Thursday, May 21, 2015

Administration Huffs & Puffs But Doesn't Blow Sy Hersh's House Down

Official Washington ramped up its pushback against investigative reporter Seymour Hersh's recent exposé​ with the release this week of nearly 80 previously classified documents and books and other materials seized from Osama bin Laden's compound during the raid by Navy Seals in May 2011, but the alleged treasure trove did nothing to debunk Hersh's assertion that virtually nothing the Obama administration has said about the assassination of the 9/11 mastermind is true.  And the ever dutiful news media distorted or plain got wrong what Hersh has written about the documents.
Predictably, a list of the books seized from bin Laden's library -- ranging from Obama's Wars by Bob Woodward to The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy to The 9/11 Commission Report -- got most of the attention, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence cleverly promoted the list on a web page titled "Bin Laden’s Bookshelf." 
The Obama administration claimed that the document dump had nothing to do with the publication of Hersh's exposé in the London Review of Books, but coming as it did out of the blue a mere 10 days after Hersh dropped his 10,300-word bombshell begs credulity and reinforces my view that Hersh touched a nerve in the hypersensitive White House and got a lot more right than wrong -- notably that the Pakistani intelligence service assisted the U.S. in carrying out the raid on the compound in Abbottabad and that the documents seized were of marginal value.

"The material offers the deepest look yet into bin Laden’s final years, much of which he appears to have spent sending missives to his subordinates, seeking to direct a terror network that appeared to have grown far beyond his control, and working his way through a pile of books that ranged from sober works of history and current affairs to wild conspiracy theories spun by anti-Semites," reported The New York Times

True enough, but that falls far short of the administration's claim following the raid that it produced a "treasure trove . . . the single largest collection of senior terrorist materials ever," which would provide vital insights into Al Qaeda's plans.  An unnamed official told reporters five days after the raid the material showed that bin Laden "remained an active leader in Al Qaeda, 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 center in Abbottabad."

Many of the documents seized remain classified, but if the documents that were released are the best the White House could muster to make the case bin Laden remained a -- if not the -- mastermind, then Hersh's assertion in his exposé that "These claims were fabrications [because] there wasn’t much activity for bin Laden to exercise command and control over" has withstood the Obama administration's counteroffensive.

Hersh's main source -- indeed virtually his only source, something that I and others have criticized -- is a retired senior U.S. intelligence official.

In asserting that the documents were not a treasure trove, Hersh writes that the CIA's internal reporting showed that since bin Laden moved to Abbottabad in 2006, only a handful of terrorist attacks could be linked to the remnants of Al Qaeda.  "We were told at first," the retired official is quoted as saying, "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 told Hersh that most of the materials from Abbottabad were not seized in the raid but later turned over to the U.S. by the Pakistanis, who then razed the building. The Pakistani intelligence service, which Hersh states helped the U.S. set up the raid after corroborating bin Laden's whereabouts, took responsibility for the wives and children of bin Laden, none of whom was made available to the U.S. for questioning. 

The blowback from the pundit class over the bin Laden story has been especially ferocious, which reinforces my view that, as I wrote, at the very least Hersh has again exposed the soft underbelly of a news media content to chew its self-important cud without the bother of questioning, let alone being ever so slightly skeptical, of what our presidents and corporatocratic leaders tell us.

National Public Radio dutifully led the disinformation charge after the document release.

NPR first claimed that Hersh had written there were no documents, then NPR reporter David Welna got it mostly wrong in stating " . . . there's also the fact that these documents are coming out the week after investigative reporter Seymour Hersh published a story alleging that the U.S. fabricated the documents it claims to have seized during the raid."

What Hersh said, of course is that the claims that the documents were dynamite were fabrications, not the documents themselves. 

Writes Shamus Cooke at

"Asking probing questions is of course a key part of journalism. If only the media had been so eager to ask similar questions of the Obama administration's version of bin Laden's death. . . .
"The gaping holes of logic in the official story were there from the beginning. Hersh actually asked questions and explored them while the rest of the media were content with regurgitating White House press releases.  And when the White House's narrative became an Oscar winning movie [Dark Zero Thirty] -- made with help from the CIA --  the myth was cemented in popular culture. Until Hersh shattered it."


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't remember what Mr. Hersh had to say about the 9/11 story that the Bush-Cheney gang told us...