Seymour Hersh, a storied journalist whose revelations led to the Church Committee hearing in the 1970s, has attracted a lot of flak in recent years as someone who now acts as if he has been left in the sun for too long. Admittedly, his article about the Benghazi attack struck us at SOFREP as being completely bonkers. However, Hersh’s recent work about the raid which killed Osama Bin Laden is the most thorough and accurate we have yet seen.
Over the years, we’ve stuck our necks out a few times in an attempt to write about what really happened on the OBL raid, and received plenty of backlash for it. This is to be expected when America has made such a strong emotional investment in the War on Terror over the last 14 years. Americans were so happy to see Bin Laden killed that we drank our own koolaid. We took what our government told us at face value and never questioned it, no matter how inconsistent and illogical the narrative spun by the White House was.
A former CIA officer got quite peeved with me when I questioned the Hollywood narrative of the raid floated out to the public in the film, Zero Dark Thirty. We are made to believe that a single female CIA officer challenged her agency’s status quo and tracked down Bin Laden as a matter of personal revenge for the completely unconnected FOB Chapman bombing?
In the movie, she advances the thesis that Bin Laden could not be running an international terrorist organization from a cave in Afghanistan. Well, he was essentially living in an urban cave in Abbottabad on house arrest without an internet connection or telephone. Perhaps Bin Laden was not nearly as important as we are led to believe by this stage in the game.
But what’s not to like about the publicly stated narrative? Every governmental organization involved gets to claim their share of the credit. JSOC, the CIA, and the White House all come out looking like heroes and we even get a movie that plays extremely well to modern American sensibilities by touching upon the raise of women in the workplace. The truth, that Pakistani Generals like Kayani knew about the raid ahead of time and made sure the Pakistani military didn’t interfere, begins to erode away at the heroic narrative we are told about brilliant CIA operations and daring Navy SEAL commando raids.
To be clear, the Bin Laden operation was, for the most part, very professionally executed. Whenever you launch a military operation you want to set the conditions for success. This means arranging all of the chess pieces as best as you can before the mission even begins. By cutting backroom deals with the Pakistani government to set the proper conditions, SEAL Team Six was ensured a much higher probability of success. This isn’t a failure, this is exactly the type of responsible behavior that Americans should expect from their intelligence and Special Operations community.
According to Seymour Hersh, the operational environment had been so thoroughly prepared that the SEALs basically faced no opposition whatsoever. The guards knew to run when they heard helicopters approaching; Pakistani fighter jets stayed on the ground; and killing a nearly crippled Bin Laden was literally easier than shooting a fish in a barrel. If the truth about the ISI knowing where Bin Laden was, and most probably cashiering him when they thought they could get the most collateral in return from the US government, were to come out, it could destabilize the Pakistani government.
With Pakistan being a nuclear power with a heavy Islamist influence from the Taliban and Al Qeada, this was not something that anyone wanted to see happen.
A cover story was concocted in which OBL’s death would be reported a week after the fact as having taken place in Afghanistan, but when one of 160th Special Operations Aviation stealth helicopters crash landed in the Abbottabad compound, that cover story went right out the window, forcing the White House to improvise on the fly.
There is much else that will have to be discussed in Hersh’s article, including the amount of bullets that SEAL Team Six operators fired into Bin Laden, the non-sensical cover story about Bin Laden’s courier network, the laughable cover story about OBL being given a burial at sea, who-knew-what about Bin Laden and when within the Pakistani government.
The true story will probably never be pried out of the CIA, but the most likely explanation is that Pakistan’s ISI had been holding Bin Laden on house arrest since Sabel Lal smuggled him across the Afghan border years prior. When the ISI thought they could receive the most political and monetary benefit for turning over Bin Laden, they sent one of their people to the U.S. embassy to claim the 25 million dollar reward as a formal payoff.
While many cringe at the idea of the CIA and ISI cutting backroom deals in smoke-filled rooms, this is the reality of international politics and the power dynamics between rival intelligence services. The term “conspiracy theory” is often leveled against those who talk about these things (including this author) but this is the nature of realpolitik. The CIA accomplished its mission using some less-than-savory tactics and the ISI behaved in a duplicitous manner. None of this should surprise us.
In the meantime, Hersh will be marginalized and his story called untrue by a slew of CIA and White House officials. SEAL Team Six already locked in the “legend” of the raid and has their story pretty tight by now, with former operators going on 60 minutes, Fox News, and writing best-selling memoirs. As cliche as it is, truth is the first casualty of war. The false narrative allows government bureaucrats to claim credit for “gutsy” and heroic actions. It allows for explosive best-selling books and blockbuster movies.
By comparison, the truth is boring and too difficult to monetize.
Why bother with something like that?
(Featured Image Courtesy: DailyMail.co.uk)