Regardless of what one may think about the journalistic practices of Seymour Hersh, it cannot be denied that he has reignited important discussion about how the United States came to find Al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden and the role of the Pakistani government in harboring the terrorist.
After all, Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound was located less than a mile from the Pakistani military academy, as Natasha Bertrand of Business Insider and others have pointed out. The geographic placement of bin Laden’s hideout, along with other factors, have led many inside and outside of intelligence circles to explore what Pakistan – and specifically, its ISI intelligence service – knew regarding the Al Qaeda chief’s whereabouts.
Hersh recently alleged in the London Review of Books that the U.S. collaborated with the Pakistanis in taking down bin Laden. The single-source allegation has been called into doubt almost unanimously by national security and intelligence experts and officials.
However, Hersh was proven correct in reporting that a man identified as a Pakistani ISI agent walked into the U.S. embassy in Islamabad. He may have helped pinpoint the location of bin Laden, according to reporting corroborated by multiple media outlets.
This new piece of information adds to a long list of evidence pointing to the ISI having direct knowledge of bin Laden’s location in Pakistan, some of which has been compiled by Bertrand in Business Insider.
Among the most compelling reports was a March 2014 New York Times piece that stated through a high-ranking Pakistani official that the ISI chief at the time, Lt. General Ahmed Pasha, had direct knowledge of Bin Laden’s whereabouts at the Abbottabad compound.
Following the raid that took out bin Laden in 2011, the New York Times reported that U.S. forces obtained a cell phone that had belonged to a trusted courier of bin Laden’s. The report claims that the phone contained contact information for members of Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen, a jihadist group that had been a loyal intelligence asset to the ISI.
U.S. officials have also publicly inquired into whether high-ranking officials within the Pakistani government set up a support system for the Al Qaeda leader.
“We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan,” U.S. President Barack Obama told CBS in an interview following the raid.
Additionally, Leon Panetta, who was Director of the Central Intelligence Agency at the time of the blitz on Abbottabad, said that U.S. officials could not alert Pakistani authorities to the bin Laden raid, fearing the information would get leaked directly to the Al Qaeda chief.
Even Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States at the time of the raid, has acknowledged the likelihood that bin Laden had protection from the upper echelons of the Pakistani government.
The Pakistani government, however, continues to officially maintain that it had no information related to Bin Laden’s whereabouts while he was in Pakistan from 2006 to 2011.