Three U.S. intelligence sources told NBC News that the CIA had learned the location of Osama bin Laden from a former Pakistani intelligence agent, and that Islamabad already knew where the world’s most wanted man was hiding before the raid that killed him, the publication reported on Tuesday.
The officers who spoke to NBC reportedly include a special operations officer with prior knowledge of the bin Laden raid and a CIA officer who had served in Pakistan. Both told NBC that Washington had discovered bin Laden’s location through a “walk in” Pakistani intelligence agent, and not because of years of intensive analysis and surveillance as claimed by the U.S. government.
Those two officials and a third source, a former U.S. intelligence official, described by NBC as “very senior,” also said that there were elements within the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) -- Pakistan's intelligence agency -- who knew of bin Laden’s residence in the resort town of Abbottabad in a compound few blocks from Pakistan’s premier military academy. NBC said the third source emphasized the ISI’s knowledge, saying twice: "They knew." The NBC report did not identify any of its sources.
The latest revelations corroborate the findings of an investigative report by journalist Seymour Hersh published Sunday. He had said in his report that the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama had misled the public about the circumstances surrounding the raid. Hersh reported that the raid was conducted with Pakistani foreknowledge and that the U.S. troops attacking the compound met no resistance. Hersh further said that Pakistan's ISI had hidden bin Laden after capturing him in 2006, and that part of his upkeep was paid for by Saudi Arabia, which wanted to keep him away from U.S. intelligence for fear that his capture would implicate Saudi Arabia as an al Qaeda ally.
He also refuted the White House’s stand that bin Laden’s body was given a traditional Islamic burial at sea. He said in his report that bin Laden's body was badly mangled by gunfire during the raid, and that the U.S. Navy's SEAL team dumped some of his body parts over the Hindu Kush mountains.
U.S. government officials strongly condemned Hersh’s claims, calling his piece fabricated and unreliable.
"The notion that the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden was anything but a unilateral U.S. mission is patently false," national security spokesman Ned Price reportedly said. "As we said at the time, knowledge of this operation was confined to a very small circle of senior U.S. officials."
The U.S. government insists that the 2011 raid on the Abbottabad compound was conducted unilaterally, and that Islamabad was informed only after SEAL Team Six's raid.
Hersh, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, has maintained his account is accurate and said that the White House’s narrative surrounding the events was fantastical. “The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll,” he said in the report.
“Would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town 40 miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al Qaeda’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said,” Hersh wrote.