March 19, 2014

"What Pakistan Knew About Bin Laden"

When the Navy Seals executed Osama bin Laden in his big house near the Pakistani military academy in 2011, my instant reaction was that the Pakistani state must have know and therefore had been hiding him. After awhile though, the Obama Administration started to assert that all that evidence the Seals took home form Osama's office showed that the Pakistani government didn't know anything. But that's misleading:
What Pakistan Knew About Bin Laden 
By Carlotta Gall
In trying to prove that the ISI [Pakistan's main intelligence service] knew of Bin Laden’s whereabouts and protected him, I struggled for more than two years to piece together something other than circumstantial evidence and suppositions from sources with no direct knowledge. Only one man, a former ISI chief and retired general, Ziauddin Butt, told me that he thought Musharraf had arranged to hide Bin Laden in Abbottabad. But he had no proof and, under pressure, claimed in the Pakistani press that he’d been misunderstood. Finally, on a winter evening in 2012, I got the confirmation I was looking for. According to one inside source, the ISI actually ran a special desk assigned to handle Bin Laden. It was operated independently, led by an officer who made his own decisions and did not report to a superior. He handled only one person: Bin Laden. I was sitting at an outdoor cafe when I learned this, and I remember gasping, though quietly so as not to draw attention. (Two former senior American officials later told me that the information was consistent with their own conclusions.) This was what Afghans knew, and Taliban fighters had told me, but finally someone on the inside was admitting it. The desk was wholly deniable by virtually everyone at the ISI — such is how supersecret intelligence units operate — but the top military bosses knew about it, I was told.

I'm increasingly coming around to assuming that most of the most interesting skullduggery in international affairs is carried out not by lone wolves and the like, but by guys with offices and white boards and pensions: i.e., present or past government officials.

Was sheltering bin Laden an operation by "rogue elements" within ISI? I've long argued that a frequent corollary to the deep state is the peak state -- i.e., the power behind the throne usually turns out to be the guy sitting on the throne (e.g., in Pakistan when bin Laden arrived, the military dictator was Pervez Musharraf). After all, that's why he clawed his way to the top: because he wants to be the guy who makes the big decisions.
    

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you've read Bernard Henri Levy's book, Who Killed Daniel Pearl?

Bert said...

The time has come to dismember Pakistan. Grant independence to Sindh and Baluchistan and give the Punjab back to India.

Pakistan is a threat to the whole world.

Anonymous said...

If you read the historical cases you realize this kind of thing is normal wartime behavior so it's just a question of figuring out who's at war with who.

Anonymous said...

"The time has come to dismember Pakistan. Grant independence to Sindh and Baluchistan and give the Punjab back to India.

Pakistan is a threat to the whole world."

It's just a question of figuring out who's at war with who.

Dave Pinsen said...

You don't hear much about it now, but I recall press reports about the CIA or some other elements of the US government flying in pallets of hundred dollar bills to Afghanistan/Pakistan after 9/11, presumably in attempts to gather intel on Bin Laden. The Pakistani military and intelligence establishments must have realized that the dollars would keep coming as long as the search continued. A perverse incentive, perhaps.

rec1man said...

Bert, in 1971, Indira Gandhi dismembered Pakistan ( Bangladesh used to be East Pakistan )

Unfortunately Nixon sent in US Enterprise to protect residual Pakistan

India does not want Pakistani Punjab, why add another 100 million fanatic muslims to the 180 million fanatic muslims already within Indian borders

RAW ( Indian CIA ) does help Baluch separatists

Anonymous said...

Good post. By the way, one thing we now know that we did not quite as well know thirty years ago is that a hate-filled billionaire can kill, if the poor billionaire soul so wishes, many people and survive the killing for a few years. Evil little rich-boy Osama, whose success at paying for the murder of 4,000 or so people led, within a decade or so, to the total loss of all his hundreds of millions (which hundreds of millions might be seen as minor damage compared to the total loss, absent a last-second acceptance of the grace of Jesus, an acceptance for which there is no evidence, of the future happiness of his eternal soul) merely gave an example of the typical numbers. I.e., second-hand murder costs somewhere in the mid five figures for each victim, even "wholesale" (by the way, I have a friend or two murdered by the rich-boy villain, and I am not trying to be funny). And, whatever the financial cost, this dabbling with evil leads to death, which is after all the real wages of sin. Now, to get back to the substance of this post, whatever level of respect one has for the Kennedy/Bush/Clinton equivalents in the higher levels of Pakistani governance, there really is no worse insult that to say that they supported Osama's hiding of himself from justice.

Luke Lea said...

"the power behind the throne usually turns out to be the guy sitting on the throne"

Great line.

Perhaps not unrelated, people sometimes say it doesn't matter how smart the President is (or has to be) because he has (or can have) advisers who are smarter and who can give him the right answer (response) to any difficult situation. The flaw in this analysis is that advisers sometimes (and probably always when the problem is really difficult) disagree. Then it is only the final decision maker -- who may be a fool -- who has to make the choice.

Luke Lea said...

"You don't hear much about it now, but I recall press reports about the CIA or some other elements of the US government flying in pallets of hundred dollar bills to Afghanistan/Pakistan after 9/11, presumably in attempts to gather intel on Bin Laden."

My wife suggested they would have had more success if they had offered a herd of goats.

Michael Deloatch said...

Sure Osama died that day. Yep. Uh huh. The same heavy sleep that came to max headroom, the Esso tiger and Charlie McCarthy.
Full fathom five thy terrorist lies. These are coral that were his eyes.

Anonymous said...

There were reports from the Maldives that the Malasian airliner was seen at flying at low altitude. Anybody know the range of the aircraft when it is flown low and slow? IF it was seen in the Maldives, could it not be flying around India's radar then north from the Maldives to a safe haven in Iran? Pakistan? Oman? Yemen? UAE? Somalia? Perhaps the US needs to get an AWAC up on constant duty to make sure this thing doesn't pop up in this friendly neck of the wood as a stripped down, modified Enola Gay with a 8000 mile range.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you've got to remember that this is Pakistan that you are dealing with.
I know it sounds obvious, but it's very, very importtant and the key to the whole matter.

*Everything and everyone in Pakistan is corrupt and duplcitous*

Now, just take that lesson home and mutter it to yourself whenever you consider Pakistan. Everything Pakistani MUST always but always be seen in that light. I just wish that the US State Dept saw things that way. Certainly the old school British colonialists - people a shade trickier than the Pakistanis, but trckier in a colder more analytic way did. As the saying goes it takes a thief to catch a thief.
I read about your 'deep state' fixation often, Steve, and there is a lot in it, but ultimately a nation, an administration, is only the manifestation of a national character. Therefore generalizing and seeing 'reds under the bed' everywhere is a mistake - which takes us back to your other fixation, evolutionary biology and HBD. Suffice to see Pakistan has always been a low-trust, clan based society, in which population density - and competition for food was intense. A rat's nest basically. Now, who condemns a rat for doing what a rat does?

As a side note, due to their treachery and Labour Party infiltration and political jiggery pokery, have no doubt that Pakistanis wil be the dominant ethnic group - over white Britons - in the UK by 2100.

Bonanza said...

The official OBL story is unbelievable, the AQ is something constantly propped up by the Western governments to regain control of Middle-East, Africa... Even the French are in this game like the Mali and Central African Republic showed up.

BB753 said...

My guess is that both the CIA and Pakistan were hiding Bin Laden. And that he died of natural causes. The whole Bin Laden SEAL raid was staged. Pretty unconvicingly I must say.

Anonymous said...

There were reports from the Maldives that the Malasian airliner was seen at flying at low altitude. Anybody know the range of the aircraft when it is flown low and slow? IF it was seen in the Maldives, could it not be flying around India's radar then north from the Maldives to a safe haven in Iran? Pakistan? Oman? Yemen? UAE? Somalia? Perhaps the US needs to get an AWAC up on constant duty to make sure this thing doesn't pop up in this friendly neck of the wood as a stripped down, modified Enola Gay with a 8000 mile range.

Do you think a 777 can get past Diego Garcia without detection? Dream on.

Anonymous said...

There were reports from the Maldives that the Malasian airliner was seen at flying at low altitude. Anybody know the range of the aircraft when it is flown low and slow? IF it was seen in the Maldives, could it not be flying around India's radar then north from the Maldives to a safe haven in Iran? Pakistan? Oman? Yemen? UAE? Somalia? Perhaps the US needs to get an AWAC up on constant duty to make sure this thing doesn't pop up in this friendly neck of the wood as a stripped down, modified Enola Gay with a 8000 mile range.

It now appears some wreckage was found by satellite 16 March some 2500 km SW of Perth.

dearieme said...

"When the Navy Seals executed Osama bin Laden": they didn't "execute" him. Nor did they murder him, off him, nor terminate him with extreme prejudice. They killed him.

And he didn't "pass": he died.

Boring Boring S said...

Pakistanis have a nasty habit of talking in gobbledygook when they need to hide some embarrassing nugget of information.

Mush did this when questions got a little uncomfortable on Bin Laden. Bush had a perverse incentive not to kill Osama too btw. Osama's presence in Pakistan was well known and he must have had official sponsorship from Pakistan and the US must have known about it.

Anonymous said...

Sounds plausible. Except for idea that the case officer reported to nobody. There may have been an elaborate cover story, but the guy needs resources, support and authority to direct actions. Maybe he was like the Dennis Leary character in Operation Dumbo Drop. "Colonel, I've got this order signed by President Mussharef that says you have to provide whatever assistance I ask for."

Anonymous said...

If Musharraf knew it, then the CIA and Cheney probably knew it too. I'm guessing they wouldn't have told Bush though.

Anonymous said...

"Then it is only the final decision maker -- who may be a fool -- who has to make the choice."

Dubya, "The Decider', please call your office.

sunbeam said...

You are going to chicken out lest someone accuse you of being in the tinfoil hat brigade.

But let's see:

1) Big Fancy House
2) Out in the open air
3) Living there for years
4) Big city location

So either we knew all along too, or we have the world's crappiest intelligence agencies.

Both options are equally viable. Our intelligence seems a lot better at spying on Americans than anyone else.

Another explanation is that autistics have taken over everywhere. If it isn't something that can be accomplished with a spy satellite, tapping a cell phone, planting a bug, or otherwise using a computer we can't do it.

We don't do that old fashioned, nasty wetware stuff anymore. Much better to sit in Crystal City and refine your database searches.

TGGP said...

Turkey would be an exception to the "peak state" theory. I think we can safely assume Erdogan is not behind the raids, arrests and leaked phone conversations that have been embarrassing his government.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps not unrelated, people sometimes say it doesn't matter how smart the President is (or has to be) because he has (or can have) advisers who are smarter and who can give him the right answer (response) to any difficult situation. The flaw in this analysis is that advisers sometimes (and probably always when the problem is really difficult) disagree. Then it is only the final decision maker -- who may be a fool -- who has to make the choice.

The flaw in this analysis is that advisers sometimes HAVE ULTERIOR MOTIVES.

And the final decision maker -- who may be a fool -- ISN'T SMART ENOUGH [OR SUFFICIENTLY CYNICAL] TO REALIZE THAT HE IS BEING MANIPULATED BY PEOPLE WITH ULTERIOR MOTIVES.

After a certain point, fatuousness becomes foolishness becomes folly becomes felo-de-se.

Chicago said...

Did the US know all along that he was being sheltered there? It seems some Pakistani somewhere along the way would have passed along the info in return for a nice payment. Perhaps the Pakistanis invited the US to come in and kill him, getting rid of what had become a liability at that point. Was it necessary to kill him? It seems they could have bundled up a live body and taken him in just as well as a dead one. Think of all the fascinating information that could have been gotten out of him. Dead men tell no tales though.

Anonymous said...

Luke Lea, you'd have gotten much more out of the Pakis with a couple of Kate Upton look-alikes!

Maximo Macaroni said...

And yet, this corrupt, immoral Pakistani government has had control of nuclear weapons for decades now, has never threatened anyone with them, never lost any or had any unexplained explosions, and has never allowed the myriad of terrorist groups to do anything with them. Maybe they are more under control than we think. "Under whose control?" may be another question.

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed that America is so eager to punish Russia over Crimea, and yet Pakistan - who protected the man whose done more harm to the U.S. than anyone else from the outside - is allowed to get off free.

thrasymachus33308 said...

>>the power behind the throne usually turns out to be the guy sitting on the throne<<

The idea that the king is a figurehead and things are run by bureaucrats from Oxbridge or HYP or wherever is a idea promoted over the last few centuries by bureaucrats from Oxbridge or HYP.

Bill said...


Michael Deloatch said...
Sure Osama died that day. Yep. Uh huh. The same heavy sleep that came to max headroom, the Esso tiger and Charlie McCarthy.

This seems like potentially a good point. "He's dead. No, you can't see the body because I threw it away." is unconvincing.

Superman said...

You're overlooking the slightly less obvious fact: the incarceration of Bin Laden in that Abbottabad compound was a joint exercise between the ISI and the CIA. That's why we disbanded the CIA's Bin Laden unit in 2006 (at the same time Bin Laden moved into that compound).

The more interesting (and dangerous) question is why we suddenly decided to cancel the deal and take him.

Anonymous said...

"The Pakistani military and intelligence establishments must have realized that the dollars would keep coming as long as the search continued. A perverse incentive, perhaps."

Or perhaps a way for the regime to get American support, all in the name of the fight against terrorism. Or some other reason.

Anonymous said...

make sure this thing doesn't pop up in this friendly neck of the wood as a stripped down, modified Enola Gay with a 8000 mile range

Please stop with this nonsense. If those guys want an airliner they'll hijack it and use it right away. Or if they need it for later then they can just buy one through intermediaries. Or any number of increasingly complicated scenarios.

Cail Corishev said...

I always figured there was a decent chance that he was killed early on without anyone knowing it when we were dropping bunker-busters on caves over there, when the body could have been buried and unrecoverable and/or unrecognizable. Then at some point they decided they wanted to make it official, so they dressed up some dead guy who looked a bit like him and went through the motions.

Whiskey said...

Sunbeam -- the US weakness in human sources is a long and sorry story, dating back to the beginnings of 20th Century US spycraft. Basically the US is very very good at reading coded messages and breaking them. And very very bad at suborning people in other countries who may be nasty and getting them to tell us interesting things. The Church Committee jihad for moral purity killed whatever incentive the US intelligence agencies had to cozy up to torturers, murderers, dictators, abusers, psychopaths, and other people in Third World hell-holes to get the real story. Se we concentrate on "clean" technology.

I've long thought it would have been wiser to simply abduct Bin Laden and regularly wring him dry of every little scrap of intel he might possess, because his mind is a gold mine of undocumented connections, politics, and power-plays among global jihadis. the amount of info this major player had would be very valuable. It seemed odd there was no intention to take him alive and drain him.

A cynic might say he was taken alive, a cover story constructed to say he was killed, and he is "illegally" detained and given drugs to loosen his tongue and provide intel and analysis that helps us deter attacks. It is well known among jihadis that the US can penetrate any electronic network they use, but cannot reach into whispered messages sent by courier. Bin Laden is a guy who knows each other major player by name, background, kin affiliation, etc. If you could get regular dumps "who is this guy, who are his cousins, what's his power ranking among Nation X intel service, who are his enemies, who are his allies" etc. that would be worth a lot.

So my view is that likely, bin Laden was taken alive, the cover story keeps Obama's leftist lunatics wanting to hug bin Laden at bay, and his pals thinking he's probably dead. And we can drug him without any legal restriction. [Drugs are more effective than torture, basically unbeatable given time.]

reiner Tor said...

"the power behind the throne usually turns out to be the guy sitting on the throne"

Let me second Luke Lea that this line is a classic.

Anonymous said...

"the power behind the throne usually turns out to be the guy sitting on the throne"

If the guy sitting on the throne is visibly bored by politics, then he's obviously a figurehead. The US has recently had three presidents who were visibly bored by politics and policy: Reagan, Bush II and Obama.

Common sense tells me that there has to be intense competition out there to shape US government policies. It's the biggest prize on Earth. The only way to compete in such a field is to be very talented and to both eat and sleep politics. If the person on the throne does not fit that description, he's got to be an irrelevant figurehead.

If that person is a woman, same thing. If the best female chess player in the world were to compete against men, what place would she reach in a ratings table? It's got to be below 1,000th. Same for sprinting and marathoning, same for any objectively-measured competition in a naturally-male field. The same has to be true of politics. If you see a woman on the throne, automatically assume she's a figurehead.

Neal Murray said...

"Both options are equally viable. Our intelligence seems a lot better at spying on Americans than anyone else."

The difference between human and signals intelligence might be relevant here. I suspect America is extremely advanced in the latter but only mediocre in the former. Servants of the British empire often had impressive language skills and an understanding of the local culture, which is not the case with America.

I do not believe we knew where bin-laden was hiding and just sat on the information. The incentives do not make sense to me. If an American president (bush) knew, he would have ordered the death to boost his legacy, not pass it off to Obama. If Bush was ignorant, why would the CIA keep him alive? It was the CIA's job to kill him, no? They would ensure more funding and institutional power by killing him.

We could say "Oh, but the CIA needs to keep the empire afloat, and keeping bin-laden alive sustains the whole GWOT mentality", but I am not sure these kind of grand motivations are always present in individual actors. Killing bin-Laden boosted the prestige of the CIA. Keeping him alive diminished it.

I share Steve's belief that powerful elements in Pakistan knew about bin-laden's whereabouts. Pakistan did have an incentive to keep bin-Laden alive in order to continue fleecing the United States.

Years back I thought the CIA should just launder money to some pakistani goatherder and tell him to purchase some large properties near important Pakistani military and intelligence bases. The goatherder would be instructed to report whether the ISI paid him a visit or otherwise took an interest in him. It might be interesting to "test" Pakistan's security procedures in this way.

Anonymous said...

"The same has to be true of politics. If you see a woman on the throne, automatically assume she's a figurehead."

Well that would have been news to Mrs Thatcher. I suppose you could say that the new economics coming out of the Chicago School by the 1960s/70s would have been adopted anyway in the UK and other countries and that she was a mere figurehead.

Sprinting/Chess are objective as you point out. Politics is not, combining beauty contest/policy and luck.

Anonymous said...

"the power behind the throne usually turns out to be the guy sitting on the throne"

I think there are three general cases.

1) Places like almost everywhere where the dude at the top is probably the brightest and/or most ruthless and even if there are elections they will be heavily influenced. They can do most of their business in private.

2) A very few places where there used to be a functioning democracy for a while where success depended on persuading the public. This required the person involved to spend a lot of time pressing the flesh and speaking in public.

3) Places that are degenerating from (2) into (1) but haven't got there yet. In these places the real power brokers don't want to waste time doing all that persuasion stuff as they have money and media and spin doctors to do that for them so they get some actor to play the public part for them while they deal with the actual power stuff in private.

Obviously once the actor has the part they can go rogue or go to sleep or whatever so it's not 100% safe.

.

An example of the above is the current sanctions thing tween US and Russia.

The US are targeting the actual power brokers including lots of businessmen, media people etc while the Russians are targeting US officials.

This is a mistake on the Russian part as they are acting as if the US is still a type #2 nation rather than a type #3 nation.

The Russians should leave all the US officials and put sanctions on the billionaires funding FEMEN and Pussy Riot and all the coup-making NGOs.

Not only would it be more effective practically it would also be better propaganda.

"Why is Putin putting sanctions on dual-passport Joe Oligarchov and not the state department?"

"He funds Pussy Riot to screw stuff up in Russia."

"Oh right."

Anonymous said...

We have given Pakistan, tanks, planes, billions of dollars in aid and turned a blind eye to their development of nuclear weapons and its subsequent retailing till its implications would have affected GWB administration then in charge.

Our bi partisan subsidy of Pakistan and its terrorists will not stop as the neo cons keep thinking they are anti communist, the realists want to thank them for they channel to China and the liberals who believe all problems can be solved with more cash.

The 65000 madrases in the meantime continue to churn out graduates who will no doubt feature in a breaking news near you......

Anonymous said...

"Sprinting/Chess are objective as you point out. Politics is not, combining beauty contest/policy and luck."

The competition to become a figurehead has a beauty contest element. The fight for the opportunity to set policies doesn't.

Anonymous said...

*Everything and everyone in Pakistan is corrupt and duplcitous*

Now, just take that lesson home and mutter it to yourself whenever you consider Pakistan. Everything Pakistani MUST always but always be seen in that light. I just wish that the US State Dept saw things that way. Certainly the old school British colonialists - people a shade trickier than the Pakistanis, but trckier in a colder more analytic way did. As the saying goes it takes a thief to catch a thief.


Ever considered that it was British colonial rule that made Pakistan that way?

Anonymous said...

Suffice to see Pakistan has always been a low-trust, clan based society, in which population density

Every society has been thus until not too long ago. Who do you think Hobbs was talking about when he said life could be "nasty, brutish, and short" in a society without strong government? Pakistan? He was most likely speaking from experience.

Dave Pinsen said...

It did seem odd that OBL was buried at sea. Why even kill him, for that matter, when they could have taken him alive, interrogated him, and used him to roll up some AQ underlings?

But AQ immediately acknowledged his death (which was also odd).

Sean said...

""What Pakistan Knew About Bin Laden" was nothing. Otherwise he would have knew too much, and they would have rever risked leaving him around to blab. Bin Laden might easily have been taken alive.

While they had strong links to the Taliban, I'm not sure what what would have been in it for the Pakistanis to be protecting Bin Laden at the time of his death.

The usual pattern is assistance at an early stage to assets that then get too powerful to be controlled. There are many examples. Vietnamese communists being helped by the Americans at the end of WW2 is one. The Israelis promoting Islamic extremism among the Palestinians is another.

ATBOTL said...

This is what neocons call being tough on terror: turning a blind eye to the states that support al-Qaeda while agitating for wars against countries that have nothing to do with al-Qaeda.

Anonymous said...

Every country has an "informal government" of some kind. It is unavoidable, arguably even desirable in the way gravity and math are desirable because it is impossible to function without them.

Deep State is one kind, usually the darker kind. When it is mostly social and at least its broad outlines can be identified by open study, we call it the Establishment. Most countries have arrangements wherein the sociopolitical Establishment and the bureaucratic/security elements of the Deep State are interfertile. America has always had an Establishment, and it created a Deep State for itself by no later than the early 20th century. The Establishment above the walls may have broadened and thinned, but the Deep State got bigger and denser.

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed that America is so eager to punish Russia over Crimea, and yet Pakistan - who protected the man whose done more harm to the U.S. than anyone else from the outside - is allowed to get off free.

The American foreign policy establishment is filled with goofballs. Putin actually warned Bush twice before 9/11 that a major attack could occur.

Ahmed Shah Masood was an Afghan warlord who fought against the Soviets under the Mujahideen flag. He later formed his own militia that was opposed to the Taliban (which was a breakaway faction of the Mujahideen). Masood warned the European Parliament six months before 9/11 about the growing danger posed by Pakistan's protection and support for the Taliban and Al Qaeda (funded by the Saudis). Putin informed Bush about this too. At that stage Dubya and his cabinet were fixated on Saddam - this didn't change even after 9/11. Bush saw Saddam under every table and carpet and never saw the Pakistanis.

Masood was assassinated two days before 9/11 in a suicide attack. Putin called Bush and said he was very worried that the Taliban and AQ were about to do "something big".

I think Putin looks like someone who has become deeply disillusioned by the stupidity, incompetence and imprudence of Western leaders. And he is doing what makes sense from a Russian point of view.