Pakistan Military Officials Confirm Parts of Hersh's Bin Laden Expose
May 14, 2015
Agence France-Presse & Carlotta Gall /The New York Times Magazine & Dawn
Two former senior Pakistan military officials told AFP that a 'defector' from country's intelligence agency did assist the US in its hunt for Osama bin Laden but denied the two countries had officially worked together. And yet, despite being barracked nearby, members of the Pakistani Army appear to have arrived only after the SEALs left -- after spending 40 minutes on the ground without encountering any soldiers. Where is the official Pakistani version of events -- the Abbottabad Commission report?
Pakistan Military Officials Admit Defector's Key Role in Bin Laden Operation
ISLAMABAD (May 12, 2015) -- Two former senior Pakistan military officials told AFP on Tuesday that a 'defector' from country's intelligence agency did assist the US in its hunt for Osama bin Laden but denied the two countries had officially worked together.
The officials' accounts came after the publication of a controversial news report by US journalist Seymour Hersh in which he claimed to have uncovered a 'secret deal' between Washington and Islamabad that reportedly resulted in the killing of Al-Qaeda chief in 2011.
The White House has flatly rejected Hersh's claims that Pakistan was told in advance about the May 2 special forces raid in Abbottabad.
A source -- who was a serving senior military official at the time of the raid -- told AFP that the defector was a "resourceful and energetic" mid-ranking intelligence officer whose efforts were critical to the operation's success.
Hersh's report quoted a senior US source as saying a "walk-in" approached the then-Islamabad station chief for the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 2010 promising to lead them to bin Laden, who according to the journalist had been imprisoned by Pakistani authorities at the Abbottabad compound since 2006.
However, the Pakistani military source told AFP the defector had no knowledge that his target was bin Laden, but he was instead given a task that would help verify the Al-Qaeda chief's identity.
The source declined to elaborate on what that task was, but a Pakistani investigation found that the CIA had run a fake vaccination programme with the help of physician Dr Shakeel Afridi who obtained DNA samples.
Qazi Khalilullah, Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesman, meanwhile said the government was investigating Hersh's account and would announce its reaction soon. "We are looking into the matter and will give our reaction soon," he said.
On the defector's role, the source said: "This guy was inducted at a much later stage only to carry out the ground confirmation." He added that the defector did not belong to the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) but another branch, and was now residing in the United States.
Another former official, ex-ISI chief Hamid Gul, told AFP he was also aware of the defector. "That is in my knowledge, that someone defected," he said.
"There was too big a reward, he became a mole and agent to put in practice their plan." The US had placed a $25-million-dollar bounty on information leading to the capture or killing of bin Laden -- a sum Washington has said it never paid because no human informants were used.
According to Hersh's report, the US learned that Pakistani authorities had bin Laden in their custody and were hoping to use him as a shield against Al-Qaeda and Taliban attacks.
Later, Hersh reported, the US convinced Pakistan to stage a fake raid to kill bin Laden, providing a boost for US President Barack Obama -- then in his first term -- while also allowing the Pakistanis to deny having anything to do with the killing.
No Deal Made
Both former Pakistani officials, however, and several other serving officials, have dismissed the allegation that such a deal had been brokered.
The then-serving senior military official said that in the aftermath of the raid, "the mood here and the reaction here was of great frustration even at the top level.
"If the top guys had been part of the plan -- they were the worst hit. They were almost forced to resign.
"With the kind of bad name and reputation that came with such a great risk, it wasn't worth it. "A leaked Pakistani government report in 2013 said bin Laden arrived in Pakistan in the spring or summer of 2002 -- after the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan -- and settled in Abbottabad in August 2005.
The report, which coined the term "governance implosion syndrome" to explain the extent of official failures to detect him, said he was once stopped for speeding and enjoyed wearing a cowboy hat.
Hersh's report has been met with some scepticism, but Dawn's editorial argued that it should force the government to officially release the findings of the 2013 investigation, and bring the country's powerful military-run intelligence agencies under civilian supervision.
The Detail in Seymour Hersh's
Bin Laden Story That Rings True
Carlotta Gall /The New York Times Magazine
(May 12, 2015) -- 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 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."
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 CIA 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."
Abbottabad Raid: A New Angle
PAKISTAN (May 12, 2015) -- It is a story that will not go away -- and rightly so. A new, sensational account of the run-up to the May 2, 2011 American raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden alleges that not only did the then army leadership know of the American raid beforehand but that the Pakistan Army had imprisoned bin Laden for many years in the city.
The Seymour Hersh account in the London Review of Books appears to mainly take aim at US President Barack Obama’s and the White House’s version of the events that led to the killing of the world’s most wanted terrorist.
But in doing so it attempts to take apart the standard story proffered inside Pakistan -- that the army leadership had no knowledge of the Al Qaeda chief’s presence in Abbottabad nor did it in any way facilitate the American raid to kill him. In the days to come, there will surely be official denials and sundry attacks made on Mr. Hersh’s version of events.
Careful scrutiny of the LRB story is in fact required as it contains several perplexing theories and an alternative version of events. But neither should it be lost that Mr. Hersh appears largely sympathetic to the Pakistan Army, both in the LRB piece and in comments to this newspaper yesterday, and that the central premise of his article is to dismantle the Obama administration’s version of events.
It is clearly not a hatchet job on Pakistan. Which leaves at least three basic points to be made here. First, where is the official Pakistani version of events, the Abbottabad Commission report?
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.
Second, it is long overdue for parliament to have oversight of the intelligence apparatus. The military itself projects its intelligence wings as omnipresent and omniscient -- surely, it is parliament that ought to be omnipotent, able to inquire into anything done by any branch of the state in the name of public security and the national interest.
Nor is it really a question of who will bell the cat -- if parliament were to indicate any interest, the military would be unable to fend off oversight entirely. Finally, the Hersh report underlines an age-old truth: while supreme civilians may not always be truthful, they are always accountable -- something a military-dominated set-up can never be.
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