For quite some time now, there have been serious questions about how how the US was able to track down Osama bin Laden’s “hiding place” to send in special forces to kill him. The story many people have heard was that the CIA was able to identify the “courier” who was used to help bin Laden communicate with the outside world, and then used that info to figure out where he was. And, a big part of that story — especially as immortalized in the movie Zero Dark Thirty — was that the CIA’s torture program was instrumental in revealing that information. However, even before the big Senate Intelligence Committee study on the torture program was released, it was revealed that the torture program had nothing to do with identifying the courier, known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.
However, as you may have heard over the weekend, Seymour Hersh published a somewhat epic story, arguing that almost everything about the bin Laden killing was a lie, and a bunch of stories — including everything about al-Kuwaiti — were made up after the fact. Hersh’s story is well worth reading (as are some of the criticisms of it that question some of the details). But one key aspect of the report is that finding a courier had absolutely nothing to do with finding bin Laden. Instead, it was a so-called “walk in” — a Pakistani intelligence official who knew that Pakistan already had captured bin Laden — who reached out to the US, seeking the $25 million reward for information leading to bin Laden’s whereabouts.
In other words, even the Senate’s torture report gets the story wrong completely. In the Senate report, the identifying of al-Kuwaiti came from traditional interrogation, rather than the torture part. The CIA’s response was basically that it was the torture part (the bad cop) that enabled the information to come out separately (good cop). But Hersh’s report says the whole courier story is made up whole cloth. While some have questioned the details of Hersh’s report, there’s now independent verification from other sources to NBC that bin Laden was actually found via a “walk-in,” rather than the courier (warning: stupid NBC autoplay video at that link).
In Hersh’s version, the plan had been to kill bin Laden, and later (perhaps weeks later) come up with a story saying bin Laden had been killed by a drone strike. A few things went wrong — including one of the US helicopters famously crashing, and there was enough buzz that the US rushed to publicly announce the killing, including Obama’s famous speech that, apparently, created havoc since it messed up a bunch of previously agreed to things about how the killing would be presented, and was done without first clearing it with the intelligence community. This resulted in the CIA being rushed in to concoct some cover stories, and some CIA officials quickly realized that this would be a fantastic way to pretend that torture had been useful