Commentary Magazine


Topic: Seymour Hersh

What About the Real Obama Cover-Ups?

So Seymour Hersh is making news with an anonymously sourced conspiracy theory about the Obama administration and the Bin Laden raid. Forget that Hersh is constitutionally incapable of writing a credible story. And even forget that Hersh’s tall tales about the Bush administration were embraced with nothing like the broad skepticism he’s faced in going after Obama. What remains puzzling is this: Even if Hersh’s allegations are true, they’re trivial compared to the Obama deceptions that we can actually verify.

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So Seymour Hersh is making news with an anonymously sourced conspiracy theory about the Obama administration and the Bin Laden raid. Forget that Hersh is constitutionally incapable of writing a credible story. And even forget that Hersh’s tall tales about the Bush administration were embraced with nothing like the broad skepticism he’s faced in going after Obama. What remains puzzling is this: Even if Hersh’s allegations are true, they’re trivial compared to the Obama deceptions that we can actually verify.

Islamabad was in cahoots with Washington on the Bin Laden raid? If that’s a geopolitical scandal what do you call Barack Obama’s message to Vladimir Putin that he could accommodate him on missile defense once reelected by Americans under the opposite impression? What do you call his giving away the store to Iran behind the backs of Israel and Saudi Arabia (and the American Congress)? What do you call a deal with Russia to remove Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons that results in Assad retaining and using chemical weapons? What do you call Obama’s vowing to have “Israel’s back” only to announce a reassessment of the bilateral relationship?

There are more examples, of course. The duplicity around the Bowe Bergdahl swap, the whopper about the filmmaker causing the Benghazi attack, the tactical intelligence leaking against allies, and so on. The point is there’s enough scandalous dishonesty to fill a piece far longer than Hersh’s and anyone could do it simply by going through the last six years of front-page news stories.

But since few Americans seem terribly interested in the falsehoods staring them in the face, a conspiracy theorist like Hersh has to go way out into the margins to come up with something to sell as a scoop. Only in the Obama age are Seymour Hersh’s implausible accusations against his country less damning than the plain truth of American policy.

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Ignore Hersh’s Conspiracy Theories

Seymour Hersh, a once-celebrated reporter, has a new “investigative” article in the London Review of Books about the death of Osama bin Laden. He claims that it was all a put-up job between the U.S. and the Pakistani governments, that Saudi Arabia was secretly paying off Bin Laden, that Islamabad knew about the operation all along, that the Navy SEALs sliced and diced Osama and tossed his body parts out of a helicopter, etc., etc. Frankly it’s almost impossible to follow the skein of Hersh’s conspiracy theory which is based on nothing but innuendo supplied by a couple of people who might have heard something from someone at some time.

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Seymour Hersh, a once-celebrated reporter, has a new “investigative” article in the London Review of Books about the death of Osama bin Laden. He claims that it was all a put-up job between the U.S. and the Pakistani governments, that Saudi Arabia was secretly paying off Bin Laden, that Islamabad knew about the operation all along, that the Navy SEALs sliced and diced Osama and tossed his body parts out of a helicopter, etc., etc. Frankly it’s almost impossible to follow the skein of Hersh’s conspiracy theory which is based on nothing but innuendo supplied by a couple of people who might have heard something from someone at some time.

Peter Bergen, a real reporter who has written a well-documented book about the search for Bin Laden, aptly summarizes Hersh’s article as  “a farrago of nonsense that is contravened by a multitude of eyewitness accounts, inconvenient facts and simple common sense.” Bergen went to the trouble of contacting Hersh’s only named source, a former director of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency, to ask about Hersh’s allegations. Here is what he heard back: “When I emailed Durrani after the Hersh piece appeared, Durrani said he had ‘no evidence of any kind’ that the ISI knew that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad but he still could ‘make an assessment that this could be plausible.’ This is hardly a strong endorsement of one of the principal claims of Hersh’s piece.”

In fact it’s probable, as numerous previous reporters have speculated, that the ISIS did know where bin Laden was living; what’s implausible is that Pakistan then cooperated with the US to stage a raid which embarrassed the Pakistani army and which set back US-Pakistan relations.

This article at Vox also exposes how far-fetched Hersh’s insinuations are.

My only question is: Why is anyone even bothering to fact check Hersh anymore? True, he is celebrated for two big scoops—My Lai in 1969 and Abu Ghraib in 2004. Not coincidentally both were tales of atrocities committed by American soldiers (Hersh has a 1960s counterculture world view), and in both cases Hersh was essentially spilling the results of documented, internal army investigations, whose accuracy was soon confirmed by the government itself. These genuine “scoops” are a world away from the kind of fantasy and hearsay in which Hersh traffics most of the rest of the time.

Ten years ago, I published a column pointing out how ridiculous Hersh had become. And he hasn’t gotten any more reputable in the past ten years. As the Vox article points out, in recent years Hersh has been claiming, inter alia, that Opus Dei and the Knights of Malta secretly control the U.S. Special Operations Forces—the kind of claim that will be plausible to those who think that Dan Brown is a non-fiction writer but to no one else. Hersh also “reported” on how the Bush administration was supposedly about to begin World War III with Iran based on a “false flag” operation — a war that, inconveniently for Hersh, never quite arrived.

At least when Hersh publishes in the New Yorker there is some slight check on his fantasizing but even his New Yorker articles have been riddled with unsupportable (and most likely false) claims. His articles elsewhere are essentially worthless except for their inadvertent humor value.

Frankly I feel unhappy even writing about Hersh. Instead of exposing Hersh, we really should be ignoring him.

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Seymour Hersh’s Latest Conspiracy Theory

Seymour Hersh is gaining headlines again for a London Review of Books article in which he alleges that Turkey was behind the chemical-weapons strike in the suburbs of Damascus which led many American officials to demand that President Obama enforce his red line and retaliate against the Bashar al-Assad regime.

I’m not one to defend the Turkish regime—certainly, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a terrorist sympathizer, if not sponsor—but Hersh’s allegations are problematic and, frankly, an embarrassment to the New Yorker.

While Hersh gained fame for his reporting of the My Lai massacre, he has largely been coasting on his reputation ever since. Did he blow the lid on the reprehensible abuses at Abu Ghraib? Not quite: the Pentagon had already investigated the abuses, was in the process of taking action, and Hersh simply published the leaked report.

Today, rather than personify responsible journalism, Hersh seems to embody a political agenda which leads him to fit square pegs into round holes, cherry pick what works, and discard what doesn’t. A 2007 article on jihadis in Lebanon was a real embarrassment to the New Yorker, as other analysts quickly tore it apart.

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Seymour Hersh is gaining headlines again for a London Review of Books article in which he alleges that Turkey was behind the chemical-weapons strike in the suburbs of Damascus which led many American officials to demand that President Obama enforce his red line and retaliate against the Bashar al-Assad regime.

I’m not one to defend the Turkish regime—certainly, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a terrorist sympathizer, if not sponsor—but Hersh’s allegations are problematic and, frankly, an embarrassment to the New Yorker.

While Hersh gained fame for his reporting of the My Lai massacre, he has largely been coasting on his reputation ever since. Did he blow the lid on the reprehensible abuses at Abu Ghraib? Not quite: the Pentagon had already investigated the abuses, was in the process of taking action, and Hersh simply published the leaked report.

Today, rather than personify responsible journalism, Hersh seems to embody a political agenda which leads him to fit square pegs into round holes, cherry pick what works, and discard what doesn’t. A 2007 article on jihadis in Lebanon was a real embarrassment to the New Yorker, as other analysts quickly tore it apart.

The good thing about Hersh is that he is predictable: He often circles back to the same sources, with the same agenda, which by no coincidence happens to be his own. The current article seems to rely a great deal on a former Defense Intelligence Agency official. Who might this person be? There is no way to know for sure since Hersh protects his source with anonymity, never allowing the reader to assess whether the person is simply using his past affiliation to spin a tale or if he was even in a position to have the information he claimed to possess. In the past, Hersh has relied on one W. Patrick Lang, a former Defense Intelligence Agency official. Let’s hope the source isn’t Lang, because if it was, Hersh should certainly have noted (as he neglected to previously) that Lang had registered with the Foreign Agents Registration Act in order to work with a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician. Given Hersh’s previous mistakes in this regard, he cannot be given the benefit of the doubt.

Now, this isn’t to say that the Syrian opposition hasn’t, at times, sought to use crude chemical-weapons devices. Nor is it to deny that Erdoğan has single-mindedly sought to pursue a sectarian agenda inside Syria. But the international community seems to have conducted a great deal of forensic work about what happened in East Ghouta, and that evidence reportedly pointed overwhelmingly at the Assad regime. And if that information doesn’t coincide with whatever Hersh’s political agenda of the day is, tough.

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Hersh: U.S. Trained M.E.K. in Nevada

No, not at Area 51, but speaking of conspiracy theories, here’s Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker:

Despite the growing ties, and a much-intensified lobbying effort organized by its advocates, M.E.K. [Mujahideen-e-Khalq] has remained on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations—which meant that secrecy was essential in the Nevada training. “We did train them here, and washed them through the Energy Department because the D.O.E. owns all this land in southern Nevada,” a former senior American intelligence official told me. “We were deploying them over long distances in the desert and mountains, and building their capacity in communications—coördinating commo is a big deal.” (A spokesman for J.S.O.C. said that “U.S. Special Operations Forces were neither aware of nor involved in the training of M.E.K. members.”) …

It was the ad-hoc training that provoked the worried telephone calls to him, the former general said. “I told one of the guys who called me that they were all in over their heads, and all of them could end up trouble unless they got something in writing. The Iranians are very, very good at counterintelligence, and stuff like this is just too hard to contain.” The site in Nevada was being utilized at the same time, he said, for advanced training of élite Iraqi combat units. (The retired general said he only knew of the one M.E.K.-affiliated group that went though the training course; the former senior intelligence official said that he was aware of training that went on through 2007.)

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No, not at Area 51, but speaking of conspiracy theories, here’s Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker:

Despite the growing ties, and a much-intensified lobbying effort organized by its advocates, M.E.K. [Mujahideen-e-Khalq] has remained on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations—which meant that secrecy was essential in the Nevada training. “We did train them here, and washed them through the Energy Department because the D.O.E. owns all this land in southern Nevada,” a former senior American intelligence official told me. “We were deploying them over long distances in the desert and mountains, and building their capacity in communications—coördinating commo is a big deal.” (A spokesman for J.S.O.C. said that “U.S. Special Operations Forces were neither aware of nor involved in the training of M.E.K. members.”) …

It was the ad-hoc training that provoked the worried telephone calls to him, the former general said. “I told one of the guys who called me that they were all in over their heads, and all of them could end up trouble unless they got something in writing. The Iranians are very, very good at counterintelligence, and stuff like this is just too hard to contain.” The site in Nevada was being utilized at the same time, he said, for advanced training of élite Iraqi combat units. (The retired general said he only knew of the one M.E.K.-affiliated group that went though the training course; the former senior intelligence official said that he was aware of training that went on through 2007.)

It’s even more difficult to take Hersh seriously after reading Jamie Kirchick’s persuasive takedown of his work in last month’s COMMENTARY, and this Nevada training scenario seems particularly unrealistic. If true, it would be an enormous scandal. But why would Joint Special Operations Command go through the trouble and risk of bringing members of a terrorist group back to the U.S. for training, when the U.S. controlled an entire military base full of M.E.K. members, Camp Ashraf, in Iraq? And there has been no indication that any training was going on there, so why would it take place at a Department of Energy facility in Nevada?

There’s reason to believe that Israel may have provided the M.E.K. with training and worked with the group on assassinations in Iran. Which seems to make it even less likely that the U.S. would do the same thing, particularly inside the country, with all the security and legal hazards that would carry.

Unfortunately, Hersh provides the sort of storyline that benefits both the M.E.K. and its enemies. A Washington attorney for the M.E.K., and a British defector who now works against the group, were two of the only people quoted who didn’t remain anonymous in Hersh’s story (though neither actually confirmed that the Nevada training took place). Why is that? Because it helps the M.E.K.’s lobbying efforts to get removed from the U.S. list of designated terrorist groups if it gives the impression that members went through training on U.S. soil. And proponents of the Iranian regimes love to find ways to try to tie the U.S. to the M.E.K., a theory that fits flawlessly into their anti-American worldview.

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