Hersh’s story on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden has exposed a series of Obama administration claims about the raid, including the lie that it was not intended from the first to kill bin Laden and its fanciful story about Islamic burial of his body at sea. Hersh confirms the fact that the Obama administration – and the CIA – were not truthful in claiming that they learned about bin Laden’s whereabouts from a combination of enhanced interrogation techniques and signals intelligence interception of a phone conversation by bin Laden’s courier.

But Hersh’s account of a Pakistani “walk-in,” who tipped off the CIA about bin Laden’s location in Abbottabad, corrects one official deception about how the CIA discovered bin Laden’s location, only to give credence to a new one.

Hersh’s account accepts his source’s claim that Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI had captured bin Laden in 2006 by buying off some of his tribal allies and that ISI had moved him to the Abbottabad compound under a kind of house arrest. But there are good reasons for doubting the veracity of that claim. Retired Pakistani Brigadier General Shaukat Qadir, who spent months investigating the bin Laden raid and the bin Ladens’ relocation to Abbottabad, interviewed a number of people in the neighborhood of the bin Laden compound and found no evidence whatever of any ISI presence in guarding or maintaining surveillance of the compound, such as described by Hersh’s source.

This writer published a detailed account of the background of bin Laden’s move to Abbottabad at Truthout in May 2012, based on months of painstaking research by Qadir, which showed that it was the result of a political decision by the al-Qaeda shura itself.

Qadir, who has never had any affiliation with ISI, was able to contact Mehsud tribal sources he had known from his service in South Waziristan many years earlier who introduced him to Mehsud tribal couriers for a leading tribal militant allied with al-Qaeda before and after 9/11. He was able to explain why a key al-Qaeda official in charge of relocating bin Laden actually considered Abbottabad, a military cantonment where the Pakistani military academy is located, a better hiding place than a city closer to the northwest Pakistan base area of al-Qaeda.

Qadir also learned that the secrecy of bin Laden’s new location was based on the fact that no one outside the al-Qaeda inner circle knew the real identity of bin Laden’s courier, who ordered the construction of the compound in 2004. That whole history, which Qadir was able to reconstruct in painstaking detail, belies the story that Hersh’s source, the “retired senior intelligence official,” told him about bin Laden being held captive by ISI in Abottabad.

The story has provoked pushback from the deputy director of the CIA at the time, as well as from Qadir. Michael Morell, the former deputy director, has called the story “completely false” and added, “No walk-in ever provided any information that was significant in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.”

Qadir had picked up the walk-in story – complete with the detail that the Pakistani in question was a retired ISI officer who had been resettled from Pakistan – from American contacts in 2011. In his own book, Operation Geronimo, Qadir comments, “There is no way a Pakistani Brigadier, albeit retired, could receive this kind of money and disappear …”

Qadir also learned from interviewing ISI officials that, by mid-2010, they had become suspicious about the owner of the Abbottabad compound, of a possible terrorism connection, as a result of what began as a routine investigation, although they did not know that bin Laden was there. Five different junior and mid-level ISI officers told Qadir they understood Pakistan’s Counter Terrorism Wing (CTW) had decided to forward a request to the CIA for surveillance of the Abbottabad compound in July 2010.

So CTW’s provision of that crucial information to the CIA would have occurred just about the time Hersh’s source says the walk-in took place.

Hersh’s account of the walk-in, offering to tell the CIA where bin Laden was in return for the $25 million reward, is problematic for other reasons. If the walk-in source had been able to provide a reasonably detailed explanation for how he knew bin Laden, was in that compound and had passed a polygraph test, as the source claims, President Obama would certainly have been informed.

But the former senior intelligence official told Hersh that Obama was not informed about the information from the walk-in until October 2010 – two months after the CIA allegedly had gotten the information from the walk-in.

Furthermore both Obama and the “senior intelligence official” who briefed the press on the issue on May 2, 2011, made statements that clearly suggested the information that had helped them was much more indirect than a tip that bin Laden was there. And both indicated that it was a result of Pakistani government cooperation.

The senior intelligence official told reporters that “The Pakistanis … provided us information attached to [the compound] to help us complete the robust intelligence case that … eventually carried the day.” That is very different from telling the CIA that bin Laden had been taken captive by the ISI and deposited in Abbottabad.

And Obama was explicit about the information coming through Pakistani institutional channels in his remarks on the night of the raid. “It is important here to note,” Obama said, “that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound he was hiding in.”

No plausible reason can be offered for those remarks, except that ISI’s counter-terrorism wing (CTW) actually did provide specific information related to the Abbottabad compound that led the CIA to begin intensive satellite surveillance of the compound.

Finally the story of the “walk-in” and the $25 million reward going to the individual is a story line that serves the interests of some high-ranking CIA officials – including then-CIA Director Leon Panetta – who had come to view ISI as the enemy because of a cluster of conflicts that involved suspicions about its protecting bin Laden, as well as ISI restrictions on CIA spying in Pakistan; the detention of CIA contractor Raymond Davis for shooting two Pakistanis; and finally, ISI complaints about US drone strikes. The CIA had increased its unilateral intelligence presence in Pakistan tremendously in 2010-11, and ISI demanded that the increase be rolled back.

In January 2011, CIA operative Raymond Davis had been arrested for killing two Pakistanis who had apparently been tailing him, and the CIA had put intense pressure on the ISI to have him released. Then on March 17, one day after Davis had been released thanks to the intervention of ISI chief Shuja Pasha, the CIA had carried out a drone strike on what was supposedly a gathering of Haqqani network officials, but it actually killed dozens of tribal and sub-tribal elders who had gathered from all over North Waziristan to discuss an economic issue. A former US official later suggested that the strike, which had been opposed by then-Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, had been carried out then because the CIA had been “angry” over the detention of Davis for several weeks.

The Pakistani military had been angered, in turn, by the March 17 drone strike, and Pasha had then gone to Washington in April 2011 with a demand for a Pakistani veto over US drone strikes in the country.

That summer, as tensions with the Pakistani military continued to simmer, someone began talking privately about ISI’s complicity in bin Laden’s presence in Abbotabad. The story was first published on the blog of R. J. Hillhouse on August 8, 2011, which cited “sources in the intelligence community.”

Monday, 18 May 2015 00:00
By Gareth Porter, Truthout | News Analysis

Find this story at 18 May 2015

Copyright, Truthout.

Brig Usman Khalid informed CIA of Osama’s presence in Abbottabad

ISLAMABAD: Pulitzer prize winning American journalist Seymour Hersh’s most recent claim that a former Pakistani intelligence official had actually informed the Americans about the Abbottabad hideout of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden (OBL), has given credence to the notion that a former ISI official provided the information about Osama’s location in exchange of US$ 25 million bounty as well as the US citizenship with a new identity.

Well-informed intelligence circles in the garrison town of Rawalpindi concede that the vital information about the bin Laden compound was actually provided to the Americans by none other than an ISI official – Brigadier Usman Khalid. The retired Brigadier, who has already been granted American citizenship along with his entire family members, persuaded Dr Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani physician, to conduct a fake polio campaign in the Bilal Town area of Abbottabad to help the Central Intelligence Agency hunt down Osama.

A February 18, 2012 Washington Post article by David Ignatius said

“Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani was ISI chief at the time, but the dominant figure was President Pervez Musharraf”. Ignatius referred to former ISI chief General Ziauddin Butt and noted that a report in the Pakistani press in December had quoted him as saying that Osama’s stay at Abbottabad was arranged by Brigadier (R) Ijaz Shah on Musharraf’s orders. General Ziauddin Butt repeated his claim in the February 2012 issue of the Newsweek magazine, in an online interview conducted by Bruce Riedel. Riedel quoted Lt Gen Butt as saying: “General Musharraf knew that Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad.” Ziauddin Butt claimed that Ijaz Shah was responsible for setting up bin Laden in Abbottabad, ensuring his safety and keeping him hidden from the outside. On the other hand, Musharraf has refuted having any knowledge about Osama living in Pakistan during his tenure.

It may be recalled that the New York Times had claimed in a March 2014 report that the US had direct evidence about former ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha knowing Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad at the time. The newspaper also quoted former ISI chief Lt Gen Ziauddun Butt, saying Musharraf had arranged to hide Bin Laden in Abbottabad. While the military circles had strongly refuted the NYT report as a pack of lies, it was hard for the international community to believe that the world’s most wanted terrorist was living unnoticed for five years in a vast compound in Abbottabad without any support system.

Amir Mir
Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Find this story at 12 May 2015

The News International – Copyright @ 2010-2015

The Detail in Seymour Hersh’s Bin Laden Story That Rings True

From the moment it was announced to the public, the tale of how Osama bin Laden met his death in a Pakistani hill town in May 2011 has been a changeable feast. In the immediate aftermath of the Navy SEAL team’s assault on his Abbottabad compound, American and Pakistani government accounts contradicted themselves and each other. In his speech announcing the operation’s success, President Obama said that “our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to Bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding.”

But others, including top Pakistani generals, insisted that this was not the case. American officials at first said Bin Laden resisted the SEALs; the Pakistanis promptly leaked that he wasn’t armed. Then came differing stories from the SEALs who carried out the raid, followed by a widening stream of new details from government reports — including the 336-page Abbottabad Commission report requested by the Pakistani Parliament — and from books and interviews. All of the accounts were incomplete in some way.

The latest contribution is the journalist Seymour Hersh’s 10,000-word article in The London Review of Books, which attempts to punch yet more holes — very big ones — in both the Obama administration’s narrative and the Pakistani government’s narrative. Among other things, Hersh contends that the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, Pakistan’s military-intelligence agency, held Bin Laden prisoner in the Abbottabad compound since 2006, and that “the C.I.A. 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 U.S.”

On this count, my own reporting tracks with Hersh’s. Beginning in 2001, I spent nearly 12 years covering Pakistan and Afghanistan for The Times. (In his article, Hersh cites an article I wrote for The Times Magazine last year, an excerpt from a book drawn from this reporting.) The story of the Pakistani informer was circulating in the rumor mill within days of the Abbottabad raid, but at the time, no one could or would corroborate the claim. Such is the difficulty of reporting on covert operations and intelligence matters; there are no official documents to draw on, few officials who will talk and few ways to check the details they give you when they do.

Two years later, 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 C.I.A. where Bin Laden was hiding, and that Bin Laden was living there with the knowledge and protection of the ISI.

I trusted my source — I did not speak with him, and his information came to me through a friend, but he was high enough in the intelligence apparatus to know what he was talking about. I was confident the information was true, but I held off publishing it. It was going to be extremely difficult to corroborate in the United States, not least because the informant was presumably in witness protection.

I do not recall ever corresponding with Hersh, but he is following up on a story that many of us assembled parts of. The former C.I.A. officer Larry Johnson aired the theory of the informant — credited to “friends who are still active” — on his blog within days of the raid. And 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.

This development is hugely important —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.

I cannot confirm Hersh’s bolder claims — for example, that two of Pakistan’s top generals, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the former army chief, and Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the director of the ISI, had advance knowledge of the raid. But I would not necessarily dismiss the claims immediately. Hersh’s scenario explains one detail that has always nagged me about the night of Bin Laden’s death.

After one of the SEALs’ Black Hawk helicopters crashed in Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, neighbors called the police and reported hearing both the crash and the subsequent explosions. The local police told me that they received the calls and could have been at the compound within minutes, but army commanders ordered them to stand down and leave the response to the military. Yet despite being barracked nearby, members of the Pakistani Army appear to have arrived only after the SEALs — who spent 40 minutes on the ground without encountering any soldiers — left.

Hersh’s claim that there was little or no treasure trove of evidence retrieved from Bin Laden’s home rings less true to me. But he has raised the need for more openness from the Obama administration about what was found there.

Carlotta Gall is the North Africa correspondent for The New York Times and the author of “The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2004.”

By CARLOTTA GALLMAY 12, 2015

Find this story at 12 May 2015

© 2015 The New York Times Company

Pakistani Asset Helped in Hunt for Bin Laden, Sources Say

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated since it was first published. The original version of this story said that a Pakistani asset told the U.S. where bin Laden was hiding. Sources say that while the asset provided information vital to the hunt for bin Laden, he was not the source of his whereabouts.

Intelligence sources tell NBC News that in the year before the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, a retired Pakistani military intelligence officer helped the CIA track him down.

While the Pakistani intelligence asset provided vital information in the hunt for bin Laden, he did not provide the location of the al Qaeda leader’s Abottabad, Pakistan compound, sources said.

Three sources also said that some officials in the Pakistani government knew where bin Laden was hiding all along.

The asset was evacuated from Pakistan and paid reward money by the CIA, sources said. U.S. officials took pains to note he was one of many sources who provided help along the way, and said that the al Qaeda courier who unwittingly led them to bin Laden, Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, remained the linchpin of the operation.

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 the courier.

The new revelations do not 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.

While NBC News has long been pursuing leads about a “walk in” intelligence asset 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.

The Hersh story says that a “walk in” asset, a former Pakistani military intelligence official, contacted U.S. authorities in 2010 and told them bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad; that elements of ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency, knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts; and that the U.S. told the Pakistanis about the bin Laden raid before it launched. The U.S. has maintained that it did not tell the Pakistani government about the raid before it launched.

On Monday, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren called Hersh’s piece “largely a fabrication” and said there were “too many inaccuracies” to detail each one. Col Warren said the raid to kill bin Laden was a “unilateral action.” Both the National Security Council and the Pentagon denied that Pakistan had played any role in the raid.

Pakistani media personnel and local resi AAMIR QURESHI / AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Pakistani media personnel and local residents gather outside the hideout of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan after the U.S. raid that killed him.
“The notion that the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden was anything but a unilateral U.S. mission is patently false,” said NSC spokesman Ned Price. “As we said at the time, knowledge of this operation was confined to a very small circle of senior U.S. officials.”

Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, dismissed Hersh’s account. “I simply have never heard of anything like this and I’ve been briefed several times,” said McCain, R.-Arizona. “This was a great success on the part of the administration and something that we all admire the president’s decision to do. ”

The NBC News sources who confirm that a former Pakistani military intelligence official became a U.S. intelligence asset include a special operations officer and a CIA officer who had served in Pakistan. These two sources and a third source, a very senior former U.S. intelligence official, also say that elements of the ISI were aware of bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. The former official was emphatic about the ISI’s awareness, saying twice, “They knew.”

Another top official acknowledged to NBC News that the U.S. government had long harbored “deep suspicions” that ISI and al Qaeda were “cooperating.” And a book by former acting CIA director Mike Morrell that will be published tomorrow says that U.S. officials could not dismiss the possibility of such cooperation.

None of the sources characterized how high up in ISI the knowledge might have gone. Said one former senior official, “We were suspicious that someone inside ISI … knew where bin Laden was, but we did not have intelligence about specific individuals having specific knowledge.”

Multiple U.S. officials, however, denied or cast doubt on the assertion that the U.S. told the Pakistanis about the bin Laden raid ahead of time.

BY MATTHEW COLE, RICHARD ESPOSITO, ROBERT WINDREM AND ANDREA MITCHELL

Find this story at 11 May 2015

Copyright www.nbcnews.com

How Was Bin Laden Killed? Seymour Hersh’s sources tell a more believable story than the self-serving official White House narrative.

Some might argue that knowing exactly how Osama bin Laden was killed really doesn’t matter. Some might even argue that he is still alive, which, if nothing else, would demonstrate the persistence of urban legends relating to conspiracies allegedly involving the U.S. government. JFK’s assassination has the grassy knoll and second gunman, plus Mafia, CIA, and Cuban connections as well as a possible Vietnamese angle. 9/11 had the mystery of the collapse of Building 7. More recently still, the Texas State Guard was mobilized to monitor a military training exercise because it was rumored to be a ploy to impose martial law. Demonizing Washington as one large conspiracy is good business all around.

The death of bin Laden has been memorialized by a CIA-sponsored film “Zero Dark Thirty” and a book by Peter Bergen, by numerous White House leaks and press releases, and by memoranda of participants, including the CIA’s female officer who tracked bin Laden and the Navy SEAL who allegedly fired the fatal shots. The most recent contribution to the oeuvre is an account by the former CIA Deputy Director and torture apologist Michael Morell, The Great War of Our Time: the CIA’s Fight against Terrorism from al-Qai’da to ISIS.

Inevitably, great stories that don’t quite hang together are often revised as memory grows weak and, in the manner of Rashomon, frequently take on the coloration of where the narrator was sitting when events unfolded. And then there are the skeptics, who focus on the inconsistencies and pull together their own explanations. A number of articles and blogs have questioned details of the standard narrative on bin Laden. One compelling account by R.J. Hillhouse in August 2011 challenged central aspects of the prevailing story, and there has been corroborative reporting from highly respected New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall.

A more recent skeptic about bin Laden is America’s top investigative reporter, Seymour Hersh. In a lengthy article published in the current London Review of Books, Hersh provides a fascinating narrative regarding the killing of bin Laden, which contradicts the account provided by the government. A White House spokesman immediately weighed in to describe Hersh’s account as “baseless,” while Morell has called it “all wrong” and Bergen has dubbed it a “farrago of nonsense.”

Sy Hersh believes the official account, that bin Laden was discovered in Abbottabad after one of his couriers was tracked, is wrong. Instead, he claims, the source of the information was a Pakistani intelligence officer who was paid as much as $25 million. Hersh also claims that the heads of the Pakistani Army and its intelligence service (ISI) knew about the raid in advance and were able to facilitate the U.S. incursion. A Pakistani intelligence officer participated in the operation after a Pakistani army doctor obtained DNA evidence proving the presence of bin Laden, convincing the White House to authorize the attack. The Obama administration, however, claims that the assault was completely unilateral and Pakistan knew nothing about it.

The Hersh account also states that bin Laden had been under house arrest by the Pakistani intelligence service for five years and was unarmed when the U.S. team arrived with instructions from Washington to kill him. His stay in Pakistan was being secretly funded by the Saudi government, which did not want him released. There was no shooting apart from that done by the Navy SEALs. An after-the-fact cover story prepared by the White House and Pakistani officials, that bin Laden had been killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan, was abandoned when Obama, for various reasons, decided to instead go public on the night of the killing, betraying the trust of the Pakistani generals.

The Hersh account and the government response together raise a number of questions which can be examined based on plausibility of the respective accounts and the possible security considerations that might have influenced an official narrative that milked the event for political gain while also protecting sources and methods. Interestingly, NBC News came out with its own report one day after Hersh’s article was published, confirming it from its own sources that a Pakistani official “helped the U.S. find Osama bin Laden, not a courier.” The article, subsequently retracted, also cited a New York Times Magazine report by Carlotta Gall that the Pakistani intelligence service ISI actually had a special desk tasked with hiding bin Laden.

For what it’s worth, I have known Sy Hersh for more than 15 years and have a great deal of respect for him as a journalist. I am aware of how carefully he vets his information, using multiple sourcing for many of his articles, and I also know that he has a network of high-level contacts in key positions scattered throughout the defense, intelligence, and national security communities. For this article he cites three anonymous U.S. special ops and intelligence sources, three named Pakistani sources, and a number of unnamed Pakistanis. I think I know the identities of at least two of his American sources, both of whom are reliable and have access, while one of his other anonymous sources might well be Jonathan Bank, the former CIA station chief in Islamabad. If Sy says that someone revealed something to him either on background or anonymously, I am sure that he accurately conveys what was said, though that does not necessarily rule out the possibility that the source might be intentionally misleading him or somehow be mistaken.

Against that, the government has hardly been a reliable source of accurate information, even regarding this past weekend’s Delta Force raid in Syria in which the Pentagon account and the report of a British monitoring group vary considerably. Some of those who are most aggressively attacking Hersh know nothing about the death of bin Laden except what the White House and its various spokesmen have provided. Several have a vested interest in parroting the official line, to include books they want to sell and white lies they would prefer remain somewhere in the shadows. Nevertheless, the bin Laden killing was a story that benefited the White House politically, making it important to get the details right lest it be discredited from the get-go.

Hersh’s first assertion, that the source of the information was a Pakistani intelligence officer who walked-in with the information is quite plausible and it actually makes more sense than the courier story, which is inconsistent in terms of who, what, when, and where. Walk-ins are mistrusted, but they also provide many breakthroughs in intelligence operations. In this case, the walk-in passed a polygraph examination and provided significant corroborating information. If the man was indeed paid and he wished to keep the connection secret, a cover story would be needed to explain how the U.S. came by the information. That is where the courier story would come in.

The presumed role of the Pakistani intelligence officer leads naturally to the plausible assumption that Pakistan had bin Laden under control as a prisoner. Among retired intelligence officers that I know no one believes that the Pakistanis were unaware of bin Laden’s presence among them though there are varying degrees of disagreement regarding exactly why he was being held and what Islamabad intended to do with him. Some speculate, as Hersh asserts, that the Paks were seeking a mechanism both to get rid of bin Laden and obtain a satisfactory quid pro quo for turning him over to Washington. Per Hersh, they considered bin Laden a “resource” to be cashed in at the right time, which makes sense.

That several senior Pakistani military officers were informed of the impending raid is also not exactly surprising. The billions that Washington has provided to the Pakistani military was largely controlled by the head of the army and the chief of ISI. That did not exactly make them paid agents of the United States, but it certainly would create a compelling self-interest in keeping the relationship functional. They could be relied upon to be discreet and they were certainly well-placed enough to mitigate the risk to incoming American helicopters if called upon to do so.

Hersh notes that due to the delay caused by the crashed helicopter the SEAL team was on the ground for 40 minutes “waiting for the bus” without any police, military, or fire department response to the noise and explosions. The public lighting in that area had also been turned off. And, indeed, the White House could still claim that it was a wholly U.S. operation because the civilian government in Islamabad, out of the loop on what was occurring, could plausibly deny any deal with Washington. Hersh notes that in Obama’s press conference on the killing, the president nevertheless acknowledged that the “counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding,” a statement that may have been true enough but also exposed the assistance that had been received and put at risk the generals who had cooperated.

And then there is the Saudi role. Hersh claims that Riyadh was footing the bill for holding bin Laden because they did not want him to reveal to the Americans what he knew about Saudi funding of al-Qaeda. The Pakistanis for their part wanted bin Laden dead as part of the deal so he would not talk about their holding him for five years without revealing that fact to Washington.

Other claims by Sy Hersh include his debunking of the “garbage bags of computers and storage devices” seized by the team, used to support the contention that bin Laden was still in charge of a vast terrorist network. But there is little evidence to suggest that anything at all was picked up during the raid. Documents turned over by the Pakistanis afterwards were examined but found to be useful mostly for background on al-Qaeda.

Concerning the firefight that may not have occurred, the government account started with a claim that bin Laden was armed and resisted using his wife as a shield, a wild west fantasy concocted by then-White House terrorism chief John Brennan, but it eventually conceded that the terrorist leader was unarmed and alone. In the initial debriefing the SEAL team reportedly did not mention any resistance in the compound. The military participants in the raid were subsequently forced to sign nondisclosure forms threatening civil penalties and a lawsuit for anyone who discussed the operation either publicly or privately.

Finally, what happened to bin Laden’s body? The original plan was to wait a week and announce that bin Laden had been literally blown to bits by drone, but that was preempted by President Obama, who saw an opportunity to score some political points. There is no evidence that bin Laden was buried at sea, as was alleged, no photos, no eyewitness testimony by sailors on board the USS Carl Vinson, and no ship’s log confirming the burial. Two of Hersh’s sources are convinced the burial never took place and that what remained after being torn apart by bullets was instead turned over to the CIA for disposal. They regard the burial at sea as a poorly designed cover story to get rid of the body and avoid any embarrassing questions over possible misidentification.

So what do I think is true? I believe that a walk-in Pakistani intelligence officer provided the information on bin Laden and that the Pakistanis were indeed holding him under house arrest, possibly with the connivance of the Saudis. I am not completely convinced that senior Pakistani generals colluded with the U.S. in the attack, though Hersh makes a carefully nuanced case and Obama’s indiscreet comment is suggestive. I do not believe any material of serious intelligence value was collected from the site and I think accounts of the shootout were exaggerated. The burial at sea does indeed appear to be a quickly contrived cover story. And yes, I do think Osama bin Laden is dead.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

By PHILIP GIRALDI • May 20, 2015

Find this story at 20 May 2015

copyright theamericanconservative.com

WATCH: How the CIA Helped Make “Zero Dark Thirty”

When Zero Dark Thirty premiered in 2012, the Hollywood film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden became a blockbuster hit.

Behind the scenes, the CIA secretly worked with the filmmakers, and the movie portrayed the agency’s controversial “enhanced interrogation techniques” — widely described as torture — as a key to uncovering information that led to the finding and killing of bin Laden.

Secrets, Politics and Torture airs Tuesday, May 19 at 10 p.m. EST on PBS (check local listings) and will stream in full, for free, online at pbs.org/frontline.
But in Secrets, Politics and Torture, premiering this Tuesday, May 19 on PBS, FRONTLINE reveals the many challenges to that narrative, and the inside story of how it came to be.

The documentary unspools the dueling versions of history laid out by the CIA, which maintains that its now officially-shuttered program was effective in combating terrorism, and the massive Senate torture report released in December 2014, which found that the program was brutal, mismanaged and — most importantly — didn’t work.

Watch the dramatic opening sequence of Secrets, Politics and Torture:

And that’s just the beginning.

Drawing on recently declassified documents and interviews with prominent political leaders and CIA insiders, Tuesday’s film goes on to examine how the secret interrogation program began, what it accomplished and the bitter fight in Washington over the public outing of its existence.

“We’ve found that, faced with 9/11 and the fear of a second attack, everybody from the head of the CIA, to the Justice Department, to the president asked ‘Can we do it?’ — meaning, can we do it legally — not, ‘Should we do it?’ says veteran FRONTLINE filmmaker Michael Kirk.

Secrets, Politics and Torture is the latest in Kirk’s acclaimed line of documentaries examining counterterrorism programs and government secrecy in the wake of 9/11: He traveled to the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq to make The Torture Question in 2005, and he just won a Peabody Award for United States of Secrets, FRONTLINE’s 2014 examination of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance program.

“As the debate over how far the U.S. should be willing to go in the fight against terrorism continues, we felt it was important to tell the story of this CIA program, comprehensively, in documentary form,” Kirk says. “What we’ve found raises some very tough questions.”

Watch Secrets, Politics and Torture Tuesday, May 19 at 10 p.m. EST on PBS (check local listings) and online at pbs.org/frontline.

May 15, 2015, 2:45 pm ET by Patrice Taddonio

Find this story at 15 May 2015

Watch secrets, politics and torture

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‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Was Filled With CIA Lies

A new documentary from Frontline doesn’t want to let the CIA off the hook for providing a false narrative to an Oscar-winning blockbuster and presenting it as a true story.
In the days leading up to the nationwide release of Zero Dark Thirty, the 2012 blockbuster movie about the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Senator Dianne Feinstein was given an advanced screening. How did the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, whose investigators were working on their own story about the hunt for bin Laden and the role that torture may have played, react to Hollywood’s depiction?

“I walked out of Zero Dark Thirty, candidly,” Feinstein says. “We were having a showing and I got into it about 15, 20 minutes and left. I couldn’t handle it. Because it’s so false.”

False, in Feinstein’s estimation, because she says the film inaccurately portrays torture as a key tool in obtaining information about bin Laden’s whereabouts. Feinstein recounts her revulsion in a new documentary from Frontline, airing Tuesday night on PBS, about the CIA’s torture program and whether brutal interrogations of detainees helped surface intelligence that led to bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, where U.S. special operations forces killed him in 2011.

The documentary portrays the Kathryn Bigelow movie, which purports to be a definitive account, as a skewed view that was heavily influenced by the CIA and its press office. The agency had given the filmmakers extraordinary access to classified details about the operation that they didn’t otherwise hand out to journalists.

“A lot of other people who covered the beat like I did in that search for bin Laden—we didn’t get close to that kind of cooperation from the agency on telling the inside story,” veteran Washington Post intelligence reporter Greg Miller told Frontline.

The documentary is short on news and revelations. But it concisely lays out the the dueling narratives between the CIA’s version of its so-called “rendition, detention, and interrogation” program, and the Senate Intelligence Commitee’s years-long investigation of the same. The committee’s findings conclude that the agency tortured detainees and failed to come up with useful intelligence about terrorist attacks. If you haven’t been following the minutiae of this now-decade-long controversy, the documentary will bring you up to speed.

Investigative journalist Michael Isikoff told Frontline that many more people will see Zero Dark Thirty than will read the countless newspaper articles about the CIA’s interrogation techniques. The movie, he thinks, will stand as the dominant narrative for what really happened in the search for bin Laden.

The Frontline producers seem conscious of that fact, and perhaps in the hopes that more people will watch a TV piece about the CIA program than read about it, they set out to poke holes in Langley’s version of events—and in Hollywood’s.

If there’s a central narrator to the piece, it’s former CIA general counsel John Rizzo, who seems less interested in defending his former employer than in settling a few scores. While Rizzo has told many of these stories already in his memoir, there are a few dramatic scenes—notably around a senior CIA official’s decision to destroy videotapes that interrogators had shot, illustrating the agency’s brutal work.

Rizzo recounts his reaction in 2005, upon receiving a cable from an overseas “black site” where prisoners were tortured, informing him that “pursuant to headquarters directions, the videotapes have been destroyed.”

Rizzo says that “after 25 years at [the] CIA, I didn’t think too much could flabbergast me, but reading that cable did.”

“I walked out of Zero Dark Thirty, candidly. We were having a showing and I got into it about 15, 20 minutes and left. I couldn’t handle it. Because it’s so false.”
Two years later, The New York Times broke the story that the agency had destroyed the footage. Rizzo says he immediately feared a “nightmare scenario” for the CIA if Congress suspected that the agency had tried to cover up the destruction. But he remembered that Porter Goss, the ex-CIA director and longtime congressman, had agreed back in 2005 to notify the heads of the congressional intelligence committees about what had happened.

Rizzo says he called Goss, who by then had left the CIA, and reminded him how they’d “divided up responsibility,” with Rizzo agreeing to tell the White House and Goss calling the Hill.

“I’ll never forget this,” Rizzo told Frontline. “There was a pause on the other end of the line, and Porter said, responded, ‘Well, actually, actually, I don’t think I ever really told the heads of the Intelligence Committee.’ The words he used was, ‘There just didn’t seem to be the right time to do it.’”

Ultimately, the documentary tells a story not so much of a full-fledged coverup, but of a series of obfuscations and spin jobs by various elements of the CIA. It was all in an effort to put the torture program in the best possible light and keep embarrassing facts out of the public eye.

That’s not a new story either, and one could be forgiven for watching the hour-long documentary and wondering, “What was the point of making it?”

The filmmakers answer that question in a parting shot from Times reporter Peter Baker, who correctly notes that there will probably be no more official investigations of the torture program, no further legal consequences for those involved, and no policy debate, since the torture program was shut down years ago.

“The fight right now is for history,” Baker says. “Why did it happen? Was it the right thing? Was it the wrong thing? And how should we look at it in generations to come?”

On those questions, Zero Dark Thirty won’t be the last word.

JUSTIFYING TORTURE05.19.1512:41 PM ET
By Shane Harris

Find this story at 19 May 2015

© 2014 The Daily Beast Company LLC

Getting Bin Laden What happened that night in Abbottabad. (2011)

Shortly after eleven o’clock on the night of May 1st, two MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters lifted off from Jalalabad Air Field, in eastern Afghanistan, and embarked on a covert mission into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden. Inside the aircraft were twenty-three Navy SEALs from Team Six, which is officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU. A Pakistani-American translator, whom I will call Ahmed, and a dog named Cairo—a Belgian Malinois—were also aboard. It was a moonless evening, and the helicopters’ pilots, wearing night-vision goggles, flew without lights over mountains that straddle the border with Pakistan. Radio communications were kept to a minimum, and an eerie calm settled inside the aircraft.

Fifteen minutes later, the helicopters ducked into an alpine valley and slipped, undetected, into Pakistani airspace. For more than sixty years, Pakistan’s military has maintained a state of high alert against its eastern neighbor, India. Because of this obsession, Pakistan’s “principal air defenses are all pointing east,” Shuja Nawaz, an expert on the Pakistani Army and the author of “Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within,” told me. Senior defense and Administration officials concur with this assessment, but a Pakistani senior military official, whom I reached at his office, in Rawalpindi, disagreed. “No one leaves their borders unattended,” he said. Though he declined to elaborate on the location or orientation of Pakistan’s radars—“It’s not where the radars are or aren’t”—he said that the American infiltration was the result of “technological gaps we have vis-à-vis the U.S.” The Black Hawks, each of which had two pilots and a crewman from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, or the Night Stalkers, had been modified to mask heat, noise, and movement; the copters’ exteriors had sharp, flat angles and were covered with radar-dampening “skin.”

The SEALs’ destination was a house in the small city of Abbottabad, which is about a hundred and twenty miles across the Pakistan border. Situated north of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, Abbottabad is in the foothills of the Pir Panjal Range, and is popular in the summertime with families seeking relief from the blistering heat farther south. Founded in 1853 by a British major named James Abbott, the city became the home of a prestigious military academy after the creation of Pakistan, in 1947. According to information gathered by the Central Intelligence Agency, bin Laden was holed up on the third floor of a house in a one-acre compound just off Kakul Road in Bilal Town, a middle-class neighborhood less than a mile from the entrance to the academy. If all went according to plan, the SEALs would drop from the helicopters into the compound, overpower bin Laden’s guards, shoot and kill him at close range, and then take the corpse back to Afghanistan.

The helicopters traversed Mohmand, one of Pakistan’s seven tribal areas, skirted the north of Peshawar, and continued due east. The commander of DEVGRU’s Red Squadron, whom I will call James, sat on the floor, squeezed among ten other SEALs, Ahmed, and Cairo. (The names of all the covert operators mentioned in this story have been changed.) James, a broad-chested man in his late thirties, does not have the lithe swimmer’s frame that one might expect of a SEAL—he is built more like a discus thrower. That night, he wore a shirt and trousers in Desert Digital Camouflage, and carried a silenced Sig Sauer P226 pistol, along with extra ammunition; a CamelBak, for hydration; and gel shots, for endurance. He held a short-barrel, silenced M4 rifle. (Others SEALs had chosen the Heckler & Koch MP7.) A “blowout kit,” for treating field trauma, was tucked into the small of James’s back. Stuffed into one of his pockets was a laminated gridded map of the compound. In another pocket was a booklet with photographs and physical descriptions of the people suspected of being inside. He wore a noise-cancelling headset, which blocked out nearly everything besides his heartbeat.

During the ninety-minute helicopter flight, James and his teammates rehearsed the operation in their heads. Since the autumn of 2001, they had rotated through Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa, at a brutal pace. At least three of the SEALs had participated in the sniper operation off the coast of Somalia, in April, 2009, that freed Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama, and left three pirates dead. In October, 2010, a DEVGRU team attempted to rescue Linda Norgrove, a Scottish aid worker who had been kidnapped in eastern Afghanistan by the Taliban. During a raid of a Taliban hideout, a SEAL tossed a grenade at an insurgent, not realizing that Norgrove was nearby. She died from the blast. The mistake haunted the SEALs who had been involved; three of them were subsequently expelled from DEVGRU.

The Abbottabad raid was not DEVGRU’s maiden venture into Pakistan, either. The team had surreptitiously entered the country on ten to twelve previous occasions, according to a special-operations officer who is deeply familiar with the bin Laden raid. Most of those missions were forays into North and South Waziristan, where many military and intelligence analysts had thought that bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders were hiding. (Only one such operation—the September, 2008, raid of Angoor Ada, a village in South Waziristan—has been widely reported.) Abbottabad was, by far, the farthest that DEVGRU had ventured into Pakistani territory. It also represented the team’s first serious attempt since late 2001 at killing “Crankshaft”—the target name that the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, had given bin Laden. Since escaping that winter during a battle in the Tora Bora region of eastern Afghanistan, bin Laden had defied American efforts to trace him. Indeed, it remains unclear how he ended up living in Abbottabad.

Forty-five minutes after the Black Hawks departed, four MH-47 Chinooks launched from the same runway in Jalalabad. Two of them flew to the border, staying on the Afghan side; the other two proceeded into Pakistan. Deploying four Chinooks was a last-minute decision made after President Barack Obama said he wanted to feel assured that the Americans could “fight their way out of Pakistan.” Twenty-five additional SEALs from DEVGRU, pulled from a squadron stationed in Afghanistan, sat in the Chinooks that remained at the border; this “quick-reaction force” would be called into action only if the mission went seriously wrong. The third and fourth Chinooks were each outfitted with a pair of M134 Miniguns. They followed the Black Hawks’ initial flight path but landed at a predetermined point on a dry riverbed in a wide, unpopulated valley in northwest Pakistan. The nearest house was half a mile away. On the ground, the copters’ rotors were kept whirring while operatives monitored the surrounding hills for encroaching Pakistani helicopters or fighter jets. One of the Chinooks was carrying fuel bladders, in case the other aircraft needed to refill their tanks.

Meanwhile, the two Black Hawks were quickly approaching Abbottabad from the northwest, hiding behind the mountains on the northernmost edge of the city. Then the pilots banked right and went south along a ridge that marks Abbottabad’s eastern perimeter. When those hills tapered off, the pilots curled right again, toward the city center, and made their final approach.

During the next four minutes, the interior of the Black Hawks rustled alive with the metallic cough of rounds being chambered. Mark, a master chief petty officer and the ranking noncommissioned officer on the operation, crouched on one knee beside the open door of the lead helicopter. He and the eleven other SEALs on “helo one,” who were wearing gloves and had on night-vision goggles, were preparing to fast-rope into bin Laden’s yard. They waited for the crew chief to give the signal to throw the rope. But, as the pilot passed over the compound, pulled into a high hover, and began lowering the aircraft, he felt the Black Hawk getting away from him. He sensed that they were going to crash.

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One month before the 2008 Presidential election, Obama, then a senator from Illinois, squared off in a debate against John McCain in an arena at Belmont University, in Nashville. A woman in the audience asked Obama if he would be willing to pursue Al Qaeda leaders inside Pakistan, even if that meant invading an ally nation. He replied, “If we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable, or unwilling, to take them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out. We will kill bin Laden. We will crush Al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national-security priority.” McCain, who often criticized Obama for his naïveté on foreign-policy matters, characterized the promise as foolish, saying, “I’m not going to telegraph my punches.”

Four months after Obama entered the White House, Leon Panetta, the director of the C.I.A., briefed the President on the agency’s latest programs and initiatives for tracking bin Laden. Obama was unimpressed. In June, 2009, he drafted a memo instructing Panetta to create a “detailed operation plan” for finding the Al Qaeda leader and to “ensure that we have expended every effort.” Most notably, the President intensified the C.I.A.’s classified drone program; there were more missile strikes inside Pakistan during Obama’s first year in office than in George W. Bush’s eight. The terrorists swiftly registered the impact: that July, CBS reported that a recent Al Qaeda communiqué had referred to “brave commanders” who had been “snatched away” and to “so many hidden homes [which] have been levelled.” The document blamed the “very grave” situation on spies who had “spread throughout the land like locusts.” Nevertheless, bin Laden’s trail remained cold.

In August, 2010, Panetta returned to the White House with better news. C.I.A. analysts believed that they had pinpointed bin Laden’s courier, a man in his early thirties named Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. Kuwaiti drove a white S.U.V. whose spare-tire cover was emblazoned with an image of a white rhino. The C.I.A. began tracking the vehicle. One day, a satellite captured images of the S.U.V. pulling into a large concrete compound in Abbottabad. Agents, determining that Kuwaiti was living there, used aerial surveillance to keep watch on the compound, which consisted of a three-story main house, a guesthouse, and a few outbuildings. They observed that residents of the compound burned their trash, instead of putting it out for collection, and concluded that the compound lacked a phone or an Internet connection. Kuwaiti and his brother came and went, but another man, living on the third floor, never left. When this third individual did venture outside, he stayed behind the compound’s walls. Some analysts speculated that the third man was bin Laden, and the agency dubbed him the Pacer.

Obama, though excited, was not yet prepared to order military action. John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, told me that the President’s advisers began an “interrogation of the data, to see if, by that interrogation, you’re going to disprove the theory that bin Laden was there.” The C.I.A. intensified its intelligence-collection efforts, and, according to a recent report in the Guardian, a physician working for the agency conducted an immunization drive in Abbottabad, in the hope of acquiring DNA samples from bin Laden’s children. (No one in the compound ultimately received any immunizations.)

In late 2010, Obama ordered Panetta to begin exploring options for a military strike on the compound. Panetta contacted Vice-Admiral Bill McRaven, the SEAL in charge of JSOC. Traditionally, the Army has dominated the special-operations community, but in recent years the SEALs have become a more prominent presence; McRaven’s boss at the time of the raid, Eric Olson—the head of Special Operations Command, or SOCOM—is a Navy admiral who used to be a commander of DEVGRU. In January, 2011, McRaven asked a JSOC official named Brian, who had previously been a DEVGRU deputy commander, to present a raid plan. The next month, Brian, who has the all-American look of a high-school quarterback, moved into an unmarked office on the first floor of the C.I.A.’s printing plant, in Langley, Virginia. Brian covered the walls of the office with topographical maps and satellite images of the Abbottabad compound. He and half a dozen JSOC officers were formally attached to the Pakistan/Afghanistan department of the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center, but in practice they operated on their own. A senior counterterrorism official who visited the JSOC redoubt described it as an enclave of unusual secrecy and discretion. “Everything they were working on was closely held,” the official said.

The relationship between special-operations units and the C.I.A. dates back to the Vietnam War. But the line between the two communities has increasingly blurred as C.I.A. officers and military personnel have encountered one another on multiple tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. “These people grew up together,” a senior Defense Department official told me. “We are in each other’s systems, we speak each other’s languages.” (Exemplifying this trend, General David H. Petraeus, the former commanding general in Iraq and Afghanistan, is now the incoming head of the C.I.A., and Panetta has taken over the Department of Defense.) The bin Laden mission—plotted at C.I.A. headquarters and authorized under C.I.A. legal statutes but conducted by Navy DEVGRU operators—brought the coöperation between the agency and the Pentagon to an even higher level. John Radsan, a former assistant general counsel at the C.I.A., said that the Abbottabad raid amounted to “a complete incorporation of JSOC into a C.I.A. operation.”

On March 14th, Obama called his national-security advisers into the White House Situation Room and reviewed a spreadsheet listing possible courses of action against the Abbottabad compound. Most were variations of either a JSOC raid or an airstrike. Some versions included coöperating with the Pakistani military; some did not. Obama decided against informing or working with Pakistan. “There was a real lack of confidence that the Pakistanis could keep this secret for more than a nanosecond,” a senior adviser to the President told me. At the end of the meeting, Obama instructed McRaven to proceed with planning the raid.

Brian invited James, the commander of DEVGRU’s Red Squadron, and Mark, the master chief petty officer, to join him at C.I.A. headquarters. They spent the next two and a half weeks considering ways to get inside bin Laden’s house. One option entailed flying helicopters to a spot outside Abbottabad and letting the team sneak into the city on foot. The risk of detection was high, however, and the SEALs would be tired by a long run to the compound. The planners had contemplated tunnelling in—or, at least, the possibility that bin Laden might tunnel out. But images provided by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency showed that there was standing water in the vicinity, suggesting that the compound sat in a flood basin. The water table was probably just below the surface, making tunnels highly unlikely. Eventually, the planners agreed that it made the most sense to fly directly into the compound. “Special operations is about doing what’s not expected, and probably the least expected thing here was that a helicopter would come in, drop guys on the roof, and land in the yard,” the special-operations officer said.

On March 29th, McRaven brought the plan to Obama. The President’s military advisers were divided. Some supported a raid, some an airstrike, and others wanted to hold off until the intelligence improved. Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, was one of the most outspoken opponents of a helicopter assault. Gates reminded his colleagues that he had been in the Situation Room of the Carter White House when military officials presented Eagle Claw—the 1980 Delta Force operation that aimed at rescuing American hostages in Tehran but resulted in a disastrous collision in the Iranian desert, killing eight American soldiers. “They said that was a pretty good idea, too,” Gates warned. He and General James Cartwright, the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs, favored an airstrike by B-2 Spirit bombers. That option would avoid the risk of having American boots on the ground in Pakistan. But the Air Force then calculated that a payload of thirty-two smart bombs, each weighing two thousand pounds, would be required to penetrate thirty feet below ground, insuring that any bunkers would collapse. “That much ordnance going off would be the equivalent of an earthquake,” Cartwright told me. The prospect of flattening a Pakistani city made Obama pause. He shelved the B-2 option and directed McRaven to start rehearsing the raid.

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Brian, James, and Mark selected a team of two dozen SEALs from Red Squadron and told them to report to a densely forested site in North Carolina for a training exercise on April 10th. (Red Squadron is one of four squadrons in DEVGRU, which has about three hundred operators in all.) None of the SEALs, besides James and Mark, were aware of the C.I.A. intelligence on bin Laden’s compound until a lieutenant commander walked into an office at the site. He found a two-star Army general from JSOC headquarters seated at a conference table with Brian, James, Mark, and several analysts from the C.I.A. This obviously wasn’t a training exercise. The lieutenant commander was promptly “read in.” A replica of the compound had been built at the site, with walls and chain-link fencing marking the layout of the compound. The team spent the next five days practicing maneuvers.

On April 18th, the DEVGRU squad flew to Nevada for another week of rehearsals. The practice site was a large government-owned stretch of desert with an elevation equivalent to the area surrounding Abbottabad. An extant building served as bin Laden’s house. Aircrews plotted out a path that paralleled the flight from Jalalabad to Abbottabad. Each night after sundown, drills commenced. Twelve SEALs, including Mark, boarded helo one. Eleven SEALs, Ahmed, and Cairo boarded helo two. The pilots flew in the dark, arrived at the simulated compound, and settled into a hover while the SEALs fast-roped down. Not everyone on the team was accustomed to helicopter assaults. Ahmed had been pulled from a desk job for the mission and had never descended a fast rope. He quickly learned the technique.

The assault plan was now honed. Helo one was to hover over the yard, drop two fast ropes, and let all twelve SEALs slide down into the yard. Helo two would fly to the northeast corner of the compound and let out Ahmed, Cairo, and four SEALs, who would monitor the perimeter of the building. The copter would then hover over the house, and James and the remaining six SEALs would shimmy down to the roof. As long as everything was cordial, Ahmed would hold curious neighbors at bay. The SEALs and the dog could assist more aggressively, if needed. Then, if bin Laden was proving difficult to find, Cairo could be sent into the house to search for false walls or hidden doors. “This wasn’t a hard op,” the special-operations officer told me. “It would be like hitting a target in McLean”—the upscale Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C.

A planeload of guests arrived on the night of April 21st. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, along with Olson and McRaven, sat with C.I.A. personnel in a hangar as Brian, James, Mark, and the pilots presented a brief on the raid, which had been named Operation Neptune’s Spear. Despite JSOC’s lead role in Neptune’s Spear, the mission officially remained a C.I.A. covert operation. The covert approach allowed the White House to hide its involvement, if necessary. As the counterterrorism official put it recently, “If you land and everybody is out on a milk run, then you get the hell out and no one knows.” After describing the operation, the briefers fielded questions: What if a mob surrounded the compound? Were the SEALs prepared to shoot civilians? Olson, who received the Silver Star for valor during the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” episode, in Mogadishu, Somalia, worried that it could be politically catastrophic if a U.S. helicopter were shot down inside Pakistani territory. After an hour or so of questioning, the senior officers and intelligence analysts returned to Washington. Two days later, the SEALs flew back to Dam Neck, their base in Virginia.

On the night of Tuesday, April 26th, the SEAL team boarded a Boeing C-17 Globemaster at Naval Air Station Oceana, a few miles from Dam Neck. After a refuelling stop at Ramstein Air Base, in Germany, the C-17 continued to Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul. The SEALs spent a night in Bagram and moved to Jalalabad on Thursday.*

That day in Washington, Panetta convened more than a dozen senior C.I.A. officials and analysts for a final preparatory meeting. Panetta asked the participants, one by one, to declare how confident they were that bin Laden was inside the Abbottabad compound. The counterterrorism official told me that the percentages “ranged from forty per cent to ninety or ninety-five per cent,” and added, “This was a circumstantial case.”

Panetta was mindful of the analysts’ doubts, but he believed that the intelligence was better than anything that the C.I.A. had gathered on bin Laden since his flight from Tora Bora. Late on Thursday afternoon, Panetta and the rest of the national-security team met with the President. For the next few nights, there would be virtually no moonlight over Abbottabad—the ideal condition for a raid. After that, it would be another month until the lunar cycle was in its darkest phase. Several analysts from the National Counterterrorism Center were invited to critique the C.I.A.’s analysis; their confidence in the intelligence ranged between forty and sixty per cent. The center’s director, Michael Leiter, said that it would be preferable to wait for stronger confirmation of bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. Yet, as Ben Rhodes, a deputy national-security adviser, put it to me recently, the longer things dragged on, the greater the risk of a leak, “which would have upended the thing.” Obama adjourned the meeting just after 7 P.M. and said that he would sleep on it.

The next morning, the President met in the Map Room with Tom Donilon, his national-security adviser, Denis McDonough, a deputy adviser, and Brennan. Obama had decided to go with a DEVGRU assault, with McRaven choosing the night. It was too late for a Friday attack, and on Saturday there was excessive cloud cover. On Saturday afternoon, McRaven and Obama spoke on the phone, and McRaven said that the raid would occur on Sunday night. “Godspeed to you and your forces,” Obama told him. “Please pass on to them my personal thanks for their service and the message that I personally will be following this mission very closely.”

On the morning of Sunday, May 1st, White House officials cancelled scheduled visits, ordered sandwich platters from Costco, and transformed the Situation Room into a war room. At eleven o’clock, Obama’s top advisers began gathering around a large conference table. A video link connected them to Panetta, at C.I.A. headquarters, and McRaven, in Afghanistan. (There were at least two other command centers, one inside the Pentagon and one inside the American Embassy in Islamabad.)

Brigadier General Marshall Webb, an assistant commander of JSOC, took a seat at the end of a lacquered table in a small adjoining office and turned on his laptop. He opened multiple chat windows that kept him, and the White House, connected with the other command teams. The office where Webb sat had the only video feed in the White House showing real-time footage of the target, which was being shot by an unarmed RQ 170 drone flying more than fifteen thousand feet above Abbottabad. The JSOC planners, determined to keep the operation as secret as possible, had decided against using additional fighters or bombers. “It just wasn’t worth it,” the special-operations officer told me. The SEALs were on their own.

Obama returned to the White House at two o’clock, after playing nine holes of golf at Andrews Air Force Base. The Black Hawks departed from Jalalabad thirty minutes later. Just before four o’clock, Panetta announced to the group in the Situation Room that the helicopters were approaching Abbottabad. Obama stood up. “I need to watch this,” he said, stepping across the hall into the small office and taking a seat alongside Webb. Vice-President Joseph Biden, Secretary Gates, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton followed him, as did anyone else who could fit into the office. On the office’s modestly sized LCD screen, helo one—grainy and black-and-white—appeared above the compound, then promptly ran into trouble.

When the helicopter began getting away from the pilot, he pulled back on the cyclic, which controls the pitch of the rotor blades, only to find the aircraft unresponsive. The high walls of the compound and the warm temperatures had caused the Black Hawk to descend inside its own rotor wash—a hazardous aerodynamic situation known as “settling with power.” In North Carolina, this potential problem had not become apparent, because the chain-link fencing used in rehearsals had allowed air to flow freely. A former helicopter pilot with extensive special-operations experience said of the pilot’s situation, “It’s pretty spooky—I’ve been in it myself. The only way to get out of it is to push the cyclic forward and fly out of this vertical silo you’re dropping through. That solution requires altitude. If you’re settling with power at two thousand feet, you’ve got plenty of time to recover. If you’re settling with power at fifty feet, you’re going to hit the ground.”

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The pilot scrapped the plan to fast-rope and focussed on getting the aircraft down. He aimed for an animal pen in the western section of the compound. The SEALs on board braced themselves as the tail rotor swung around, scraping the security wall. The pilot jammed the nose forward to drive it into the dirt and prevent his aircraft from rolling onto its side. Cows, chickens, and rabbits scurried. With the Black Hawk pitched at a forty-five-degree angle astride the wall, the crew sent a distress call to the idling Chinooks.

James and the SEALs in helo two watched all this while hovering over the compound’s northeast corner. The second pilot, unsure whether his colleagues were taking fire or experiencing mechanical problems, ditched his plan to hover over the roof. Instead, he landed in a grassy field across the street from the house.

No American was yet inside the residential part of the compound. Mark and his team were inside a downed helicopter at one corner, while James and his team were at the opposite end. The teams had barely been on target for a minute, and the mission was already veering off course.

“Eternity is defined as the time be tween when you see something go awry and that first voice report,” the special-operations officer said. The officials in Washington viewed the aerial footage and waited anxiously to hear a military communication. The senior adviser to the President compared the experience to watching “the climax of a movie.”

After a few minutes, the twelve SEALs inside helo one recovered their bearings and calmly relayed on the radio that they were proceeding with the raid. They had conducted so many operations over the past nine years that few things caught them off guard. In the months after the raid, the media have frequently suggested that the Abbottabad operation was as challenging as Operation Eagle Claw and the “Black Hawk Down” incident, but the senior Defense Department official told me that “this was not one of three missions. This was one of almost two thousand missions that have been conducted over the last couple of years, night after night.” He likened the routine of evening raids to “mowing the lawn.” On the night of May 1st alone, special-operations forces based in Afghanistan conducted twelve other missions; according to the official, those operations captured or killed between fifteen and twenty targets. “Most of the missions take off and go left,” he said. “This one took off and went right.”

Minutes after hitting the ground, Mark and the other team members began streaming out the side doors of helo one. Mud sucked at their boots as they ran alongside a ten-foot-high wall that enclosed the animal pen. A three-man demolition unit hustled ahead to the pen’s closed metal gate, reached into bags containing explosives, and placed C-4 charges on the hinges. After a loud bang, the door fell open. The nine other SEALs rushed forward, ending up in an alleylike driveway with their backs to the house’s main entrance. They moved down the alley, silenced rifles pressed against their shoulders. Mark hung toward the rear as he established radio communications with the other team. At the end of the driveway, the Americans blew through yet another locked gate and stepped into a courtyard facing the guesthouse, where Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, bin Laden’s courier, lived with his wife and four children.

Three SEALs in front broke off to clear the guesthouse as the remaining nine blasted through another gate and entered an inner courtyard, which faced the main house. When the smaller unit rounded the corner to face the doors of the guesthouse, they spotted Kuwaiti running inside to warn his wife and children. The Americans’ night-vision goggles cast the scene in pixellated shades of emerald green. Kuwaiti, wearing a white shalwar kameez, had grabbed a weapon and was coming back outside when the SEALs opened fire and killed him.

The nine other SEALs, including Mark, formed three-man units for clearing the inner courtyard. The Americans suspected that several more men were in the house: Kuwaiti’s thirty-three-year-old brother, Abrar; bin Laden’s sons Hamza and Khalid; and bin Laden himself. One SEAL unit had no sooner trod on the paved patio at the house’s front entrance when Abrar—a stocky, mustachioed man in a cream-colored shalwar kameez—appeared with an AK-47. He was shot in the chest and killed, as was his wife, Bushra, who was standing, unarmed, beside him.

Outside the compound’s walls, Ahmed, the translator, patrolled the dirt road in front of bin Laden’s house, as if he were a plainclothes Pakistani police officer. He looked the part, wearing a shalwar kameez atop a flak jacket. He, the dog Cairo, and four SEALs were responsible for closing off the perimeter of the house while James and six other SEALs—the contingent that was supposed to have dropped onto the roof—moved inside. For the team patrolling the perimeter, the first fifteen minutes passed without incident. Neighbors undoubtedly heard the low-flying helicopters, the sound of one crashing, and the sporadic explosions and gunfire that ensued, but nobody came outside. One local took note of the tumult in a Twitter post: “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1 AM (is a rare event).”

Eventually, a few curious Pakistanis approached to inquire about the commotion on the other side of the wall. “Go back to your houses,” Ahmed said, in Pashto, as Cairo stood watch. “There is a security operation under way.” The locals went home, none of them suspecting that they had talked to an American. When journalists descended on Bilal Town in the coming days, one resident told a reporter, “I saw soldiers emerging from the helicopters and advancing toward the house. Some of them instructed us in chaste Pashto to turn off the lights and stay inside.”

Meanwhile, James, the squadron commander, had breached one wall, crossed a section of the yard covered with trellises, breached a second wall, and joined up with the SEALs from helo one, who were entering the ground floor of the house. What happened next is not precisely clear. “I can tell you that there was a time period of almost twenty to twenty-five minutes where we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on,” Panetta said later, on “PBS NewsHour.”

Until this moment, the operation had been monitored by dozens of defense, intelligence, and Administration officials watching the drone’s video feed. The SEALs were not wearing helmet cams, contrary to a widely cited report by CBS. None of them had any previous knowledge of the house’s floor plan, and they were further jostled by the awareness that they were possibly minutes away from ending the costliest manhunt in American history; as a result, some of their recollections—on which this account is based—may be imprecise and, thus, subject to dispute.

As Abrar’s children ran for cover, the SEALs began clearing the first floor of the main house, room by room. Though the Americans had thought that the house might be booby-trapped, the presence of kids at the compound suggested otherwise. “You can only be hyper-vigilant for so long,” the special-operations officer said. “Did bin Laden go to sleep every night thinking, The next night they’re coming? Of course not. Maybe for the first year or two. But not now.” Nevertheless, security precautions were in place. A locked metal gate blocked the base of the staircase leading to the second floor, making the downstairs room feel like a cage.

After blasting through the gate with C-4 charges, three SEALs marched up the stairs. Midway up, they saw bin Laden’s twenty-three-year-old son, Khalid, craning his neck around the corner. He then appeared at the top of the staircase with an AK-47. Khalid, who wore a white T-shirt with an overstretched neckline and had short hair and a clipped beard, fired down at the Americans. (The counterterrorism official claims that Khalid was unarmed, though still a threat worth taking seriously. “You have an adult male, late at night, in the dark, coming down the stairs at you in an Al Qaeda house—your assumption is that you’re encountering a hostile.”) At least two of the SEALs shot back and killed Khalid. According to the booklets that the SEALs carried, up to five adult males were living inside the compound. Three of them were now dead; the fourth, bin Laden’s son Hamza, was not on the premises. The final person was bin Laden.

Before the mission commenced, the SEALs had created a checklist of code words that had a Native American theme. Each code word represented a different stage of the mission: leaving Jalalabad, entering Pakistan, approaching the compound, and so on. “Geronimo” was to signify that bin Laden had been found.

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“Let me put it this way—you’re irreplaceable but not indispensable.”
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Three SEALs shuttled past Khalid’s body and blew open another metal cage, which obstructed the staircase leading to the third floor. Bounding up the unlit stairs, they scanned the railed landing. On the top stair, the lead SEAL swivelled right; with his night-vision goggles, he discerned that a tall, rangy man with a fist-length beard was peeking out from behind a bedroom door, ten feet away. The SEAL instantly sensed that it was Crankshaft. (The counterterrorism official asserts that the SEAL first saw bin Laden on the landing, and fired but missed.)

The Americans hurried toward the bedroom door. The first SEAL pushed it open. Two of bin Laden’s wives had placed themselves in front of him. Amal al-Fatah, bin Laden’s fifth wife, was screaming in Arabic. She motioned as if she were going to charge; the SEAL lowered his sights and shot her once, in the calf. Fearing that one or both women were wearing suicide jackets, he stepped forward, wrapped them in a bear hug, and drove them aside. He would almost certainly have been killed had they blown themselves up, but by blanketing them he would have absorbed some of the blast and potentially saved the two SEALs behind him. In the end, neither woman was wearing an explosive vest.

A second SEAL stepped into the room and trained the infrared laser of his M4 on bin Laden’s chest. The Al Qaeda chief, who was wearing a tan shalwar kameez and a prayer cap on his head, froze; he was unarmed. “There was never any question of detaining or capturing him—it wasn’t a split-second decision. No one wanted detainees,” the special-operations officer told me. (The Administration maintains that had bin Laden immediately surrendered he could have been taken alive.) Nine years, seven months, and twenty days after September 11th, an American was a trigger pull from ending bin Laden’s life. The first round, a 5.56-mm. bullet, struck bin Laden in the chest. As he fell backward, the SEAL fired a second round into his head, just above his left eye. On his radio, he reported, “For God and country—Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo.” After a pause, he added, “Geronimo E.K.I.A.”—“enemy killed in action.”

Hearing this at the White House, Obama pursed his lips, and said solemnly, to no one in particular, “We got him.”

Relaxing his hold on bin Laden’s two wives, the first SEAL placed the women in flex cuffs and led them downstairs. Two of his colleagues, meanwhile, ran upstairs with a nylon body bag. They unfurled it, knelt down on either side of bin Laden, and placed the body inside the bag. Eighteen minutes had elapsed since the DEVGRU team landed. For the next twenty minutes, the mission shifted to an intelligence-gathering operation.

Four men scoured the second floor, plastic bags in hand, collecting flash drives, CDs, DVDs, and computer hardware from the room, which had served, in part, as bin Laden’s makeshift media studio. In the coming weeks, a C.I.A.-led task force examined the files and determined that bin Laden had remained far more involved in the operational activities of Al Qaeda than many American officials had thought. He had been developing plans to assassinate Obama and Petraeus, to pull off an extravagant September 11th anniversary attack, and to attack American trains. The SEALs also found an archive of digital pornography. “We find it on all these guys, whether they’re in Somalia, Iraq, or Afghanistan,” the special-operations officer said. Bin Laden’s gold-threaded robes, worn during his video addresses, hung behind a curtain in the media room.

Outside, the Americans corralled the women and children—each of them bound in flex cuffs—and had them sit against an exterior wall that faced the second, undamaged Black Hawk. The lone fluent Arabic speaker on the assault team questioned them. Nearly all the children were under the age of ten. They seemed to have no idea about the tenant upstairs, other than that he was “an old guy.” None of the women confirmed that the man was bin Laden, though one of them kept referring to him as “the sheikh.” When the rescue Chinook eventually arrived, a medic stepped out and knelt over the corpse. He injected a needle into bin Laden’s body and extracted two bone-marrow samples. More DNA was taken with swabs. One of the bone-marrow samples went into the Black Hawk. The other went into the Chinook, along with bin Laden’s body.

Next, the SEALs needed to destroy the damaged Black Hawk. The pilot, armed with a hammer that he kept for such situations, smashed the instrument panel, the radio, and the other classified fixtures inside the cockpit. Then the demolition unit took over. They placed explosives near the avionics system, the communications gear, the engine, and the rotor head. “You’re not going to hide the fact that it’s a helicopter,” the special-operations officer said. “But you want to make it unusable.” The SEALs placed extra C-4 charges under the carriage, rolled thermite grenades inside the copter’s body, and then backed up. Helo one burst into flames while the demolition team boarded the Chinook. The women and children, who were being left behind for the Pakistani authorities, looked puzzled, scared, and shocked as they watched the SEALs board the helicopters. Amal, bin Laden’s wife, continued her harangue. Then, as a giant fire burned inside the compound walls, the Americans flew away.

In the Situation Room, Obama said, “I’m not going to be happy until those guys get out safe.” After thirty-eight minutes inside the compound, the two SEAL teams had to make the long flight back to Afghanistan. The Black Hawk was low on gas, and needed to rendezvous with the Chinook at the refuelling point that was near the Afghan border—but still inside Pakistan. Filling the gas tank took twenty-five minutes. At one point, Biden, who had been fingering a rosary, turned to Mullen, the Joint Chiefs chairman. “We should all go to Mass tonight,” he said.

The helicopters landed back in Jalalabad around 3 A.M.; McRaven and the C.I.A. station chief met the team on the tarmac. A pair of SEALs unloaded the body bag and unzipped it so that McRaven and the C.I.A. officer could see bin Laden’s corpse with their own eyes. Photographs were taken of bin Laden’s face and then of his outstretched body. Bin Laden was believed to be about six feet four, but no one had a tape measure to confirm the body’s length. So one SEAL, who was six feet tall, lay beside the corpse: it measured roughly four inches longer than the American. Minutes later, McRaven appeared on the teleconference screen in the Situation Room and confirmed that bin Laden’s body was in the bag. The corpse was sent to Bagram.

All along, the SEALs had planned to dump bin Laden’s corpse into the sea—a blunt way of ending the bin Laden myth. They had successfully pulled off a similar scheme before. During a DEVGRU helicopter raid inside Somalia in September, 2009, SEALs had killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, one of East Africa’s top Al Qaeda leaders; Nabhan’s corpse was then flown to a ship in the Indian Ocean, given proper Muslim rites, and thrown overboard. Before taking that step for bin Laden, however, John Brennan made a call. Brennan, who had been a C.I.A. station chief in Riyadh, phoned a former counterpart in Saudi intelligence. Brennan told the man what had occurred in Abbottabad and informed him of the plan to deposit bin Laden’s remains at sea. As Brennan knew, bin Laden’s relatives were still a prominent family in the Kingdom, and Osama had once been a Saudi citizen. Did the Saudi government have any interest in taking the body? “Your plan sounds like a good one,” the Saudi replied.

At dawn, bin Laden was loaded into the belly of a flip-wing V-22 Osprey, accompanied by a JSOC liaison officer and a security detail of military police. The Osprey flew south, destined for the deck of the U.S.S. Carl Vinson—a thousand-foot-long nuclear-powered aircraft carrier sailing in the Arabian Sea, off the Pakistani coast. The Americans, yet again, were about to traverse Pakistani airspace without permission. Some officials worried that the Pakistanis, stung by the humiliation of the unilateral raid in Abbottabad, might restrict the Osprey’s access. The airplane ultimately landed on the Vinson without incident.

Bin Laden’s body was washed, wrapped in a white burial shroud, weighted, and then slipped inside a bag. The process was done “in strict conformance with Islamic precepts and practices,” Brennan later told reporters. The JSOC liaison, the military-police contingent, and several sailors placed the shrouded body on an open-air elevator, and rode down with it to the lower level, which functions as a hangar for airplanes. From a height of between twenty and twenty-five feet above the waves, they heaved the corpse into the water.

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Back in Abbottabad, residents of Bilal Town and dozens of journalists converged on bin Laden’s compound, and the morning light clarified some of the confusion from the previous night. Black soot from the detonated Black Hawk charred the wall of the animal pen. Part of the tail hung over the wall. It was clear that a military raid had taken place there. “I’m glad no one was hurt in the crash, but, on the other hand, I’m sort of glad we left the helicopter there,” the special-operations officer said. “It quiets the conspiracy mongers out there and instantly lends credibility. You believe everything else instantly, because there’s a helicopter sitting there.”

After the raid, Pakistan’s political leadership engaged in frantic damage control. In the Washington Post, President Asif Ali Zardari wrote that bin Laden “was not anywhere we had anticipated he would be, but now he is gone,” adding that “a decade of cooperation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden.”

Pakistani military officials reacted more cynically. They arrested at least five Pakistanis for helping the C.I.A., including the physician who ran the immunization drive in Abbottabad. And several Pakistani media outlets, including the Nation—a jingoistic English-language newspaper that is considered a mouthpiece for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or I.S.I.—published what they claimed was the name of the C.I.A.’s station chief in Islamabad. (Shireen Mazari, a former editor of the Nation, once told me, “Our interests and the Americans’ interests don’t coincide.”) The published name was incorrect, and the C.I.A. officer opted to stay.

The proximity of bin Laden’s house to the Pakistan Military Academy raised the possibility that the military, or the I.S.I., had helped protect bin Laden. How could Al Qaeda’s chief live so close to the academy without at least some officers knowing about it? Suspicion grew after the Times reported that at least one cell phone recovered from bin Laden’s house contained contacts for senior militants belonging to Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, a jihadi group that has had close ties to the I.S.I. Although American officials have stated that Pakistani officials must have helped bin Laden hide in Abbottabad, definitive evidence has not yet been presented.

Bin Laden’s death provided the White House with the symbolic victory it needed to begin phasing troops out of Afghanistan. Seven weeks later, Obama announced a timetable for withdrawal. Even so, U.S. counterterrorism activities inside Pakistan—that is, covert operations conducted by the C.I.A. and JSOC—are not expected to diminish anytime soon. Since May 2nd, there have been more than twenty drone strikes in North and South Waziristan, including one that allegedly killed Ilyas Kashmiri, a top Al Qaeda leader, while he was sipping tea in an apple orchard.

The success of the bin Laden raid has sparked a conversation inside military and intelligence circles: Are there other terrorists worth the risk of another helicopter assault in a Pakistani city? “There are people out there that, if we could find them, we would go after them,” Cartwright told me. He mentioned Ayman al-Zawahiri, the new leader of Al Qaeda, who is believed to be in Pakistan, and Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric in Yemen. Cartwright emphasized that “going after them” didn’t necessarily mean another DEVGRU raid. The special-operations officer spoke more boldly. He believes that a precedent has been set for more unilateral raids in the future. “Folks now realize we can weather it,” he said. The senior adviser to the President said that “penetrating other countries’ sovereign airspace covertly is something that’s always available for the right mission and the right gain.” Brennan told me, “The confidence we have in the capabilities of the U.S. military is, without a doubt, even stronger after this operation.”

On May 6th, Al Qaeda confirmed bin Laden’s death and released a statement congratulating “the Islamic nation” on “the martyrdom of its good son Osama.” The authors promised Americans that “their joy will turn to sorrow and their tears will mix with blood.” That day, President Obama travelled to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where the 160th is based, to meet the DEVGRU unit and the pilots who pulled off the raid. The SEALs, who had returned home from Afghanistan earlier in the week, flew in from Virginia. Biden, Tom Donilon, and a dozen other national-security advisers came along.

McRaven greeted Obama on the tarmac. (They had met at the White House a few days earlier—the President had presented McRaven with a tape measure.) McRaven led the President and his team into a one-story building on the other side of the base. They walked into a windowless room with shabby carpets, fluorescent lights, and three rows of metal folding chairs. McRaven, Brian, the pilots from the 160th, and James took turns briefing the President. They had set up a three-dimensional model of bin Laden’s compound on the floor and, waving a red laser pointer, traced their maneuvers inside. A satellite image of the compound was displayed on a wall, along with a map showing the flight routes into and out of Pakistan. The briefing lasted about thirty-five minutes. Obama wanted to know how Ahmed had kept locals at bay; he also inquired about the fallen Black Hawk and whether above-average temperatures in Abbottabad had contributed to the crash. (The Pentagon is conducting a formal investigation of the accident.)

When James, the squadron commander, spoke, he started by citing all the forward operating bases in eastern Afghanistan that had been named for SEALs killed in combat. “Everything we have done for the last ten years prepared us for this,” he told Obama. The President was “in awe of these guys,” Ben Rhodes, the deputy national-security adviser, who travelled with Obama, said. “It was an extraordinary base visit,” he added. “They knew he had staked his Presidency on this. He knew they staked their lives on it.”

As James talked about the raid, he mentioned Cairo’s role. “There was a dog?” Obama interrupted. James nodded and said that Cairo was in an adjoining room, muzzled, at the request of the Secret Service.

“I want to meet that dog,” Obama said.

“If you want to meet the dog, Mr. President, I advise you to bring treats,” James joked. Obama went over to pet Cairo, but the dog’s muzzle was left on.

Afterward, Obama and his advisers went into a second room, down the hall, where others involved in the raid—including logisticians, crew chiefs, and SEAL alternates—had assembled. Obama presented the team with a Presidential Unit Citation and said, “Our intelligence professionals did some amazing work. I had fifty-fifty confidence that bin Laden was there, but I had one-hundred-per-cent confidence in you guys. You are, literally, the finest small-fighting force that has ever existed in the world.” The raiding team then presented the President with an American flag that had been on board the rescue Chinook. Measuring three feet by five, the flag had been stretched, ironed, and framed. The SEALs and the pilots had signed it on the back; an inscription on the front read, “From the Joint Task Force Operation Neptune’s Spear, 01 May 2011: ‘For God and country. Geronimo.’ ” Obama promised to put the gift “somewhere private and meaningful to me.” Before the President returned to Washington, he posed for photographs with each team member and spoke with many of them, but he left one thing unsaid. He never asked who fired the kill shot, and the SEALs never volunteered to tell him. ♦

* The original version of this article stated that the SEALs moved to Jalalabad on Wednesday, but in fact they moved on Thursday.

A Reporter at Large AUGUST 8, 2011 ISSUE
BY NICHOLAS SCHMIDLE

Find this story at 8 August 2011

Copyright www.newyorker.com

Inside the FBI’s secret relationship with the military’s special operations

When U.S. Special Operations forces raided several houses in the Iraqi city of Ramadi in March 2006, two Army Rangers were killed when gunfire erupted on the ground floor of one home. A third member of the team was knocked unconscious and shredded by ball bearings when a teenage insurgent detonated a suicide vest.

In a review of the nighttime strike for a relative of one of the dead Rangers, military officials sketched out the sequence of events using small dots to chart the soldiers’ movements. Who, the relative asked, was this man — the one represented by a blue dot and nearly killed by the suicide bomber?

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After some hesi­ta­tion, the military briefers answered with three letters: FBI.

The FBI’s transformation from a crime-fighting agency to a counterterrorism organization in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has been well documented. Less widely known has been the bureau’s role in secret operations against al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other locations around the world.

With the war in Afghanistan ending, FBI officials have become more willing to discuss a little-known alliance between the bureau and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) that allowed agents to participate in hundreds of raids in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The relationship benefited both sides. JSOC used the FBI’s expertise in exploiting digital media and other materials to locate insurgents and detect plots, including any against the United States. The bureau’s agents, in turn, could preserve evidence and maintain a chain of custody should any suspect be transferred to the United States for trial.

The FBI’s presence on the far edge of military operations was not universally embraced, according to current and former officials familiar with the bureau’s role. As agents found themselves in firefights, some in the bureau expressed uneasiness about a domestic law enforcement agency stationing its personnel on battlefields.

The wounded agent in Iraq was Jay Tabb, a longtime member of the bureau’s Hostage and Rescue Team (HRT) who was embedded with the Rangers when they descended on Ramadi in Black Hawks and Chinooks. Tabb, who now leads the HRT, also had been wounded just months earlier in another high-risk operation.

James Davis, the FBI’s legal attache in Baghdad in 2007 and 2008, said people “questioned whether this was our mission. The concern was somebody was going to get killed.”

Davis said FBI agents were regularly involved in shootings — sometimes fighting side by side with the military to hold off insurgent assaults.

“It wasn’t weekly but it wouldn’t be uncommon to see one a month,” he said. “It’s amazing that never happened, that we never lost anybody.”

Others considered it a natural evolution for the FBI — and one consistent with its mission.

“There were definitely some voices that felt we shouldn’t be doing this — period,” said former FBI deputy director Sean Joyce, one of a host of current and former officials who are reflecting on the shift as U.S. forces wind down their combat mission in Afghanistan. “That wasn’t the director’s or my feeling on it. We thought prevention begins outside of the U.S.”

‘Not commandos’

In 1972, Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, exposing the woeful inadequacy of the German police when faced with committed hostage-takers. The attack jolted other countries into examining their counterterrorism capabilities. The FBI realized its response would have been little better than that of the Germans.

It took more than a decade for the United States to stand up an elite anti-terrorism unit. The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team was created in 1983, just before the Los Angeles Olympics.

At Fort Bragg, N.C., home to the Army’s Special Operations Command, Delta Force operators trained the agents, teaching them how to breach buildings and engage in close-quarter fighting, said Danny Coulson, who commanded the first HRT.

The team’s mission was largely domestic, although it did participate in select operations to arrest fugitives overseas, known in FBI slang as a “habeas grab.” In 1987, for instance, along with the CIA, agents lured a man suspected in an airline hijacking to a yacht off the coast of Lebanon and arrested him.

In 1989, a large HRT flew to St. Croix, Virgin Islands, to reestablish order after Hurricane Hugo. That same year, at the military’s request, it briefly deployed to Panama before the U.S. invasion.

The bureau continued to deepen its ties with the military, training with the Navy SEALs at the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, based in Dam Neck, Va., and agents completed the diving phase of SEAL training in Coronado, Calif.

Sometimes lines blurred between the HRT and the military. During the 1993 botched assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Tex., three Delta Force operators were on hand to advise. Waco, along with a fiasco the prior year at a white separatist compound at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, put the FBI on the defensive.

“The members of HRT are not commandos,” then-FBI Director Louis J. Freeh told lawmakers in 1995. “They are special agents of the FBI. Their goal has always been to save lives.”

After Sept. 11, the bureau took on a more aggressive posture.

In early 2003, two senior FBI counterterrorism officials traveled to Afghanistan to meet with the Joint Special Operations Command’s deputy commander at Bagram air base. The commander wanted agents with experience hunting fugitives and HRT training so they could easily integrate with JSOC forces.

“What JSOC realized was their networks were similar to the way the FBI went after organized crime,” said James Yacone, an assistant FBI director who joined the HRT in 1997 and later commanded it.

The pace of activity in Afghanistan was slow at first. An FBI official said there was less than a handful of HRT deployments to Afghanistan in those early months; the units primarily worked with the SEALs as they hunted top al-Qaeda targets.

“There was a lot of sitting around,” the official said.

The tempo quickened with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. At first, the HRT’s mission was mainly to protect other FBI agents when they left the Green Zone, former FBI officials said.

Then-Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal gradually pushed the agency to help the military collect evidence and conduct interviews during raids.

“As our effort expanded and . . . became faster and more complex, we felt the FBI’s expertise in both sensitive site exploitation and interrogations would be helpful — and they were,” a former U.S. military official said.

In 2005, all of the HRT members in Iraq began to work under JSOC. At one point, up to 12 agents were operating in the country, nearly a tenth of the unit’s shooters.

The FBI’s role raised thorny questions about the bureau’s rules of engagement and whether its deadly-force policy should be modified for agents in war zones.

“There was hand-wringing,” Yacone said. “These were absolutely appropriate legal questions to be asked and answered.”

Ultimately, the FBI decided that no change was necessary. Team members “were not there to be door kickers. They didn’t need to be in the stack,” Yacone said.

But the FBI’s alliance with JSOC continued to deepen. HRT members didn’t have to get approval to go on raids, and FBI agents saw combat night after night in the hunt for targets.

In 2008, with the FBI involved in frequent firefights, the bureau began taking a harder look at these engagements, seeking input from the military to make sure, in police terms, that each time an agent fired it was a “good shoot,” former FBI officials said.

‘Mission had changed’

Members of the FBI’s HRT unit left Iraq as the United States pulled out its forces. The bureau also began to reconsider its involvement in Afghanistan after nearly a dozen firefights involving agents embedded with the military and the wounding of an agent in Logar province in June 2010.

JSOC had shifted priorities, Joyce said, targeting Taliban and other local insurgents who were not necessarily plotting against the United States. Moreover, the number of al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan had plummeted to fewer than 100, and many of its operatives were across the border, in Pakistan, where the military could not operate.

The FBI drew down in 2010 despite pleas from JSOC to stay.

“Our focus was al-Qaeda and threats to the homeland,” Joyce said. “The mission had changed.”

FBI-JSOC operations continue in other parts of the world. When Navy SEALs raided a yacht in the Gulf of Aden that Somali pirates had hijacked in 2011, an HRT agent followed behind them. After a brief shootout, the SEALs managed to take control of the yacht.

Two years later, in October 2013, an FBI agent with the HRT was with the SEALs when they stormed a beachfront compound in Somalia in pursuit of a suspect in the Nairobi mall attack that had killed dozens.

That same weekend, U.S. commandos sneaked into Tripoli, Libya, and apprehended a suspected al-Qaeda terrorist named Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai as he returned home in his car after morning prayers. He was whisked to a Navy ship in the Mediterranean and eventually to New York City for prosecution in federal court.

Word quickly leaked that Delta Force had conducted the operation. But the six Delta operators had help. Two FBI agents were part of the team that morning on the streets of Tripoli.

By Adam Goldman and Julie Tate, Published: April 10 E-mail the writers

Find this story at 10 April 2014

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