A CIA Press Release, by Robert Gore

Trevor Timm does a fine job of taking the mainstream media to task (see “The media’s Reaction to Seymour Hersh’s Bin Laden Scoop has been disgraceful,” SLL, 5/18/15) for its coverage of Seymour Hersh’s story on the death of Osama bin Laden ( see “The Killing of Osama bin Laden,” SLL, 5/13/15). In Mr. Timm’s words: “Barrels of ink have been spilled ripping apart Hersh’s character, while barely any follow-up reporting has been done to corroborate or refute his claims—even though there’s no doubt that the Obama administration has repeatedly misinformed and misled the public about the incident.” This piece will confine itself to one article, “Separating Fact From Seymour Hersh’s Fiction About bin Laden,” by Michael Morell, published on The Wall Street Journal opinion page this weekend in its May 16-17 edition.

Morell is a former deputy director of the CIA and author of a book, “The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism—From al Qa’ida to ISIS.” He is obviously top-drawer CIA. Hersh’s story maintains that the account given the public about bid Laden’s death is mostly a fabrication, and that the CIA was at the heart of constructing and maintaining that fabrication. By his own account, Morell had a central role in the part the CIA played in bin Laden’s death. So the Journal is allowing someone who, if Hersh’s story is correct, would have been involved in the fabrication.

There is nothing wrong with that. Everyone is entitled to tell their story, although most of us don’t have access to the WSJ. Morrell gets right to it, claiming, “that Mr. Hersh’s 10,000-word story in the London Review of Books was filled with falsehoods,” and offering refutations of some of them. On these points, he claims personal knowledge of contrary facts and actual presence at certain disputed events. However, he offers no corroboration for his assertions, and the people he says were present with him during some of the events—former CIA director Leon Panetta and President Obama—would have an obvious interest in supporting Morell’s version.

If this were a trial, a jury would give Morell’s article about the same weight as a jury would in a trial where the defendant’s mother testified, with no other evidentiary support, that her boy was watching TV in her living room, enjoying his milk and cookies, at the time of the murder. Morell admits he got something wrong: “I was certain that Mr. Hersh’s allegations would be quickly dismissed.” Hersh broke the Mai Lai massacre story, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize, and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq, and has faced off with the CIA before. In 1974, his New York Times article exposed its massive domestic intelligence operation and files on at least 10,000 American citizens (see “Huge C.I.A. Operation Reported in U.S. Against Antiwar Forces, Other Dissidents In Nixon Years,” cryptome.org). The reactions from most of the press and the government at the time of that story were identical to reactions to the bin Laden story—blanket denials and challenges to the quality of reporting—but a year later William Colby, director of the CIA, admitted the allegations were true. Hersh hasn’t always been right, but his veracity is less open to question than the C.I.A.’s, which makes Morell’s statement laughable.

If the Journal thinks that all it need do is trot out an authority figure and case closed, it is either caught in a 1950‘s time warp, when authorities’ statements were generally accepted without question, or believes its readers are dolts. There has been far too much documented and verified lying the last six decades from the government, including the military and the intelligence agencies, to take Morell’s piece as anything more than a press release. The Journal resorts to such puffery because it has no case against Mr. Hersh. If it did, it would hold its tongue, practice actual journalism, and dig up sources, documentation, and other evidence that confirmed its version of the events in question, rather than print an airy denial of the alternative version from someone allegedly complicit in that version’s account of skullduggery. With prevarication rampant across journalism, business, and government, one can rarely be 100 percent certain of anything. However, the Morell piece should move fair-minded readers to the 99 percent certainty level on two points: the Journal is an intelligence agency press organ, and Hersh got it right, again.



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