The Problem with Seymour Hersh

(AP photo)

(AP photo)

Seymour Hersh always generates big headlines — but all-too-often with thinly sourced stuff nobody else can (or perhaps is willing to) verify. Sometimes his single source turns out to be a liar or a fraud.

So you’ve got to take Hersh with a gain of salt or three, especially when he makes a really bold claim like this:

Author Seymour M. Hersh accuses Obama of rushing to take credit for the al Qaeda leader’s death.

This decision, Hersh argues in the London Review of Books, forced the military and intelligence communities to scramble and then corroborate the president’s version of events.

“High-level lying nonetheless remains the modus operandi of U.S. policy, along with secret prisons, drone attacks, Special Forces night raids, bypassing the chain of command, and cutting out those who might say no,” Hersh wrote of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policies.

Hersh based his report on a single, anonymous source. This individual, he said, is a “retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abottabad.”

Hersh’s source alleged that the Pakistani government had an active role in approving and implementing the raid on bin Laden’s compound.

But let’s go back to May 4, 2011 — almost exactly four years ago — and the piece I wrote on the OBL assassination’s political aftermath:

The plan for killing Osama Bin Laden was perfectly conceived and as perfectly executed as any special forces operation since Israel’s raid on Entebbe. But the follow-through has been strange at best, sometimes bordering on incompetence.

First, there was that weird burial at sea “in accordance with Islamic tradition.” There, the White House managed to annoy most everyone. There are those like me, who thought Bin Laden’s corpse was treated with too much respect, to those in the Islamic world now inflamed because it wasn’t really done properly after all.

Then there was the president’s oddly bloodless speech Sunday night. For almost ten years we’d been trying to get the guy who murdered 3,000 Americans, attacked our military HQ, and ripped the heart out of the New York City skyline. The effort spanned two continents, four or five countries, a Caribbean Navy base, and the persistent efforts of two presidents, the American intelligence community, and the best of the best of our special forces. And yet President Obama sounded as if he were announcing a “worthwhile Canadian initiative.”

Now the Administration can’t even decide whether or not to release a photo of the body. They didn’t have a PR plan in place before the killing? It must be amateur night at the White House, because what I’m hearing sounds increasingly like karaoke.

I can’t say if Hersh is up to his usual tricks or not, and you certainly wouldn’t stake the rent money on him. But given the general weirdness of everything that followed the bin Laden hit, for now I’m willing to give Hersh at least some small benefit of the doubt.