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Nov 19, 2018

Trump’s preposterous bin Laden comments, CNN.com

Trump’s preposterous bin Laden comments

Updated 4:51 PM ET, Mon November 19, 2018

“Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America, a professor of practice at Arizona State University, and the author of “Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad.”

(CNN)President Trump spoke to Chris Wallace of Fox News on Sunday and made a number of false claims about the operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

Wallace mentioned the commander of that operation, retired Admiral Bill McRaven, who has publicly criticized Trump for his denigration of the media.
Trump responded that McRaven is a “Hilary Clinton backer and an Obama-backer.”

In fact, McRaven took no position on the 2016 presidential election in which Clinton ran against Trump.

McRaven did serve in the US military at a time when President Obama was the president, which makes him no more of an Obama backer than anyone in uniform today is a Trump “backer.”

After Trump’s Fox interview, McRaven told CNN, “I did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else. I am a fan of President Obama and President George W. Bush, both of whom I worked for.”

McRaven’s crime, as far as Trump seems to be concerned, is that he publicly defended former CIA director, John Brennan, in August when the President revoked Brennan’s security clearance because of his criticism of Trump.

McRaven has also stood up for the press, which Trump routinely derides as “the enemy of the people.” In a speech in Texas last year McRaven said, “This sentiment may be the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.”

In Sunday’s interview, Trump went on to claim that bin Laden was “living in Pakistan right next to the military academy, everybody in Pakistan knew he was there.”

This is complete nonsense. When I was researching a book about the hunt for bin Laden, I spoke to dozens of key government, intelligence and military officials involved in the bin Laden operation and they all said that the Pakistanis had no clue that al Qaeda’s leader was living in the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan where he was found.

On the night of the bin Laden operation, US officials eavesdropped on the communications of top Pakistani officials who were completely surprised by the news that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad.

In the interview Sunday, Trump went on to say, “Wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that.” This is an appalling smear on the many dozens of men and women at the CIA who dedicated their entire careers to finding bin Laden both before and after 9/11.

The fact is that finding bin Laden took a decade after the 9/11 attacks because he wasn’t using any form of electronic communication and relied instead on handheld messages delivered by his trusted courier. As a result, even senior leaders of al Qaeda didn’t know where bin Laden was hiding.

The whole issue of the hunt for bin Laden may be a sore subject for Trump because the final countdown for the operation took place during the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner when Obama roasted Trump mercilessly for his penchant for spreading conspiracy theories, such as the so-called “birther” conspiracy, which claimed that Obama wasn’t an American citizen

During a break from rehearsing that speech for the correspondents’ dinner, Obama called McRaven for a final status check.

“What do you think about the intel?” Obama asked. The intelligence that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad was entirely circumstantial.

“Well, if he’s there, we’re going to get him. If he’s not, we won’t,” McRaven answered.

“Exactly! It’s 50-50,” Obama said, according to reporting from my book about the hunt for bin Laden.

The president wrapped up the call, saying, “I couldn’t have any more confidence in you than the confidence I have in you and your force. Godspeed to you and your forces. Please pass on to them my personal thanks for their service and the message that I personally will be following this mission very closely.”

The bin Laden raid was, of course, a success. Not only was bin Laden killed, but also thousands of important documents about al Qaeda were recovered during the operation. As a result, it is arguably the most successful special operations mission in American history.

After stepping down from leading the Special Operations Command, McRaven became the chancellor of the University of Texas, where as an undergraduate he had majored in journalism. (He has since retired from that role.)

It’s an experience that seems to have shaped McRaven’s continuing pushback against Trump’s assaults on the press.

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