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Call him John
July 5, 2011 5:23 PM   Subscribe

"After Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, the White House released a photo of President Barack Obama and his Cabinet inside the Situation Room, watching the daring raid unfold. Hidden from view, standing just outside the frame of that now-famous photograph was a career CIA analyst" - The man who hunted Osama bin Laden
posted by vidur (58 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Amazing profile of a true American hero.
posted by BobbyVan at 5:34 PM on July 5, 2011


Does "John" get all that reward money? Can they now assign "John" the mission of figuring out where all those billions of dollars we lost in Iraq went?
posted by Renoroc at 5:38 PM on July 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


I thought this was going to be about the mysterious blurred piece of paper in front of Hillary Clinton.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:39 PM on July 5, 2011


Wasn't all that impressed by the article, which seemed a bit stilted. Fascinating story, though. I wonder how long it will be before we get a book-length treatment of the takedown of Bin Laden.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:44 PM on July 5, 2011


I would say the US got their money's worth, whatever they paid this persistent analyst. I think the article said too much about who he is, and put him in danger. I hope they lied about every iota of personal information. Sometimes good leadership is about good listening, in this case the listening went very well.
posted by Oyéah at 5:48 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I just knew it would be someone from the Russian desk.
posted by clavdivs at 5:51 PM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Does "John" get all that reward money?

The reward was for information handed over, not for processing the information. Pretty sure this guy did not call in a tip. He just vetted the tips that came in. Anyway:

"U.S. authorities have offered some reason to doubt whether the bin Laden reward will ever leave the bank. That's because investigators say they pieced together bin Laden's whereabouts from many different bits of information. Intelligence officials told reporters Monday that no single person is responsible for putting investigators on his trail."
posted by dhartung at 6:04 PM on July 5, 2011


the mysterious blurred piece of paper

It was pretty clearly a higher-resolution image of the compound, if you squinted. It's almost certainly from a classified drone like the Global Hawk, which is why it was blurred.
posted by dhartung at 6:05 PM on July 5, 2011


But interviews with former and current U.S. intelligence officials reveal a story of quiet persistence and continuity that led to the greatest counterterrorism success in the history of the CIA.

Are they fucking serious!?
posted by c13 at 6:07 PM on July 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


They're fucking serious.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:11 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, I'd hate to see the second greatest success, let alone the average one...
posted by c13 at 6:15 PM on July 5, 2011


Does "John" get all that reward money?

No, but he gets a reward for getting Hilary to cover her mouth.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:20 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hidden from view, standing just outside the frame of that now-famous photograph was a career CIA analyst

Suuure there was.
posted by telstar at 6:20 PM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think the CIA's second greatest success was for training Bin Laden in the first place, ignoring key intelligence allowing 9-11 to happen, and plunging the USA into perpetual war in order for the fatcats to line their coffers with blood money.
posted by Renoroc at 6:21 PM on July 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


But interviews with former and current U.S. intelligence officials reveal a story of quiet persistence and continuity that led to the greatest counterterrorism success in the history of the CIA

Are they fucking serious!?


"Counterterrorism" doesn't have a very long history at the CIA (or elsewhere in USG), I think.
posted by vidur at 6:30 PM on July 5, 2011


Definition of MYTHOS

: a pattern of beliefs expressing often symbolically the characteristic or prevalent attitudes in a group or culture
posted by larry_darrell at 6:33 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


America is like John McCain. Everything is great news for America, and America won't ever lose
posted by crayz at 6:44 PM on July 5, 2011


Former CIA director Leon Panetta is now the Secretary of Defense. Former Afghanistan theater commander David Petraeus is now director of the CIA.

I have a very bad feeling about this.
posted by Trurl at 6:46 PM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Standing a few feet from my keyboard, just out of view, is a man who believes the Bin Laden tale.
posted by telstar at 6:47 PM on July 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


for training Bin Laden in the first place

We did not.
posted by dhartung at 6:56 PM on July 5, 2011


We did not.

He was a born natural.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:23 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know that everyone just really wants to see an image of the dog that went in.
posted by ovvl at 7:25 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Independent: It was a woman member of the team – a former journalism student at a big US university; we are told no more – who in 2007 decided to focus on an operative known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who had been identified as a possible al-Qa'ida courier. She surmised – and John agreed – that he might lead them to Bin Laden.

Wikipedia: CIA – Osama bin Laden controversy. Interesting CNN interview done on September 12 2001 with former CIA official Milt Bearden.
posted by nickyskye at 8:04 PM on July 5, 2011


Gotta say, it's strange, the little pieces of relatively high entropy data in the article. Only so many Division 1 starter basketball players, in particular.
posted by effugas at 8:13 PM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


> Only so many Division 1 starter basketball players, in particular.

Yeah, anonymity really doesn't seem the name of the game here.

My guess:

a) John the Unknown Analyst wants his kudos, very much; or

b) the Administration wants a (masked) Face of Heroism; or

c) John doesn't just want his kudos, he's ready for bigger, more public things.
posted by darth_tedious at 8:26 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or they lied about the sport he played for misdirection. Look for a football guy instead. Wilderness of mirrors.
posted by Mid at 8:46 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I dunno what to make of this guy, but this particular line of reasoning stuck out at me:

"We've got to act," John said, a former senior intelligence official recalls. "There's no explaining inaction."

That right there is an absolutely poisonous notion in politics and government; the way you've always got to appear to be Doing Something About It, you've always got to be able to say We're Taking Steps To Address The Issue, you can never say, "Look, in a perfect world, we'd like to fix this, but it's not a perfect world and sometimes the best thing you can do is actually nothing."

And so we bomb countries, because the political fallout of predator drone strikes on a nation we are ostensibly allied with is less damaging to careers than the fallout from appearing too soft, too unprepared, from appearing to have been doing nothing. Sigh.

In 2007, a female colleague whom the AP has also agreed not to identify decided to zero in on a man known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, a nom de guerre.
...
It took three years, but in August 2010, al-Kuwaiti turned up on a National Security Agency wiretap. The female analyst, who had studied journalism at a Big Ten university, tapped out a memo for John, "Closing in on Bin Laden Courier," saying her team believed al-Kuwaiti was somewhere on the outskirts of Islamabad.


Okay, see, what I get out of this part of it is that actually this guy was just the middle management (maybe very smart and effective middle management, but still), and this woman found bin Laden. What "John" did seems to mostly have consisted of telling his team to keep hunting for bin Laden by looking at his associates (I'm sure they never thought of that!), and to pass what they found further up the chain of command. But hey, he's management, so he gets the credit? :headdesk:

I can only hope that the reason he's getting the credit here is some sort of weird clandestine organization thing where she prefers not to get any of the spotlight (even weirdly pseudo-anonymous as it is) so she can stay working at a job she loves and is awesome at, and not just because the CIA is as crappy, possibly sexist, and totally overrun with middle-management as so many private companies are.
posted by mstokes650 at 8:50 PM on July 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


> this woman found bin Laden. What "John" did seems to mostly have consisted of telling his team to keep hunting for bin Laden

Yeah, that did seem off. From inside the Beltway, perhaps the governing view would be that she passed along mere data, whereas he did the Tough, Arduous, Gritty Work of fighting his way up the (bureaucratic) hill.
posted by darth_tedious at 9:12 PM on July 5, 2011


darth_tedious: Given how hard it seems to be to get the government to respond to actual data, I'm not sure that view is entirely incorrect.
posted by Grimgrin at 9:45 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I dunno what to make of this comment, but this particular line of reasoning is pretty wild to me.
posted by clavdivs at 10:13 PM on July 5, 2011


Jack Ryan?
posted by joshwa at 11:46 PM on July 5, 2011


I still wonder if Osama bin Laden was already dead well before May 1, 2011. Didn't he have doubles? Might not one of those have been killed on May 1, 2011? The story of rushing off his body to dump into the ocean several hundreds of miles away from where he was killed sounds really fishy. If one catches big game, one tends to display the captured big game for all to see.
posted by millardsarpy at 12:01 AM on July 6, 2011


The story of rushing off his body to dump into the ocean several hundreds of miles away from where he was killed sounds really fishy.

As it should, though it sounds a bit crabby or shrimpy as well.
posted by armage at 12:06 AM on July 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Might not one of those have been killed on May 1, 2011?

They took DNA tests; unless those results were faked, it was Osama they killed.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:07 AM on July 6, 2011


Intelligence officials told reporters Monday that no single person is responsible for putting investigators on his trail.

They totally paid someone off, probably lots of someones.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:07 AM on July 6, 2011


"They took DNA tests; unless those results were faked, it was Osama they killed." How long does it take to run DNA tests to confirm an identity of a body? I've read where it takes weeks and not a day or two. I've also read where it is possible to face DNA evidence.
posted by millardsarpy at 12:47 AM on July 6, 2011


The reason it takes so long to run DNA tests usually is because there's a line to stand in. In this case, the gov't presumably jumped the queue. With modern tech it's possible (apparently) to run the test in a matter of hours.

Not an expert, here, but that's my layman's interpretation of what I remember of the news coverage.

The only way it could have been faked is if the gov't had faked it itself, which is impossible to completely, 100% for sure rule out. It comes down to how paranoid you are, basically.
posted by BungaDunga at 1:03 AM on July 6, 2011


It's hard to keep reality and fantasy straight with this story but I am fairly confident that one of the news shows (maybe 60 Minutes?) explained that they were using specially developed DNA testing kits that were fast enough to be able to be used on site.
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:47 AM on July 6, 2011


Here again is the bin Laden raid situation room photo mentioned in the post.
posted by Anything at 5:35 AM on July 6, 2011


Audiences were able to see the execution of Saddam Hussein after his kangaroo court style trial. Osama bin Laden had become bigger in the eyes of the media than Saddam Hussein as rightly he should have been since he was accused of being behind the 911 attacks that killed about 3000 civilians in the United States whereas Saddam Hussein was no realistic threat to the United States. It would make greater sense to have preserved the remains of Osama bin Laden so as to show the world and then to have disposed of them.
Dr. Steve Pieczenik asserted that Osama bin Laden died of Marfan's disease years ago.
posted by millardsarpy at 6:19 AM on July 6, 2011


mstokes650: Okay, see, what I get out of this part of it is that actually this guy was just the middle management (maybe very smart and effective middle management, but still), and this woman found bin Laden. What "John" did seems to mostly have consisted of telling his team to keep hunting for bin Laden by looking at his associates (I'm sure they never thought of that!), and to pass what they found further up the chain of command. But hey, he's management, so he gets the credit? :headdesk:

I can only hope that the reason he's getting the credit here is some sort of weird clandestine organization thing where she prefers not to get any of the spotlight (even weirdly pseudo-anonymous as it is) so she can stay working at a job she loves and is awesome at, and not just because the CIA is as crappy, possibly sexist, and totally overrun with middle-management as so many private companies are.


As far as I understand, the only information any of us have about these people is what's in the article. How does anything in the article suggest that credit is being taken from this woman? Neither of us knows anything one way or the other about the degree of significance of her work beyond what the article says and the article is not specific about it. And as far as 'John' goes, his colleagues seem to have a good deal of respect for his work, but apparently you know better.
posted by Anything at 6:42 AM on July 6, 2011


Dr. Steve Pieczenik is a psychiatrist and former deputy assistant secretary of state who's been out of the government since 1979. I'm no convinced he's the most well-informed source.

Al Qaeda Confirms Bin Laden’s Death
posted by kirkaracha at 6:46 AM on July 6, 2011


the only information any of us have about these people is what's in the article. How does anything in the article suggest that credit is being taken from this woman?

The very fact that the article is about John and not her? I mean, really, you don't think an article entitled "The Man Who Hunted Osama bin Laden" does a little bit of a disservice to all the other people who hunted Osama bin Laden? Or when the article says things like "In the hunt for the world's most-wanted terrorist, there may have been no one more important." you don't think that does a disservice to the woman who, according to the article, zeroed in on al-Kuwaiti, whose team tracked him to the outskirts of Islamabad?

The whole article is rife with stuff like this. "The CIA tracked al-Kuwaiti to a walled compound in Abbottabad." The CIA. Not John, but a whole crapton of people. John, meanwhile, even in the article, seems to be getting credit not for working with data but for having the correct amount of confidence in meetings with higher ups:

John never overpromised, colleagues recall, but he was unafraid to say there was a good chance this might be the break the agency was looking for.


John was always bullish [in meetings], rating his confidence as high as 80 percent.

John was among several CIA officials who repeatedly briefed Obama and others at the White House. Current and former officials involved in the discussions said John had a coolness and a reassuring confidence.

The article itself casts John not as the guy with the actual data, but the guy whose job it is to take the data up the chain of command. And sure, maybe he's a fantastic middle manager, and you're right that his colleagues seem to like to him, but the fact remains that the article is heralding him as The Man who Hunted Osama, not The Man Who Managed the Team That Hunted Osama, or The Man Who Was Confident Osama Really Was Where His Team Said Osama Was.

It's like if the Red Sox won the World Series and the only article published about anyone on the team was a profile of Terry Francona calling him "The Man Who Won the World Series". It doesn't feel like an equitable sharing of the credit, particularly given that this woman, (just going from what little information is in the article) seems to have hit a metaphorical home run in Game 7. As I said, I'd like to think it's more to do with the clandestine nature of the CIA than just general corporate-style BS, and I'm not saying this guy isn't a fabulous and highly competent middle-manager, but it still feels off.
posted by mstokes650 at 7:19 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


A BBC documentary asserted that Al Qaeda never existed.
posted by millardsarpy at 7:21 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


psycho-alchemy: "Intelligence officials told reporters Monday that no single person is responsible for putting investigators on his trail.

They totally paid someone off, probably lots of someones
"

Paying someone off only works to motivate people to turn in people like Bin Laden if it's made known that people who have given tips in the past have been handsomely rewarded. If you catch Bin Laden and say that nobody got a reward, people are less likely to give tips in the future.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:47 AM on July 6, 2011


It's like if the Red Sox won the World Series and the only article published about anyone on the team was a profile of Terry Francona calling him "The Man Who Won the World Series". It doesn't feel like an equitable sharing of the credit, particularly given that this woman, (just going from what little information is in the article) seems to have hit a metaphorical home run in Game 7.

That's how the media always covers stories like this--for that matter, stories from the business world, too. The US media views events from the PoV of management and always has. That's how we got to witness the miracle of Lee Iaccoca single-handedly saving Chrysler back in the 80s.

Generally, the only members of a project team that get to take full credit and responsibility for a success in the corporate world are the project managers--even when all the substantive work and even much of the day-to-day project management and administration falls to someone else, like a lead developer or analyst.

In other words: it's their world; we just work here.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:54 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here's the nut:
John had outlasted many of his direct supervisors who retired or went on to other jobs. The CIA doesn't like to keep its people in one spot for too long. They become jaded. They start missing things.
John didn't want to leave. He'd always been persistent. In college, he walked on to a Division I basketball team and hustled his way into a rotation full of scholarship players.
The CIA offered to promote him and move him somewhere else. John wanted to keep the bin Laden file.
Good intelligence work is often the work of individuals synthesizing large amounts of information over long periods of time. If you put a committee at the narrow end of the funnel, you just get endless debate. If it's one person, and that person stays intimately familiar with the information, that is the best way to pull a needle out of a haystack.

R.V. Jones comes to mind as a good example: "Long afterwards, Jones explained that intelligence could not usefully be organised in committees of fairly senior officers who knew nothing about the subject in detail; and he left official life for academic." See his wartime autobiography, Most Secret War.

John deserves credit for staying with the job instead of climbing the ladder.
posted by warbaby at 8:38 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


The more this OBL Gotcha story goes on the more it reminds me of Wag the Dog with its darkly funny media manipulating. This Invisible John, sadly out of The Big Photo-Op but now being pedestalized, is like the Hero shot down behind enemy lines in the flick. All that's needed now is an Old Shoe song to go with the ongoing malarcky.
posted by nickyskye at 10:32 AM on July 6, 2011


"The man who hunted Osama bin Laden."

I thought it was going to be about this guy.
posted by dhens at 11:21 AM on July 6, 2011


Dr. Steve Pieczenik is a psychiatrist and former deputy assistant secretary of state who's been out of the government since 1979. I'm no convinced he's the most well-informed source.

Plus, he sounds like some pieczenik.

They totally paid someone off, probably lots of someones.

That's pretty much how a lot of HUMINT works. On a broader scale, we've been paying off the government of Pakistan to the tune of several billion dollars for years. That money is always only partly about the hardware it buys or the boots it keeps in soles. On a smaller scale, it involves lots of low-level favors and information barters between field agents and their assets, as well as payoffs, bribes, and so forth. The image of the idealistic person on the other side sharing your values more than those of his own people, country, or agency slipping you something out of the pure goodness of their soul is rarely found outside the movies.

The very fact that the article is about John and not her? I mean, really, you don't think an article entitled "The Man Who Hunted Osama bin Laden" does a little bit of a disservice to all the other people who hunted Osama bin Laden?

Yeah, but so does every six-inch-thick biography of a general. After all, they're not usually the ones dying. Yes, there's a certain amount of narrative simplification here, a certain amount of residual Great Man theory, and in this particular case perhaps some latent sexism. I wouldn't discount it entirely. But we do tend to write more about individuals than teams, we find them more compelling as stories, and sometimes they're even true. If you push the credit downstream more and more, to an extent you approach the Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall level of absurdity. Of course every team effort has multiple contributors, but it's not necessarily useful to just list all of them. War (and that includes the intelligence aspect) is as much a matter of marshalling resources and putting them where they need to be at the right time with the right tools as it is about the actual foot soldiers doing the fighting. So I'm not sure, given the paucity of information in the source material, what this sort of critique is intended to accomplish.
posted by dhartung at 12:02 PM on July 6, 2011


The great generational threat
posted by homunculus at 4:20 PM on July 9, 2011


New York Observer: "Exclusive: Bin Laden Hunter 'CIA John' Identified"
posted by vidur at 5:07 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


CIA organised fake vaccination drive to get Osama bin Laden's family DNA
The CIA organised a fake vaccination programme in the town where it believed Osama bin Laden was hiding in an elaborate attempt to obtain DNA from the fugitive al-Qaida leader's family, a Guardian investigation has found.

As part of extensive preparations for the raid that killed Bin Laden in May, CIA agents recruited a senior Pakistani doctor to organise the vaccine drive in Abbottabad, even starting the "project" in a poorer part of town to make it look more authentic, according to Pakistani and US officials and local residents.

The doctor, Shakil Afridi, has since been arrested by the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) for co-operating with American intelligence agents.

posted by Joe in Australia at 12:37 AM on July 17, 2011


that was darn clever.
posted by clavdivs at 2:38 AM on July 17, 2011


What price will the black-ops bin Laden vaccination scheme exact on global health efforts?
posted by homunculus at 8:56 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Barack Obama accused of crimes against humanity for Osama bin Laden killing

- the guy sounds like a lone nut, but it will be interesting to see if the story has legs.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:39 AM on July 18, 2011


Yes, vaccinations are a CIA plot
posted by adamvasco at 9:32 AM on July 20, 2011


Fox News Broadcasts Photo of Covert CIA Agent
posted by homunculus at 3:18 PM on July 29, 2011


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