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Doing Bin Laden
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The tale of how the CIA found bin Laden would appear to be a lot more complicated than the media has been suggesting. That they picked up his trail due to NSA interception of a phone call made by one of his couriers is almost certainly correct. But consider what the subsequent steps would have to be: the courier’s location and appearance would have to be determined and then he would have to be followed surreptitiously for a period of time to learn where the bin Laden safehouse might be located. As the courier was no doubt alert to any signs of a “tail” this would be exceedingly difficult to do. As few or no CIA case officers could possibly blend in in Pakistan enough to carry out a surveillance the job would have to be done by local people. And how do you get the local people? You either recruit them yourself – problematical if you want to maintain security – or you have the local intelligence service provide them. In either case you run the risk of employing a double who is keeping the Pakistani government fully informed on what you are up to. Assuming all goes well and you have your target in Abbotabad, you then want to set up an observation post. As before, American case officers would not fit in very well, so you are again required to rely on local people. Again, there is the problem of how you acquire them and how you lease the apartment and how you get all of your equipment into the place without drawing attention in a military town.

When you put it all together, I would have to believe that the Pakistan intelligence service ISI was involved, in spite of denials. CIA could not pull off an operation like this completely unilaterally, though, in this case, I think the Agency would have carefully concealed the true identity of the target from the Pakistanis, which would not be so difficult to do as it is now clear that there were a lot of operations going on in a lot of places in the days and months before the arrest of Ray Davis for killing the two Pakistanis on motorbikes in Lahore.

There has been a lot of nonsense coming out of the White House on the whole bin Laden affair, including multiple changes in the story of exactly what happened. The Administration clearly wants to squeeze every ounce of possible political gain out of the killing. I am intrigued by the latest spin that bin Laden was still very much in charge of his terror empire. As he had no real time communications and was using couriers the control must have been more philosophical than actual. Plus most terrorism experts would agree that his al-Qaeda brand has been pretty much franchised out with little or no central planning or control. When was the last time that there was a terrorist attack attributed to him or his immediate associates? It would seem to me that the White House is intent on proving contrary to fact that bin Laden was still the leading terrorist mastermind, both to justify shooting him and also to magnify the success narrative for the president.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Osama bin Laden 
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  1. Marcus says:

    Whether the ISI was involved with Bin Laden’s killing is hardly the question. The question, rather is have they and the Pakistani Government been complicit in concealing him for the last several years at least.

    As far as the nonsense coming from the White House – your comment is what is nonsense. Do you expect the aftermath of such a high-profile yet low-profile lighting raid to kill the most wanted man in the world to have all the complete facts within a few hours or a few days after it happened?

    That is absurd. The SEAL team who executed the assault has revised their story, no doubt. Sorry – they could not make an 100% accurate documentary of a raid into sovereign territory to kill the man behind 9/11. Big Deal.The Pentagon in turn revises its story. So does the White House. The American people don’t really care about the petty details. We care that our military and our President got their man.

    It’s only the President’s partisan detractors such as yourself who are making a big deal on the inconsistencies – anyone with common sense expects the story to evolve as the details continue to emerge as the military and the government decides what it can and can’t reveal.

    If the Bush White House had actually gotten the job done and had handled the aftermath EXACTLY the same way you would have hardly anything but praise.

    So much for objectivity.

  2. SteveM says:

    Nice essay Philip.

    Re: the “Fear Monger” model. The administration claimed that Bin Laden was looking at attacking railroad targets. So the Security-Industrial apparatus immediately wants to do a rail lock-down. (As if that is possible).

    By extension, 4 bad guys sitting around a table, could idly brainstorm 100 unique terror targets in the United States in an hour. If they wrote the target list down and left the note pad behind to be found, the entire United States would be paved over with concrete, surveillance and guns if the Fear Mongers had their way.

    More trillions down the Neocon rat hole. All on the tax payer dime of course.

  3. FN says:

    If you identified the courier, why should it not have been possible that they located his phone calls? Combined with some satellite intel that could go a long way.

  4. Majumder says:

    Without the cooperation of Pakistanian military, ISI, and the political establishment, killing of Usamah bin-Ladin was IMPOSSIBLE.

    Mainstream media is too busy whitewashing any discrepancy in the narrations from the White House.

    Pakistanians were assured by the U.S. government that American tax-payers’ dollars will continue to flow to Pakistan (Land of the Pure) as well as American military hardwares, which Pakistan desperately needs for its fight against Indian Hindus.

    So, it was a win-win situation for all sides. Pakistan would continue to claim that it did not know anything before the 45-minute-raid by American Navy SEALs was successfully over.

    Former President Bush II would claim that it was his interrogation techniques and policies that led to the hideout of Usamah bin-Ladin.

    Meanwhile, President Baraq Hussein, Jr. has sealed his re-election by Americans in 2012 as Democrats would charge that, for 8 years Republicans were too busy searching for non-existent WMD in Iraq while neglecting to search for Usamah bin-Ladin in Pakistan.

  5. Since the Obama administration lies about everything else, why would they suddenly tell the truth when it comes to Pakistan’s involvement in the raid? If Obama claims they weren’t notified in advance, you can bet that they were.

    A more important question is why Obama put out a hit on bin Laden? If he was indeed the mastermind they made him out to be, one would think they’d want to take him alive and thorougly question him.

    I think the answer is that the guy knew too much about America’s bumbling foreign policy going back decades. From the government’s perspective, it was better to make the guy fish food and avoid a trial where inconvenient facts might become public. Why else would they mow down an unarmed man like a mafia hit squad?

  6. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    They went in to kill him, so why justify their actions?

  7. Majumder says:

    Steve Hogan:…one would think they’d want to take him alive and thorougly question him.

    Majumder: That was the compromise between the U.S. officials and Pakistan govt.

    If Usamah were captured alive and interrogated, Pakistan govt.’s complicity (and duplicity) would have come out to public as well as to Islamic forces in Pakistan.

    Govt. of Pakistan could not accept internal turmoil that would have ensued.

    Now, the U.S. got the dead-body from Pakistan and Pakistan got the financial aids from the U.S.

    All parties are peacefully satisfied.

  8. Marcus – You sure haven’t been visiting this website much. Both TAC and I have been devastatingly critical of the Bush global war on terrorism and foreign policy and have been ever since 2002. We are not apologists for the Bushies. Unfortunately Obama is not much different. And your judgments that it is irrelevant if ISI was involved in the killing and that the story is naturally evolving are hogwash. ISI’s involvement is critical to understanding where we are with Pakistan and the White House had the full story immediately after the raid, believe me. They are engaged in political spin.

    FN – The courier made phone calls far away from the bin Laden safehouse, so they would still have to identify him and tail him to locate it.

  9. Marcus says:

    Philip – if the ISI was involved what does that mean?

    That only means they are playing both sides – as they have been since this conflict began.

    Either way, they are complicit with at least some of the Taliban and Al Qaeda’s dealings.

    At least the Obama administration sees thru this somewhat. Bush and the double-talking Musharaf were like bosom buddies. It was pretty pathetic.

  10. Marcus says:

    Furthermore, it is literally impossible that the White House knew 100% of the details so soon after the raid. Even the dozens of SEALS involved in the raid would have needed to compare notes and review the footage before putting together a complete official story for their superiors.

    Yet the news had to be broken, unless we wanted the Pakistanis to break it for us.

    Does that mean there is no political spin? No, of course not. Unfortunately a major story such as this one will be used for political gains – in part because so many of the President’s detractors claimed he didn’t have what it took to get the job done – despite the 30,000 additional troops and the focus on drone attacks in Pakistan. So will the President’s aides use this to retort to his political foes? Absolutely.

  11. George says:


    The suggestion by the Obama Administration that Bin Laden was the leading terror mastermind makes the decision to kill him a collosal blunder, from a strategic standpoint alone. The government just forever lost the most valuable cache of information imaginable (stored in Bin Laden’s brain) on the “Al Qaeda network.” Stunning that they were willing to do that. Either they are incredibly stupid, or the narrative they have given us about Obama and “Al Qaeda” is false in key respects, or they don’t want us to hear what Geronimo has to say.

    On any score, the action should be condemned.

  12. You’re a piece of work, Marcus. How does that Obama Kool-aid taste? You’ve had your share of it. Repeat after me: “Yes, we can!”

    I’m one of the president’s detractors, but not because he didn’t have what it took. He seems quite capable of starting wars and killing people by the thousands. Congratulations. Your Dear Leader and Nobel Laureate makes Bush Jr. look like a piker. I’m sure you’re proud.

  13. It is certainly plausible that Pakistani intelligence were kept in the loop about the operation in Abbottabad, and, whether or not they knew Osama bin Laden was the target, had asked that their participation be confidential and thus requested the U.S. government to deny their involvement. But while Americans are now raising a furor over what the Pakistanis knew about OBL and when did they know it, the real heat is being felt from the people of Pakistan, who are outraged that the U.S. could conduct such an operation on their soil without their military and intelligence services knowing anything until it was over. If the Pakistani government was complicit in the U.S. raid, would it not be the lesser of two evils now to admit it? If the Pakistanis did not want to take OBL captive any more than the Americans, were they not equally happy to see him dead, and, that being the case, why would the Americans have not allowed and supported an operation of the Pakistanis taking OBL out? It didn’t take the skill and expertise of the Navy Seals to enter what was, in fact, an undefended “safehouse”, only the ability to do so and get out without the Pakistanis detecting it. A unit of Pakistani police could have done this job just as well. But perhaps they wouldn’t have been willing to shoot their target in cold blood.

    Another question for Mr. Giraldi: Why did the U.S. bury OBL at sea and is refusing to release pictures? Zeal to deal with his dead body according to Islamic law is a story that doesn’t hold water. The Seals had no compunction about leaving the bodies of their other victims, presumably also devout Muslims, for someone else to tend to, not to mention the wounded bin Laden wife. They knew Pakistani authorities would be entering that house in short order. Isn’t it more likely that Osama’s body was badly abused by this U.S. military unit, either before or after he was killed, and that it is evidence of this the President’s men are determined not be made public?

  14. George – I think it played out in the following fashion: it was a find and kill operation pure and simple because the White House decided that bin Laden likely did not have enough information to justify taking him alive and attempting to interrogate him. Alive would have meant having to put him on a show trial where he would inspire his supporters. Better to make him disappear completely.

    William Dalton – I think you are right that the refusal to show the pictures is because they are so gruesome that they would have created a strong backlash against the slaying. But I think the decision to dump him at sea was made in advance – clearly they had someone standing by who could go through the Muslim burial ritual. Probably done to avoid having his burial site on land turned into some kind of shrine to his memory, even though Sunnis don’t normally go in for that sort of thing.

  15. George says:


    Thanks for your reply. If Bin Laden wasn’t significant enough to justify interrogating him, what does that tell us about the significance of “al Qaeda”? If he wasn’t significant, why are U.S. officials describing his home as a terrorist “command and control center”? If he wasn’t significant, what does that mean for what the public understands to be our justification for two major ongoing military engagements?

    I’m not saying Geronimo was or was not significant. As I meant to convey in my original post, there is an apparent disconnect between what our rulers tell us and what they do. (The questions I have just posed are intended to get at that disconnect.) That is something that is worth doing some thinking about in terms of trying to understand what is going on.

    Personally, as an American citizen, I would have really valued hearing what Geronimo had to say about why he chose to lead a resistance movement against U.S. meddling in the Arab world and to hear him explain his grievances. The guy has had a standing peace offer to the United States for ten years, containing very specific and reasonable conditions. It’s been suppressed by our media and other rulers. I can’t help but think that allowing his perspective to reach our ears is the real fear of those who wield power in this country and a principal reason they chose to execute him. And that fear is also probably a major impetus for denying Khalid Shaikh Mohammed a civilian trial on U.S. soil.

    They don’t want us to understand.

  16. Phil, putting on my monday morning quarterback helmet, let me put forward a way that Obama could have solved the open casket issue. I would have directed that OBL’s remains be flown to an airbase in Germany where the relevanty national authorities of Nato Japan, China, Saudi Arabia etc., be allowed 24 hrs to take swabs, blood samples, and fingerprints. Then I would have cremated the remains and and dumped them in the Atlantic. This would go a long way to forestalling all but the most loony conspiracists.

    If OBL’s face is really that disfigured, it lends credence to the notion that he was shot from behind, exit wounds being larger that entrance wounds. I have no scruples about shooting the bastard from any angle. but from a historical perspective it’s interesting.

    Re planning and Muslim rites, I would guess that any US aircraft carrier would have a Muslim chaplin to perform the rite of burial. There are a great many sailors aboard and I imagine the few Muslims among them would require this in the age of PC.

  17. Thank you for your reply, Mr. Giraldi. I have been a fan of yours since the inception of The American Conservative magazine. I usually turn to your column first to learn what is really going on. What I was suggesting was that the state of Osama bin Laden’s body may have been more “gruesome” than could have been attributed to two bullet wounds. I am certain that this Seal team is among the most disciplined in the U.S. Armed Forces. But I would not be surprised if they had at least tacit approval of their superiors to use the Al Qaeda leader as a punching bag and pin cushion before dispatching and disposing of him. Or am I off base?

    And if the Obama Administration had already planned this burial at sea, being concerned with negative fall out in the midst of world opinion had images of this operation and its result been available to the public, would it not have been better from that perspective to have the Pakistanis do the dirty work? Or was it more important that the American public see, if only in the mind’s eye, American forces fulfill our collective desire for revenge?

  18. Thomas, had OBL been shot from behind, I don’t think there would be any hesitancy in revealing this fact, as his killing would then have had the plausible explanation of stopping his attempt to escape. And, again, I don’t think releasing pictures of his disfigurement from bullet wounds, entering or leaving his body, would really be of concern. Those images are commonplace in reports on the war being received in the Arab and Muslim world, and not nearly as inflammatory as the too common pictures of women and children who are killed in drone attacks. I think something else had to be involved here.

    Also, I think the picture you paint of our armed services, or even its Muslim members, being scrupulous to give OBL (but not his dead compatriots) a politically correct burial, while ignoring the immediate medical needs of his wounded wife, is rather grotesque.

  19. George – The government response proves that even the denizens of the White House know that al-Qaeda is no real threat. Obama certainly did not want an intelligent and engaged bin Laden appearing in a court room and turning his trial into an indictment of US policy.

    Tom – Your suggestion of a twenty-four hour hiatus to have independent observers examine the corpse before disposing of it at sea is a good one as it would eliminate all doubt that he is really dead. Don’t know how many Muslim chaplains there are but it is unlikely that one would be on an aircraft carrier, I would think, and it is possible that a chaplain of another faith was called on to perform the service. But in any event it was clearly pre-arranged.

    William Dalton – I suspect the White House wanted to make sure the body disappeared. If they had consigned it to the Pakistanis it could have come back to haunt them (figuratively speaking).

  20. George says:

    Phil wrote:

    The government response proves that even the denizens of the White House know that al-Qaeda is no real threat.

    I’d say that is a fairly important piece of information.

  21. Philip – one reason I favor your argument that the Pakistanis had been clued in, at least in part, on this operation is the great risk that would have been run had our troops flown in without notice, then been discovered and come under Pakistani attack. Pakistanis and/or Americans would have been killed and the whole operation gone kaput. And, it seems, unnecessarily. We could have reported our suspicions to the Pakistan authorities and allowed them to mount an operation. U.S. intelligence already had this compound under surveillance and, presumably, could have kept a tail on Osama had he broken free or been tipped off by the ISI. Having the Seals go in was required for the U.S. to maintain control of this take-out, however, and, as you say, minimize the chances of something coming back to haunt us.

    I don’t see verifying bin Laden’s death has been much of an issue. His wives, whose identification of the body is better than any experts’, reported his killing, and Al Qaeda itself has acknowledged. it.

  22. Phil, re Muslim-American Chaplins on US aircraft carriers, a Muslim chaplin, first name Muhiyyaldin, (last name withheld for security purposes}, served aboard the USS Enterprise in 2001.

    A Navy Muslim chaplin Lt. Comdr Abuhena M. Saifulislam performed muslim burial rights for 2 detainee suicides at Gitmo.

    So there is prescident for both Muslim navy chaplins performing burial rites and serving aboard flat tops. Given security concerns, names of any currently serving Muslim flat top chaplins might be unavailable.

  23. George says:


    This is just FYI news, pertaining to our exchange above:

    Osama Bin Laden reportedly recorded a final, thus-far-censored tape shortly before his death, intended for an American audience. Haaretz reports that an Al-Qaida website has the transcript:

    Bin Laden: “America will not be able to dream of security until we live in security in Palestine. It is unfair that you live in peace while our brothers in Gaza live in insecurity.”

    Why won’t the U.S. release the audio?

    Does the Obama administration wish the American public to continue to remain totally ignorant of one of the main causes of 9/11: U.S. support for Israel’s project of colonization and ethnic cleansing? Certainly would be not be good for the Israel lobby if Americans knew the truth – about this, or anything else Israel-related.

    P.S. I actually think he or Zawahri have said this before. But the point remains about the nature of Geronimo’s cause and the zeal with which U.S. authorities are trying to keep that truth from reaching the American people.

  24. gcochran says:

    I’ll bet 20-1 that the ISI gave us no help at all in the raid or in preparation for the raid. Because of that the raid was risky: but also because of that, there was a nonzero chance it would succeed.

    The US is extremely unpopular in Pakistan, and this applies to the ruling circles as well. If we had notified them, someone would have tipped off Osama in advance. Moreover, since Osama was holed up in a military cantonment, right next door to major elements of the Pakistani security services, you have to suspect that he was there for convenience, to shorten everybody’s commute. To be clear about it, working with some elements of the ISI and/or Pakistan military. Not many would have been read in – again, in that event, someone would have spilled the beans.

    The simplest scenario has Musharaff in on it, a line of command down through ISI, and relatively few worker bees, probably less than 20 people altogether.
    The motives are obvious enough: we paid Pakistan to look for Osama, not to catch him. Also, he could be useful. Remember that we thought that Al Qaeda assassinated Benazir Bhutto? Who benefited – or thought he would?

    We know exactly how competent Pakistan radar and air defenses are: not very. We could deal with them if we had to.
    Think about their export-version F16s: do you really think there’s not a back door in their software?

  25. “Your Dear Leader and Nobel Laureate makes Bush Jr. look like a piker.”

    oh please

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