WASHINGTON — Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh is alleging President Barack Obama and his administration lied about the circumstances surrounding the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden.
Citing an anonymous “major US source,” Hersch writes in the London Review of Books that the Obama administration cooperated with Pakistani intelligence officials to kill the Al Qaeda leader, and that chief of staff of the Pakistani army and director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency knew about the mission, contrary to Obama’s claim that Pakistani officials weren’t aware of the raid in advance.
The administration has said they received information on bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his courier, and that the top military target was killed in a firefight with an elite team of Navy SEALs.
But Hersh writes that the Obama administration had initially agreed to say bin Laden had been killed by a drone strike; that ISI was holding bin Laden a prisoner at the Abbottabad compound where he was killed, and that a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer told the U.S. of his whereabouts for the $25 million award being offered at the time.
His source is identified as a “retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abottabad.”
Hersh also alleges Obama’s speech announcing the successful mission was “put together in a rush,” not vetted or cleared by national security officials and created “chaos in the weeks following.”
“This series of self-serving and inaccurate statements would create chaos in the weeks following,” he said.
Hersh quotes his source as saying: “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,” the source says. “And once it went wrong, they had to make up a new cover story on the fly.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Hersh won the Pulitzer in 1970 for his shocking report on the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War that was widely credited with contributing to the public backlash against the war, and has since reported on conflicts in Iraq, Iran and Syria, but he’s come under frequent criticism for his heavy use of unnamed sources.
By Alexandra Jaffe