Veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh is vigorously defending a controversial new story that claims the White House lied about crucial details of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Hersh’s piece, published in the London Review of Books on May 10th, alleges that the US government misled the public about many of the details surrounding the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abottabad, Pakistan.
Relying largely on a single anonymous source, described only as a retired senior US intelligence official, Hersh claims that Pakistani intelligence officials were aware of and actively hiding Osama bin Laden. He claims that the intelligence tip that led the CIA to Bin Laden didn’t come from tracking the Al Qaeda leader’s network of couriers, but from a Pakistani intelligence official who walked into the US embassy in Islamabad and received most of a $US25 million in exchange for divulging bin Laden’s location.
During a contentious interview on CNN on Monday, Hersh defended his story.
“I’m not out on a limb on this,” Hersh said.
“Think about this: a team of SEALS — and our SEALs are the best, there is no question — 24, 25 guys go in to the middle of Pakistan, take out a guy with no air cover, no protection, no security. Are you kidding me?” Hersh said.
CNN host Chris Cuomo remained sceptical of Hersh throughout the interview, questioning him on the motivations of the Pakistanis in his account.
“Look, I don’t mean to tell you the trade, you’ve been doing it at such a high level for such a long time,” Cuomo said. “But the idea that we were working with them and then, as soon as it comes out, the Pakistani government condems us unconditionally for doing it, it doesn’t seem that they were owning their own narrative.”
“Why wouldn’t Pakistan come out and say we gave you this guy, we helped you?” Cuomo asked.
Hersh told Cuomo that his account was vindicated by former Pakistani General Assad Durrani, the former head of Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Durrani’s doubts about the White House’s official narrative of the raid appear at the very top of Hersh’s LRB story.
But Cuomo also disputed Hersh’s implication that Durrani had endorsed Hersh’s version of the events in Abottabad, reading Hersh emails that CNN national security contributor Peter Bergen sent to Durrani.
“When Bergen contacted him, he said ‘Look I don’t know the facts, but it was plausible,” Cuomo said. “That’s not exactly an endorsement.”
“That’s not what he said in the article,” Hersh said.
“Durrani said that there was no evidence of any kind that bin Laden was hiding in Abbotobad, but [Durrani] could still make an assessment that this could be plausible,” Cuomo shot back.
Cuomo also pointed out that Hersh’s claim that the Navy SEALs trained in Utah was untrue. Hersh replied by emphasising that that detail was unimportant.
“If I’m wrong about Utah, that’s just a mistake because I knew exactly where they were in Nevada,” Hersh said. “Sometimes my geography gets lousy.”
Hersh, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for exposing the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, also brushed off Cuomo’s scepticism about his past reporting errors.
“I would argue that a lot of the stories that I wrote are pretty much on mark,” Hersh said.
Cuomo isn’t the first to call Hersh’s account into question. On Monday, former deputy CIA director Mike Morell denounced the report, telling CBS This Morning that Hersh’s intelligence source gave him false information.
“It’s all wrong,” former CIA deputy director Mike Morell said. “I started reading the article last night and I got a third of the way through because every sentence I was reading was wrong.”
In addition, The New Yorker, which has published many articles by Hersh, turned down the story, reportedly creating friction between Hersh and the magazine.
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