Did Obama administration blow bin Laden intel with touchdown dance?

When a SEAL team killed Osama bin Laden in his safe house in Pakistan, it didn’t take long for the President of the United States to pass along the news.  Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for a series of misinformed conjectures about the mission to solidify into “fact,” either, with no small push from members of the Obama administration.  Now an author who has extensively interviewed the commandos in the raid wants to set the story straight, and also scold the White House for neutering the intel the mission gleaned through massive leaks in the days after it succeeded:

Forget whatever you think you know about the night Osama bin Laden was killed. According to a former Navy SEAL who claims to have the inside track, the mangled tales told of that historic night have only now been corrected.

“It became obvious in the weeks evolving after the mission that the story that was getting put out there was not only untrue, but it was a really ugly farce of what did happen,” said Chuck Pfarrer, author of Seal Target Geronimo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama Bin Laden. …

“The version of the 45-minute firefight, and the ground-up assault, and the cold-blooded murder on the third floor — that wasn’t the mission,” Pfarrer told TheDC.

Pfarrer tells the Daily Caller that the problem appears to start with non-commandos watching video feeds without understanding what exactly they were seeing, and what they were not seeing.  Some of that doesn’t cover the misinformation in the open at the moment, though, especially the notion of a ground-up fight.  The SEALs entered through the top of the house, not the ground-level door, and almost immediately encountered Osama bin Laden.  The terrorist leader reacted instantly to get his weapon, which is why he got shot.

That’s wasn’t the outcome the US most wanted.  The SEALs had hoped to capture bin Laden, for obvious intelligence reasons, but also for legal reasons.  As Pfarrer points out, a “kill mission” — one with explicit orders to kill a particular target — could have been illegal:

And statements from as high as then-CIA Director Leon Panetta offered confirmation that the endeavor was a “kill mission.”

Pfarrer dismisses that assertion.

“An order to go in and murder someone in their house is not a lawful order,” explained Pfarrer, who maintains that bin Laden would have been captured had he surrendered. “Unlike the Germans in World War II, if you’re a petty officer, a chief petty officer, a naval officer, and you’re giving an order to murder somebody, that’s an unlawful order.”

Pfarrer doesn’t blame Obama for the misinformation that avalanched out of the administration in the days following the mission, but he certainly lays it at the feet of those working for Obama.  He does blame Obama for going public so quickly with the news that bin Laden had been killed, and the announcement of the treasure trove of intel that had been recovered:

“There was a choice that night,” Pfarrer told TheDC. “There was a choice to keep the mission secret.” America, Pfarrer explained, could have left things alone for “weeks or months … even though there was evidence left on the ground there … and use the intelligence and finish off al-Qaida.”

But Obama’s announcement, he said, “rendered moot all of the intelligence that was gathered from the nexus of al-Qaida. The computer drives, the hard drives, the videocasettes, the CDs, the thumb drives, everything. Before that could even be looked through, the political decision was made to take credit for the operation.”

Well, it would have been nice if Obama could have kept the secret for “weeks or months,” but let’s be fair.  We didn’t conduct this mission in a Waziristan cave far from prying eyes.  We hit a compound in a nice Pakistan suburb, just a stone’s throw away from one of their premier military academies.  News of an American raid would have spread fast, especially since we lost one of our high-tech and easily identifiable helicopters in the raid (at the end or the raid and not the beginning, Pfarrer says).  The Pakistani government might have wanted to keep a lid on this news — but more likely they would have used it just as they did after the raid, to put pressure on the US to back off of Islamabad.  Obama probably figured that we would have to explain our invasion of Pakistan in a short period of time, and that it might be better to get ahead of the curve — and it’s almost assured that al-Qaeda would have realized what happened fairly quickly and taken cover as a result.

Still, it sounds like a fascinating book, and it will be interesting to see how Pfarrer’s account squares with the Hollywood version coming out in 2013.