American Muslim Alleges FBI Had a Hand in His Torture (2012)
August 14, 2015
EXCLUSIVE: Yonas Fikre believes the US government played a role in his hellish three-month detention in the United Arab Emirates.
UPDATE: Fikre’s lawyers have written a letter to the Justice Department about his allegations and released a video of him talking about his ordeal.
Last June, while Yonas Fikre was visiting the United Arab Emirates, the Muslim American from Portland, Oregon was suddenly arrested and detained by Emirati security forces. For the next three months, Fikre claims, he was repeatedly interrogated and tortured. Fikre says he was beaten on the soles of his feet, kicked and punched, and held in stress positions while interrogators demanded he “cooperate” and barked questions that were eerily similar to those posed to him not long before by FBI agents and other American officials who had requested a meeting with him.
Fikre had been visiting family in Khartoum, Sudan, when, in April 2010, the officials got in touch with him. He agreed to meet with them, but ultimately balked at cooperating with FBI questioning without a lawyer present and he rebuffed a request to become an informant. Pressing him to cooperate, the agents told him he was on the no-fly list and could not return home unless he aided the bureau, Fikre says. The following week he received an email from one of the US officials; it arrived from a State Department address: “Thanks for meeting with us last week in Sudan. While we hope to get your side of the issues we keep hearing about, the choice is yours to make. The time to help yourself is now.”
“When Yonas [first] asked whether the FBI was behind his detention, he was beaten for asking the question,” says his lawyer. “Toward the end, the interrogator indicated that indeed the FBI had been involved.”
Fikre made his way to the UAE the following year, where, he and his lawyer allege, he was detained at the request of the US government. They say his treatment is part of a pattern of “proxy” detentions of US Muslims orchestrated by the the US government. Now, Fikre’s Portland-based lawyer, Thomas Nelson, plans to file suit against the Obama administration for its alleged complicity in Fikre’s torture.
“There was explicit cooperation; we certainly will allege that in the complaint,” says Nelson, a well known terrorism defense attorney. “When Yonas [first] asked whether the FBI was behind his detention, he was beaten for asking the question. Toward the end, the interrogator indicated that indeed the FBI had been involved. Yonas understood this as indicating that the FBI continued to [want] him to work for/with them.” Nelson, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Council on American Islamic Relations are assembling a high-powered legal team to handle Fikre’s case in the United States.
Fikre’s story echoes those of Naji Hamdan, Amir Meshal, Sharif Mobley, Gulet Mohamed, and Yusuf and Yahya Wehelie. All are American Muslim men who, while traveling abroad, claim they were detained, interrogated, and (in some cases) abused by local security forces; the men claim they were arrested at the behest of federal law enforcement authorities, alleging the US government used this process to circumvent their legal rights as American citizens.
As Mother Jones reported in its September/October 2011 issue, the FBI has acknowledged that it tips off local security forces on the names of Americans traveling overseas that the bureau suspects of involvement in terrorism, and that these individuals are sometimes detained and questioned. The FBI also admits that its agents sometimes “interview or witness an interview” of Americans detained by foreign governments in terrorism cases. And as several FBI officials told me on condition of anonymity, the bureau has for years used its elite cadre of international agents (known as legal attachés, or legats) to coordinate the overseas detention and interrogation by foreign security services of American terrorism suspects. Sometimes, that entails cooperating with local security forces that are accustomed to abusing prisoners. (FBI officials have told Mother Jones that foreign security forces are asked to refrain from abusing American detainees.)
It’s difficult to confirm US involvement in the detentions of Fikre or other alleged proxy detainees—indeed, plausible deniability is part of the appeal of the program. But what’s clear is that Fikre was on the FBI’s radar well before his detention in the UAE. (The FBI declined to comment on his case, as did the State Department.) Fikre, whose only previous brush with the legal system came when he sued a restaurant for having ham in its clam chowder, may have drawn the FBI’s interest because of his association with Portland’s Masjed-as-Saber mosque, where he was a youth basketball coach.
The mosque has been a focus of FBI scrutiny ever since the October 2002 case of the “Portland Seven,” in which seven Muslims from the Portland area were charged with trying to go to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban in the wake of 9/11. (Six are now in jail; the seventh was killed in Pakistan.) Masjed-as-Saber was in the news again in 2010 when Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a 19-year-old Somali American who sometimes worshipped there, was charged with trying to detonate a fake car bomb provided by an undercover FBI agent.
More recently, three other men who attended Fikre’s mosque—Mustafa Elogbi, Michael Migliore, and Jamal Tarhuni—have found themselves on the no-fly list after traveling abroad. (The government’s use of the no-fly list to prevent American terrorist suspects from returning home after traveling overseas is currently the subject of a major ACLU lawsuit.)
Fikre’s case “really does make a mockery of the FBI’s use of watchlisting as a means of protecting the US,” says Gadeir Abbas, a staff attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “It’s not a means of protecting America—it’s a tool the FBI uses to put people in vulnerable positions.”
It “really does make a mockery of the FBI’s use of watchlisting as a means of protecting the US.”
Fikre, who is currently living in Sweden and believes that it would be unsafe for him to return to the United States, has given a series of videotaped interviews detailing his ordeal. His presence in Sweden beyond the three-month window allowed for tourist visas suggests that he has applied for permanent status there, and local media have so far refrained from reporting on the story for fear of affecting his case to stay in the country.
In the interviews, Fikre describes a series of events that are similar to the 2008 case of Naji Hamdan, a Lebanese American auto-parts dealer from Los Angeles who was then living in the UAE. Like Hamdan, Fikre claims he was detained in the UAE, tortured (including with stress positions and beatings on the soles of his feet, so as to not show marks), and asked about his activities in the United States. Like Hamdan, Fikre believed a western interrogator was present in the room at some points during his detention, because when he could peek out under his blindfold (“after being kicked/punched and falling over,” Nelson says) he occasionally saw western slacks and shoes. “In those occasions there was a fair amount of whispering,” Nelson added.
The similarities between the two cases were so striking that Michael Kaufman and Laboni Hoq, lawyers who are representing Hamdan in his separate case against the government, initially thought that Fikre had simply parroted Hamdan’s story. But once they heard more, they decided “the backstory of why the government was interested in him was reasonable and something that didn’t sound fabricated,” Kaufman said. “It seemed like a long way to go for a lie,” Hoq added.
A key difference between Hamdan’s and Fikre’s stories is that Hamdan eventually confessed—under torture, he now emphasizes—to being a member of several terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda. He ultimately spent 11 months in UAE custody before being deported to Lebanon, where he now runs a children’s clothing store. Despite an extensive FBI investigation, he was never charged in the United States.
Fikre, his lawyer says, “never confessed to anything”—”thankfully.”
“The FBI does this stuff because they can get away with it,” Nelson says. “But the bureau has totally destroyed any relationship it had with the Muslim community in Portland.”
UPDATE, Wednesday, 1:00 p.m. EST: Fikre’s lawyers have released a video of him talking about his ordeal (they’ve also written a letter to the Justice Department). You can watch the video here:
—By Nick Baumann | Tue Apr. 17, 2012 3:01 AM EDT
Find this story at 17 April 2012
Copyright ©2015 Mother Jones and the Foundation for National Progress
MI5 spied on Libyan torture victims, documents reveal (2011)
June 1, 2015
BRITAIN’S security service MI5 asked Muammar Gaddafi’s secret services for regular updates on what terrorist suspects were revealing under interrogation in Libyan prisons, where torture was routine.
MI5 also agreed to trade information with Libyan spymasters on 50 British-based Libyans judged to be a threat to Gaddafi’s regime.
The disclosures come from secret intelligence documents left lying around in the ruins of the British embassy in Tripoli for anyone to find.
They include an MI5 paper marked “UK/Libya Eyes Only Secret”, which shows that the service provided Gaddafi’s spies with a trove of intelligence about Libyan dissidents in London, Cardiff, Birmingham and Manchester.
Other documents seen by The Sunday Times in the abandoned offices of British and Libyan officials reveal that:
– The Ministry of Defence invited the dictator’s sons Saadi and Khamis Gaddafi, whose forces have massacred civilians during Libya’s revolution, to a combat display at SAS headquarters in Hereford and a dinner at the Cavalry and Guards Club in Mayfair;
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MORESpy agencies’ ties to Libya revealed
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– Tony Blair helped another son, Saif Gaddafi, with his PhD thesis, beginning a personal letter with the words “Dear Engineer Saif”;
– The Foreign Office planned to use Prince Andrew in a secret strategy to secure the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, from prison in Scotland and offset the risk of retaliation if he died in jail. In fact, Megrahi was released anyway.
The cache of documents shows how close the British governments of both Blair and Gordon Brown were to a brutal regime that was overthrown last month when pro-democracy rebels seized Tripoli.
Nowhere is this closeness more evident than in the intelligence sphere. The MI5 paper for Gaddafi’s security services contains detailed information about members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a militant dissident outfit with cells in Britain.
The document, prepared ahead of an MI5 visit to Tripoli in 2005, formally requested that Libyan intelligence should provide access to detainees held by secret police and to “timely debriefs” of interrogations.
It added: “The more timely (the) information the better … Such intelligence is most valuable when it is current. It is notable that LIFG members in the UK become aware of the detention of members overseas within a relatively short period.”
The request was made despite widespread evidence of torture in Libyan prisons and assassinations of dissidents in other countries, including Britain. Torture practices identified by the US State Department included “clubbing, setting dogs on prisoners, electric shocks, suffocation by plastic bags and pouring lemon juice into open wounds”.
The disclosures will reignite the debate on the alleged complicity of British security services in the torture of terrorist suspects abroad. Last year David Cameron announced a judge-led inquiry into separate claims that M15 and MI6 were complicit in the torture of British citizens by foreign interrogators.
Some of those named in the documents found in Tripoli are thought to have been arrested subsequently in Britain and placed on control orders, a form of house arrest that is due to be debated in parliament this week.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, said: “These chilling revelations show just how cosy British authorities became with a regime known for torture. How on earth did they think these timely detainee debriefs were going to be obtained?
“The thought that people [who were] discussed with Gadaffi’s henchmen may have been placed on control orders as a result of ‘detainee debriefs’ should prey on the mind of every MP who votes on the new control order regime tomorrow.”
Other documents that have emerged show how America’s CIA sent terrorism suspects at least eight times for questioning in Libya. One letter from an MI6 officer to his Libyan counterpart reported the release from detention in Britain of a key LIFG member.
The MI5 document makes clear the key area of mutual interest to both countries was the LIFG, the most powerful radical faction waging war against Gadaffi’s regime. The group aimed to replace his dictatorship with a hardline Islamist state. Its main external base was in Britain, where 50 members lived.
MI5 believed the group had growing links to al-Qa’ida. It was suspected of supplying a “pipeline” of finance and false documents for the group’s international operations and of facilitating trips by jihadists from Britain to fight against western forces in Iraq.
MI5 also feared the LIFG might be planning terrorist attacks against the West.
A rider to the report says the information is being sent to the Libyans “for research and analysis purposes only and should not be used for overt, covert or executive action” – an apparent reference to kidnapping or execution.
A senior Whitehall official declined to discuss details of the agreement to share intelligence. He said: “We do not engage in, or encourage others to engage in, or contract out in situations where we knowingly, or have a very strong reason to believe that someone is being maltreated or is at risk of, maltreatment.”
William Hague, the foreign secretary, said intelligence documents emerging in Tripoli “relate to a period under the previous government, so I have no knowledge of those, of what was happening behind the scenes at that time”.
A document found in the office of Saadi Gaddafi, head of Libya’s special forces, showed the Ministry of Defence made elaborate plans for him to visit Britain in 2006 with his brother Khamis, whose commandos killed dozens of detainees before retreating from Tripoli as the regime fell.
The Sunday Times
MILES AMOORE AND DAVID LEPPARD THE SUNDAY TIMES SEPTEMBER 04, 2011 1:13PM
Find this story at 4 September 2011
Libya rebel commander wants MI6 and CIA apologies (2011)
June 1, 2015
The commander of anti-government forces in Tripoli has told the BBC he wants an apology from Britain and America for the way he was transferred to a prison in Libya in 2004.
Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who was then a terror suspect, says he was tortured after being arrested in Bangkok and taken to the Libyan capital in an operation organised by the CIA and MI6.
Details of his case are included in messages sent to the Gaddafi regime by the two intelligence services.
Jeremy Bowen reports from Tripoli.
4 September 2011 Last updated at 22:39 BST
Find this story at 4 September 2011
Copyright © 2015 BBC
The Killing of Osama bin Laden (2015)
May 28, 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)
May 28, 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
May 28, 2015
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)
May 28, 2015
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.
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)
May 28, 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)
May 28, 2015
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.
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)
May 28, 2015
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)
May 28, 2015
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
May 28, 2015
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.
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“
May 28, 2015
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
The Misfire in Hersh’s Big Bin Laden Story
May 28, 2015
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
Brig Usman Khalid informed CIA of Osama’s presence in Abbottabad<< oudere artikelen nieuwere artikelen >>
May 28, 2015
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.
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Find this story at 12 May 2015
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