Osama bin Laden was a prisoner of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and was shopped to the Americans by a top-level ISI operative in return for a multi-million pound reward, according to a sensational new expose by renowned American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.
In an article in the London Book Review this weekend, Pulitzer Prize-winner Hersh claims US President Barack Obama lied to the world about the operation to kill bin Laden in May 2011.
The White House has maintained that the operation to track down and kill the former Al Qaeda leader at a compound in the Pakistani city of Abottabad had been a purely American exercise with no support from the Pakistani government.
The operation caused widespread anger in Pakistan with the government in Islamabad insisting it had no idea bin Laden was hiding in the country and even accused the United States of infringing on Pakistan’s sovereignty.
However, Hersh claims that bin Laden had been held in Pakistan as a prisoner of the ISI and that he had been given up to the Americans by a senior ISI official who was in turn rewarded with $25 million and a move to the United States.
Hersh says his information comes from a senior US intelligence official with “intimate knowledge” about the daring raid that killed bin Laden.
Hersh says the official’s version is backed up by sources within the US military as well as several “inside Pakistan”.
The United States Special Operations Command claimed after the raid that bin Laden had been tracked down to the walled compound in Abbottabad after intelligence operatives followed a close aide of the Al Qaeda leader over several months.
Journalist Seymour Hersh
Hersh however, quoted his source as saying that bin Laden had been held at the compound since 2006 by the ISI which housed him in close proximity to both a military training academy as well as a nuclear weapons training facility for added security.
The source goes on to claim that information about bin Laden’s whereabouts was first provided to the CIA station in Islamabad by a so-called “walk-in” – a new intelligence source who drops in at a station office to offer up information – in August 2010, less than a year before bin Laden was killed.
According to Hersh, the “walk-in” was a high-ranking ISI official who had demanded that the US pay him the $25 million reward that had been placed on bin Laden’s head.
Hersh’s article also claims that the entire operation had been known to Pakistani Army chief General Ashfaq Parevez Kayani as well as ISI Director General Ahmed Shuja Pasha. Both men claimed at the time that the US had not kept them in the loop before or during the operation.
The ISI official who offered up the information on bin Laden has since been relocated to the United States where he works as a “consultant” for the CIA, Hersh claims.
The White House on Monday refuted Hersh’s account, calling his report “baseless.”
“There are too many inaccuracies and baseless assertions in this piece to fact-check each one,” White House National Security spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
Read the piece in full here.