There are a number of startling revelations in Seymour Hersh’s latest report in the London Review of Books. Hersh’s claims not only challenge the established narrative of how the US located and killed Osama bin Laden (OBL) but also reveal Pakistani intelligence and Saudi complicity in keeping the al-Qaeda leader under house arrest in Abbottabad. According to Hersh’s account:
- Osama bin Laden was being kept in Abbottabad by the Pakistani intelligence agency (ISI) and his “upkeep” was being paid for by Saudi Arabia. The head of Pakistan’s ISI General Pasha told the US that OBL was being held as “leverage against Taliban and al-Qaeda activities.”
- US learned OBL’s location from “a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer” who, in August 2010, approached Jonathan Banks, the CIA station chief in Islamabad. He “offered to tell the CIA where to find bin Laden in return for the reward that Washington had offered in 2001.” The administration claim that the CIA learned OBL’s location by tracking his courier was false.
- The raid that killed bin Laden was staged by the US military and ISI: “an ISI liaison officer flying with the Seals guided them into the darkened house and up a staircase to bin Laden’s quarters.” Pakistan agreed to the raid after “a little blackmail” and “because the Pakistanis wanted to ensure the continued release of American military aid.” Pakistan was also promised “a freer hand” in Afghanistan.
- After the crash of a Navy SEAL helicopter the Obama administration abandoned its plan to claim that bin Laden had been killed in a drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Immediately going public with the story was seen as a betrayal by Pakistan.
The report is attributed to a single “retired senior intelligence official” with some knowledge of “initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.” This source was also “privy to many aspects of the Seals’ training for the raid” and to various “after-action reports.” Two other American sources had “access to corroborating information.”
There were always reasons to doubt the official narrative of the search for bin Laden. Hersh’s story not only rejects the official narrative but offers an alternative one, and it is by no means clear that his account is any more accurate.