Looks Like CIA's 'Torture Revealed Osama's Courier' Story Now Even More False Than Previously Believed

from the making-it-up-as-we-go-along dept

For quite some time now, there have been serious questions about how how the US was able to track down Osama bin Laden’s “hiding place” to send in special forces to kill him. The story many people have heard was that the CIA was able to identify the “courier” who was used to help bin Laden communicate with the outside world, and then used that info to figure out where he was. And, a big part of that story — especially as immortalized in the movie Zero Dark Thirty — was that the CIA’s torture program was instrumental in revealing that information. However, even before the big Senate Intelligence Committee study on the torture program was released, it was revealed that the torture program had nothing to do with identifying the courier, known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.

However, as you may have heard over the weekend, Seymour Hersh published a somewhat epic story, arguing that almost everything about the bin Laden killing was a lie, and a bunch of stories — including everything about al-Kuwaiti — were made up after the fact. Hersh’s story is well worth reading (as are some of the criticisms of it that question some of the details). But one key aspect of the report is that finding a courier had absolutely nothing to do with finding bin Laden. Instead, it was a so-called “walk in” — a Pakistani intelligence official who knew that Pakistan already had captured bin Laden — who reached out to the US, seeking the $25 million reward for information leading to bin Laden’s whereabouts.

In other words, even the Senate’s torture report gets the story wrong completely. In the Senate report, the identifying of al-Kuwaiti came from traditional interrogation, rather than the torture part. The CIA’s response was basically that it was the torture part (the bad cop) that enabled the information to come out separately (good cop). But Hersh’s report says the whole courier story is made up whole cloth. While some have questioned the details of Hersh’s report, there’s now independent verification from other sources to NBC that bin Laden was actually found via a “walk-in,” rather than the courier (warning: stupid NBC autoplay video at that link).

In Hersh’s version, the plan had been to kill bin Laden, and later (perhaps weeks later) come up with a story saying bin Laden had been killed by a drone strike. A few things went wrong — including one of the US helicopters famously crashing, and there was enough buzz that the US rushed to publicly announce the killing, including Obama’s famous speech that, apparently, created havoc since it messed up a bunch of previously agreed to things about how the killing would be presented, and was done without first clearing it with the intelligence community. This resulted in the CIA being rushed in to concoct some cover stories, and some CIA officials quickly realized that this would be a fantastic way to pretend that torture had been useful:

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.?

In Hersh’s version of the story… the courier never even existed (bin Laden was actually pretty cut off from everything). He also notes that there was no firefight at the compound, since the Pakistanis had planned out the whole thing and made sure that no one was guarding bin Laden. But the US made up the idea of a firefight so that it could “kill off” the courier, al-Kuwaiti, who never really existed:

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.?

In other words, if true, not only did the torture not produce the courier, there was no courier at all. And the whole debate about whether or not Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Hassan Ghul gave up information on al-Kuwaiti during torture efforts or during regular interrogations is entirely meaningless. The whole thing was fiction, invented after the fact. For what it’s worth, there were other stories concerning the torture program that seem equally bizarre in retrospect, if Hersh’s story is true. Take this Daily Beast article about al-Kuwaiti, in which it claims that one guy was interrogated, and denied ever hearing of al-Kuwaiti:

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, detainees told CIA interrogators about an especially important courier who went by the name Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti. A series of subsequent interrogations, including one of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, confirmed the courier’s importance. In 2004, al Qaeda operative Hassan Ghul revealed that the courier was close to Faraj al-Libi, who replaced Mohammed as al Qaeda’s operational commander after Mohammed’s arrest. A year later, al-Libi himself was captured, and he protested so adamantly that he’d never heard of al-Kuwaiti that the CIA took it as further evidence that he was their man.

Either way, the idea that torture had anything to do with anything is growing progressively weaker… and yet, we still have people defending the torture program, and no one is ever likely to be punished legally for it.

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Comments on “Looks Like CIA's 'Torture Revealed Osama's Courier' Story Now Even More False Than Previously Believed”

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44 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Nothing new here

I think its more a sign of the times that anyone could believe anything said now by this administration or the previous two for that matter. Lies have always spiraled around the politisphere, however the Clintoon presidency raised it to a public performance art form where bush used it to his advantage and where Obama has polished that nob relentlessly.

The approval ratings of all 3 of these turds are proof that shit can be stacked pretty damn high.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Nothing new here

“I think its more a sign of the times that anyone could believe anything said now by this administration or the previous two for that matter. Lies have always spiraled around the politisphere”

One thing that has proven true over and over, is that no matter how many times the government has been caught lying, people will always believe that THIS TIME is different and everything they’re being told by the government is 100% true. And if not, then the people just need a bit more fear pressed into them, since there’s nothing like fear — of something, anything terrible, real or imaginary — to make people more compliant, obedient, and trusting to the government.

Governments, even elected ones, always tend to develop a narcissist culture, and as such, regard the people who they supposedly serve under as being inferiors unworthy of the truth. So don’t trust anything the government ever says, especially concerning war. But be discrete about it, or be ready to get branded an unpatriotic traitor, or worse

David says:

Re: Nothing new here

I think its more a sign of the times that anyone could believe anything said now by this administration or the previous two for that matter.

So we have an agency inventing fantasy stories in order to let some psychopaths continue torturing and killing people without retribution and with government officials applauding their actions.

Big deal. Madison has been dead and rotten so long now that his grave will not be noticeably disturbed by him turning in it.

The actual problem with that is that you really cannot dismiss any conspiracy theories out of hand any more. Like 9/11 having been orchestrated by the CIA in order to get an unprecedented expansion of their powers. Do you really want to claim that this would be something they’d never do?

There is no such thing as “that’s absurd” any more: you really have to make a proper investigation to dismiss even the most absurd claims. Like the U.S. government handing drug traffickers wagonloads of automated weapons that are not being accounted for. Wait, that one was true.

Anonymous Coward says:

People are punished for torture all over the world regularly. I have been tortured and it isn’t as clear cut as it used to be. There are measures designed to save a persons life because a war criminal is attempting to slip something through and there is legal combat that can be done with the same technology used to torture. I don’t know where I would draw the line now that I have been so thoughly aquainted with their torture techniques.

It’s also possible that many things happened at once in Pakistan and not everyone is aware of every other person’s life story.

themonkeyking145 (profile) says:

Just Saying...

Several other places I’ve read about Hersh’s story point out something you glossed over: many are uncertain of the veracity of this set of events, since many if not all of his sources are anonymous. Apparently, he’s had a habit in recent years of publishing sensational stories with little or no identified corroboration. So, it’s not so much that some are questioning a few details so much as some are questioning the entire story.

I’m not saying I know for certain the events presented in Hersh’s article are untrue, nor am I saying that torture is a good thing. But a slightly strong proviso about Hersh’s more recent activities would lend credence to what you’re saying. At least for me.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Just Saying...

Several other places I’ve read about Hersh’s story point out something you glossed over: many are uncertain of the veracity of this set of events, since many if not all of his sources are anonymous

We mentioned that clearly in the story — but noting that NBC confirmed the “walk-in” part of the story from other sources, and that’s all that we’re really talking about here.

Anon says:

The other story

the story I heard, from third hand was the courier story – they knew who the courier was and that he was likely important, and that he was always on the road when his satellite phone was turned on. they knew who it was because he also called family in Saudi Arabia.

But none of this odd-looking-white-guys-trying-tail-jeep-in-Pakistan story. In fact, the courier butt-dialed OSB’s location. Apparently the sat phone they were watching came on for a minute, transmitted its GPS coordinates to the satellite, then turned off. the courier or someone did an oops, and this drew attention to the compound.

I don’t buy the Hersh story. Who is this Pakistani? Some guy sold out his country for $25M and nobody’s advertising it for good or bad? The blogger near the Abbotobad compound complained about helicopters circling noisily for a long time, hardly the case if you’re trying to fake a drone strike. If there’s nobody armed, why have a bear in the air circling? Why so much firepower going off? There would be no need to fake a firefight. Do we really think that OSB could hide with full knowledge of Pakistani hierarchy and nobody said a word for 10 years? Really? Do you really think the Pakistanis could persuade all OSB’s home-grown security to walk away so he’s unguarded? Also, the guy was running a guerilla cam 10 years earlier – how decrepit could he be at age 54? Do you think you could fake “drone strike in tribal lands” without the whole tribal saying “you full of crap”? how would you convince the world it happened? Would they plan to lock up OSB’s widows and kids for a few decades to avoid the truth coming out?

The whole Hersh story stinks. Is this an attempt to rehabilitate Paki intelligence for the benefit of Republicans?

twinkiekat (profile) says:

Re: The other story

There are already other journalists corroborating Hersh’s reporting. Do some research before you start disparaging one of the most brilliant journalists of the last two centuries.
The walk in was revealed to be Brigadier Usman Khalid.
How the hell can Hersh reveal his sources, haven’t you heard of Jeffrey Sterling and James Risen?

Anonymous Coward says:

“Where were bin Laden’s guards?”

Wouldn’t a highly guarded compound be a dead giveaway? If not Bin Laden, then for something else?

More guards means more traffic back and forth. More food and other supplies needed. More shopping, more deliveries. The idea here was to hide. Not make a stand. Wouldn’t all of that be noticed from the most basic of air/satellite surveillance?

This story will forever be spun however the teller wants to tell it.

Anonymous Coward says:

The new Bin Laden 'story' is bunk

“Instead, it was a so-called “walk in” — a Pakistani intelligence official who knew that Pakistan already had captured bin Laden — who reached out to the US, seeking the $25 million reward for information leading to bin Laden’s whereabouts.”

That right there is why I don’t believe that whole story. Do you really think Al Qaeda would have kept quiet for years that their #1 leader was captured but not dead?

I mean it’s not like Al Qaeda doesn’t have any social media presence. They often upload youtube videos from time to time, including videos recorded by Bin Laden himself.

And then there’s all the Navy Seals involved in the raid. Don’t you think one of them would have spoken up much sooner if this whole tale was true? Including the guy who wrote the book about the raid, without the administrations approval?

This alternate story simply doesn’t make any sense, period. And I say that as someone who doesn’t believe that torture helped at finding Bin Laden either. If there was any truth to this new spin on Bin Laden’s ‘capture’ and death word of it would have leaked out years sooner to the public.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The new Bin Laden 'story' is bunk

“And then there’s all the Navy Seals involved in the raid.”

Well, just to add more mystery to everything…the majority of the SEAL team ended up getting killed in an unprotected helicopter flight shortly after the raid. Seemed suspicious then but under this new story it won’t be long before people say they were silenced to keep the narrative.

Anon says:

Re: Re: The new Bin Laden 'story' is bunk

Seriously?

>the majority of the SEAL team ended up getting killed in an unprotected helicopter flight shortly after the raid

Now the USA is killing it’s own highly trained elite force to hide a story about whether the team shot him in a fire-fight or executed him?

You’ve been watching too many Bourne movies.

OSB wouldn’t have a squad of guards (since if the jig is up, 100 guards wouldn’t be enough). He would have 2 or 3 guys with guns helping out, running errands, etc.

Plus, I don’t buy that Pakistani intelligence would have the guy arrested and not make hay while the sun shines by turning him over, public or secret. Plus, why the whole “doctor trying to get blood sample with fake vaccination” story? Whoever put together and vetted that story surely knew the shit-storm and danger to medical workers it would create. Why make it up? Why have your friendly doctor arrested and charged by the local government if he’s an asset?

Sorry, Hersh – too many stupid loose ends. I would more likely buy that given 10 years and unlimited NSA resources, eventually they caught a slip-up by the courier.

yankinwaoz (profile) says:

Split the difference?

Perhaps there is a kernel of trust to the claims. But Hersh’s story exaggerates and extrapolates one small detail. However, it doesn’t change the core facts.

It is very obvious that ISI was hosting OBL in Pakistan. They didn’t arrest him. He was their protected guest.

It is pretty clear that the raid did happen as described. And it is pretty clear that Pakistan did not learn about it until after it happened.

It is also obvious that OBL had a trusted courier network. OBL was involved with al Quaida while living in the compound. Yet he manged to avoid detection via signals monitoring and spies. He had to relay everything through a courier.

So that only leaves the question of how the US learned of his location.

The walk-in ISI agent selling the information to the US is plausible. Learning of and monitoring the courier is another plausible explanation.

A rouge ISI agent could have sold the info about the courier. And the torture claim was just a cover to protect the agent. I think that this is the detail that was blown up into a new narrative by Hersh.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why was Osama bin Laden killed instead of captured and interrogated for information? It makes absolutely no sense to kill the head of Al-Qaeda, instead of pumping him for information and then having him stand trial publicly.

This leads me to believe Osama bin Laden knew something that somebody didn’t want getting out.

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