Do tell. Coincidentally, a U.S. intelligence official flatly told Long War Journal that they didn’t give Pakistan a heads up on the Bin Laden raid because, very simply, ISI “could not be trusted” with the information.
Remember, this is our alleged regional partner in counterterrorism.
American diplomats were told that one of the key reasons why they had failed to find bin Laden was that Pakistan’s security services tipped him off whenever US troops approached…
According to a US diplomatic dispatch, General Abdullo Sadulloevich Nazarov, a senior Tajik counterterrorism official, told the Americans that “many” inside Pakistan knew where bin Laden was.
The document stated: “In Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden wasn’t an invisible man, and many knew his whereabouts in North Waziristan, but whenever security forces attempted a raid on his hideouts, the enemy received warning of their approach from sources in the security forces.”
Supposedly that warning came in December 2009. Was Bin Laden still in North Waziristan at the time, or had he already moved to his luxe new digs in beautiful sunny Abbottabad? Ah well, no matter. If you’re still unsure whether higher-ups in Pakistan knew OBL’s whereabouts, let’s put it this way: The best evidence that they didn’t know where he was hiding is that the location of his hiding place makes it look waaaaay too much like they knew exactly where he was hiding. Would any self-respecting Pakistani intel officer sign off on stashing him inside a giant fortified eyesore located a stone’s throw from Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point, knowing that if we ever figured out where he was, it would look for all the world like he was there with the government’s permission?
Well, would they?
Abbottabad is essentially a military cantonment city in Pakistan, in the hills to the north of the capital of Islamabad, in an area where much of the land is controlled or owned by the Pakistan Army and retired army officers. Although the city is technically in what used to be called the Northwest Frontier Province, it lies to the far eastern side of the province and is as close to Pakistani-held Kashmir as it is to the border city of Peshawar. The city is most notable for housing the Pakistan Military Academy, the Pakistan Army’s premier training college, equivalent to West Point. Looking at maps and satellite photos on the Web last night, I saw the wide expanse of the Academy not far from where the million-dollar, heavily secured mansion where bin Laden lived was constructed in 2005. The maps I looked at had sections of land nearby marked off as “restricted area,” indicating that it was under military control. It stretches credulity to think that a mansion of that scale could have been built and occupied by bin Laden for six years without it coming to the attention of anyone in Pakistan’s Army.
The initial circumstantial evidence suggests the opposite is more likely—that bin Laden was effectively being housed under Pakistani state control. Pakistan will deny this, it seems safe to predict, and perhaps no convincing evidence will ever surface to prove the case. If I were a prosecutor at the United States Department of Justice, however, I would be tempted to call a grand jury. Who owned the land on which the house was constructed? How was the land acquired, and from whom? Who designed the house, which seems to have been purpose-built to secure bin Laden? Who was the general contractor? Who installed the security systems? Who worked there? Are there witnesses who will now testify as to who visited the house, how often, and for what purpose?
Actually, the house might not have been built to house Bin Laden. It might have been built for — ta da! — Pakistan’s intelligence service:
The compound in Abbottabad where Osama Bin Laden was killed was once used as a safe house by Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency ISI, Gulf News has learnt.
“This area had been used as ISI’s safe house, but it was not under their use any more because they keep on changing their locations,” a senior intelligence official confided to Gulf News. However, he did not reveal when and for how long it was used by the ISI operatives. Another official cautiously said “it may not be the same house but the same compound or area used by the ISI”.
The official also confirmed that the house was rented out by Afghan nationals and is not owned by the government.
So Osama, on this theory, was some sort of squatter in a former ISI safe house — possibly for years — and it just so happened that the ISI (a) never once used the property again and stumbled upon him there, (b) never took notice of the fact that a big group was living in the house and doing strange things like burning their own trash in the backyard, or (c) never had a cursory look around the area after another arch-terrorist, namely Umar Patek, was captured in the same city just last month.
John Brennan acknowledged at today’s presser that it’s inconceivable that Bin Laden had no help inside Pakistan, but he refused to say that it must have been government help. That fell to former defense analyst John McCreary, who told Time magazine point-blank, “Bin Laden could not have lived in a compound in Abbottabad without official Pakistani government sustenance… Abbottabad is an upscale area and a garrison town, but not so large as to be impersonal. Bin Laden was living in protected luxury. Many people had to know that and probably will come forward in a little time.”
Hitchens, who thankfully lived long enough to write Bin Laden’s obituary, puts it thusly:
If you tell me that you are staying in a rather nice walled compound in Abbottabad, I can tell you in return that you are the honored guest of a military establishment that annually consumes several billion dollars of American aid. It’s the sheer blatancy of it that catches the breath.
There’s perhaps some slight satisfaction to be gained from this smoking-gun proof of official Pakistani complicity with al-Qaida, but in general it only underlines the sense of anticlimax. After all, who did not know that the United States was lavishly feeding the same hands that fed Bin Laden? There’s some minor triumph, also, in the confirmation that our old enemy was not a heroic guerrilla fighter but the pampered client of a corrupt and vicious oligarchy that runs a failed and rogue state…
The martyr of Abbottabad is no more, and the competing Führer-complexes of his surviving underlings will perhaps now enjoy an exciting free rein. Yet the uniformed and anonymous patrons of that sheltered Abbottabad compound are still very much with us, and Obama’s speech will be entirely worthless if he expects us to go on arming and financing the very people who made this trackdown into such a needlessly long, arduous and costly one.
That’s actually the best answer to the question I posed up front. Would a Pakistani intelligence official tolerate Bin Laden living next door to the country’s military establishment? Sure, why not? What will they lose by hiding him in plain sight? Thanks to their nuclear bargaining chip and the eternal fear of what would happen to it if the state either broke down or launched a rash attack on India, we’ll never abandon them to the fate they deserve. They’re too
big nuts to fail. They might as well stash Zawahiri in the basement of the presidential palace for all the repercussions they’ll suffer for doing so. In fact, given how diseased that society is, ISI may have calculated that hiding Bin Laden in plain sight near a military facility would reassure jihadis if he was ever caught by the U.S. It’d be de facto proof to the mujahedeen that Osama had been well taken care of by the state and that the American operation was an independent affair.
The one thing I can’t figure out given all the reports of Pakistan not being tipped off is how we managed to get four choppers and some drones that deep into Pakistani territory. Danger Room insists that Bin Laden’s compound was essentially “drone-proof” because Pakistani SAMs would shoot down any Predators that strayed into the area. Either we’re jamming their radar somehow or someone must have known and kept quiet. And to be fair, there are reports of Pakistani intelligence officials on the scene during the raid or supplying the U.S. with raw phone data — although, unsurprisingly, they’re coming from Pakistan itself, not the U.S.
Update: Senior U.S. officials think Bin Laden lived in the house for at least three years, and possibly since it was built in 2005. And no one knew anything. No one knew anything.