White House Stands by Original Story of bin Laden Killing

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The White House on Monday doubled down on its original narrative of the killing of Osama bin Laden, a day after a report by a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist suggested the Obama Administration had lied about details of the 2011 raid.

Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said that contrary to the article by Seymour Hersh, the operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was a unilateral U.S. mission without Pakistani involvement. “The President decided early on not to inform any other government, including the Pakistani government, which was not notified until after the raid had occurred,” he said. “This was a U.S. operation through and through.”

The central allegation in Hersh’s article, published Sunday in the London Review of Books, is that the U.S. worked in collaboration with the Pakistani government in the run-up to the raid. “The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance,” writes Hersh. “This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account.”

Hersh’s single source for this assertion is “a retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.”

The White House has called the allegations “patently false,” the Wall Street Journal reports, while a CIA spokesman said Hersh’s report was “utter nonsense.”

American officials have consistently maintained that the killing of Osama bin Laden by a team of Navy SEALs was done without any Pakistani involvement. Then CIA chief Leon Panetta told TIME in his first postraid interview on May 3, 2011, that the U.S. had decided not to tell Pakistan about the raid beforehand.

Here is the first paragraph of that story:

“In his first interview since commanding the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, CIA chief Leon Panetta tells TIME that U.S. officials feared that Pakistan could have undermined the operation by leaking word to its targets. Long before Panetta ordered Vice Admiral William McRaven, head of the Joint Special Forces Command, to undertake the mission at 1:22 p.m. on Friday, the CIA had been gaming out how to structure the raid. Months prior, the U.S. had considered expanding the assault to include coordination with other countries, notably Pakistan. But the CIA ruled out participating with its nominal South Asian ally early on because “it was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission. They might alert the targets,” Panetta says.”

Hersh’s article has been anticipated for some time. In 2013, he told the Guardian that official statements made by American officials about the raid amounted to “one big lie,” and that “not one word of it is true.” Now that his article is out, its sourcing is being scrutinized here and here.

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