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 -- Ed.) 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 BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.