May 3, 2011

History Rewrite in NYT’s OBL Obit: ‘Intelligence Was Never Good Enough to Pull the Trigger’

The New York Times’s supposedly momentous decision to omit “Mr.” from references to Osama bin Laden in its Monday obituary is apparently working to distract critics from the item’s other problems.

Along with Michael T. Kaufman, Kate Zernike, whose primary vocation seems to be finding racism in the Tea Party movement where none exists and otherwise smearing its participants, comes off as almost critical of how bin Laden was “elevated to the realm of evil in the American imagination once reserved for dictators like Hitler and Stalin.”

Imagination (“the faculty … of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses”)? Babe, I don’t know about you, but we didn’t imagine September 11. We saw it. Others directly experienced it. Many died. Do you remember?

The obit’s topper for me is the (in my opinion) deliberate historical revisionism in the following passage (bolds are mine throughout this post):

The C.I.A. spent much of the next three years (after attacks on two American embassies in August 1998) hunting Bin Laden. The goal was to capture him with recruited Afghan agents or to kill him with a precision-guided missile, according to the 2004 report of the 9/11 Commission and the memoirs of George J. Tenet, director of central intelligence from July 1997 to July 2004.

The intelligence was never good enough to pull the trigger.

Horse manure, per ABC’s Brian Ross on September 10, 2006:

Missed Opportunities: The CIA and bin Laden

“CIA provided an American president, first Bill Clinton, multiple opportunities to capture or kill bin Laden,” (former CIA officer Gary) Bernstein said. “We provided those opportunities, tactical opportunities which were not taken.”

In its exhaustive report, the 9/11 Commission identified at least five separate times in 1998 and 1999 when operations were underway to get bin Laden.

… “After the embassy bombings, we developed a very elaborate plan to go after bin laden and the al Qaeda network,” (then White House Director of Counter-terrorism Richard) Clarke said.

That plan started with the launch of cruise missiles against a training camp where bin Laden was expected to be.

… But the U.S. missed its primary target, bin Laden.

“It was clear that he had been there, and the CIA believes he left a couple of hours before the missile struck,” said Marcus.

… Each time it would get close, CIA director Tenet would pull the plug, according to Clarke.

… And on three occasions, CIA sources, not CIA personnel, but people, Afghans, who were working for CIA, said they thought they knew where bin Laden was. And on all three occasions, those cruise missiles in the submarines were activated and began to spin up and get ready to launch. And on all three occasions, the director of the CIA, George Tenet, said he could not recommend the attack because the information from his one source wasn’t good enough.

CIA officers in the field disagreed. And the 9/11 Commission report calls the third of those aborted attacks, Kandahar, May 1999, the last, most likely best chance to get bin Laden.

The previous day, ABC’s Jake Tapper relayed an e-mail from Michael Scheuer, former chief of the Osama bin Laden Unit at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, which, concerning the TV movie “The Path to 9/11,” which appeared on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but which has never been released on DVD:

… the core of the movie is irrefutably true: the Clinton administration had 10 chances to capture of kill bin Laden.

The assertion by Zernike and Kaufman that “the intelligence was never good enough to pull the trigger” is the opposite of what the 9/11 Commission concluded, and the opposite of what Scheuer, who is certainly in a position to know, alleges. At a minimum, the New York Times pair should have noted the commission’s and Scheuer’s disagreements. But what they really should have done without getting into the he-said, she-said back and forth is to acknowledge that the U.S. had at least one definite chance and several other likely opportunities to take bin Laden out, and declined to do so.

Excuse-makers may counter that some of the go-aheads didn’t occur because of fears of civilian casualties, which was true in several instances. But that’s not what Zernike and Kaufman are claiming. They apparently want readers to believe there were never any real chances to get bin Laden. They are obviously, and disgracefully, wrong. Unless corrected, they have permanently marred the Old Gray Lady’s bin Laden obituary.

Cross-posted at



  1. That’s a joke. OBL is directly (by coordinating terrorist attacks personally) and indirectly (by encouraging and inspiring others to do the same) responsible for millions of deaths. And this is without a vast army and the might of a whole country behind him like Hitler and Stalin had.

    By the way, I came on here because I found an item on the Heritage website that absolutely appalled me and I think everyone should know about. You’re not going to believe what Ezra Klen wrote in the WaPo:

    If that doesn’t deserve a boycott of Klein and TIME magazine (which I believe he is the head editor of or at least very high up in the editorial chain) I don’t know what does. Disgusting.

    Comment by zf — May 3, 2011 @ 3:21 pm

  2. The irony is Obama as a Democrat did what another Democrat president (Clinton) couldn’t bring himself to do. In fact, look at Obama’s use of predator drones. He seems to have a killer instinct, but that in itself doesn’t confirm leadership qualities. You know pathological people are quite charming, combined with his paranoia over his personal info (birth certificate, grades, etc) he is definitely a dangerous person. The photo stills catch something there in the eyes and facial expression.

    Comment by dscott — May 3, 2011 @ 4:17 pm

  3. Also, when we used drones under Bush the libs complained about the killing, but under Obama…crickets.

    Comment by zf — May 3, 2011 @ 6:06 pm

  4. #1, Darn, I just realized I screwed up above. Instead of saying boycotting TIME I meant the Washington Post. I meant to say the former. I think my brain was thinking of another Klein, Joe, who does work for TIME. There is also a Joel Klein there too. Sorry about that.

    Comment by zf — May 3, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

  5. Using a single-source of intelligence, literally the word of one-person, to issue a military strike is, of course, insane. Which is why the CIA couldn’t justify a strike.

    But even when Clinton did try to take OBL out conservatives ranted about “Wag the Dog” theories and tried to downplay the threat of OBL.

    Who was President during Tora Bora? Oh, yeah, that Bush fella.

    Comment by Modern Esquire — May 3, 2011 @ 8:09 pm

  6. #5, that comment is so at variance with the historical facts stated in the post, not to mention the purpose of the post, which was to point out the NYT’s falsehood that “the intelligence was never good enough” (even the 9/11 commission called BS on that), that it’s not even worth addressing. It’s a complete POS disguised as a comment.

    Comment by TBlumer — May 3, 2011 @ 8:54 pm

  7. #5, That’s just dumb, yes you act on a single piece of intelligence if it’s of high quality, and Tenets contention that the info was not good enough has been disproved by virtually everyone else.

    I knew someone would bring up Tora Bora and there is no comparison. Tora Bora was a heated full on battle on the field where the commanders involved made the decisions (not Bush) and didn’t have a lot of time to do so. To compare a pitched battle in the middle of a war to a simple case of giving the go ahead on a single strike during peacetime is asinine.

    Comment by zf — May 3, 2011 @ 9:23 pm

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