If nothing else, the Sy Hersh OBL story is yet one more event that exposes who I needn’t take seriously unless I’m in a really good mood. The following will mark you as someone whose self-conception of savvy knowing knowingness is at such odds with what you actually know, I will, in future, only seek out your thoughts when I need that frisson of disgust and embarrassment a dipshit making an ass of themselves elicits:
1. Likening Sy Hersh to Gary Webb.
2. Sneering at any suggestion that regardless of his own intentions, Sy Hersh is effectively an asset of the U.S. security apparatus and always has been.
Let’s start with number two first, since accepting that Sy Hersh is self-evidently an intel asset undermines the Gary Webb comparisons all by itself.
To say that Hersh is an intelligence asset is not to reveal some dark secret. It is simply to concisely, and more bluntly, restate Chomsky’s caveat about Hersh’s stable of high-level sources inside Empire: “Their task is not to tell people the truth. Their task is to tell people what they want them to hear.” It follows that how Hersh sees himself or how others see him is entirely irrelevant to the question of precisely how he makes his living.
Hersh’s sources seek him out, or cooperate, for the very same reason members of the same community seek out Walter Pincus, known infamously as “The CIA’s man at the Washington Post:” To advance their own interests, or the interests of a faction within the security apparatus, or within the so-called Deep State, to which they belong. These people are in the business of misdirection, deception, manipulation, incitement and destabilization. At their most usefully dissident, they are reformists who simply want the U.S. to rule the world with less mess.
At the moment, all the disparate media factions agree for sure on one thing: There is the “official” account of the OBL raid, and there’s Hersh’s account. But Hersh relies for 90% of his account on a “retired senior intelligence official” whose practically omniscient grasp of the minutiae surrounding the raid suggests he breathes the thinnest air in the Intelligence Community. In other words, his account is, for all intents and purposes, another official account, despite being at odds — in mostly trivial ways — with the official official account. That Hersh’s primary source is a “retired” official is absolutely irrelevant, since the norm for retired intelligence officials is consulting work for the Intelligence Community.
The source’s omniscience — and commensurate status — also suggests that anyone with a pretty good grasp of who’s privy to what in the Intelligence Community could probably guess who he is — or narrow it down to a small few — since surely very few intelligence officials are privy to that kind of top secret information. This suggests that he probably doesn’t truly fear discovery as much as Hersh thinks, or pretends to think, he does. In fact, one can only speculate, but I reckon the identities of at least some of Hersh’s sources over the decades have been easily inferred by at least a knowledgable few, including the officials their leaks implicate. But until these sources create huge problems for equally or more powerful elements within the same realm, it’s more advantageous for all concerned that they remain officially anonymous, and Hersh consistently useful.
Here are some reasons that a retired intelligence official like the one who spoke to Hersh would never have for speaking to him:
1. In the leisure of retirement, he came to realize how perfectly evil his life’s work was, and has dedicated his remaining years to undermining the security apparatus.
2. He thinks letting the people know of some egregious thing is of such vital importance, any damage to the security apparatus is entirely beside the point.
3. To simply set the record straight because lies have been told and telling the truth is good in itself.
One can imagine that there may be cases where number two might hold; for instance, whoever leaked MKULTRA to Hersh years ago might have been genuinely horrified. But Hersh’s OBL story is clearly nothing like that, and not simply because a security analyst floated a strikingly similar story in 2011 without incident. Where U.S. officials are concerned, its revelations are fairly minor, especially given the way Hersh generously provides alibis for why U.S. officials did what they did. He doesn’t even accuse Obama of lying, but rather believing what various unnamed others told him.
Now, at the risk of inducing eyerolls in the dispiritingly large group of people who seemingly think the Intelligence Community does something much more philanthropic than what its various elements were established to do and have historically done, I offer the following plausible reasons a senior retired intelligence official might talk to Hersh about the OBL raid. I’m not going to elaborate on these, because I don’t really care which one of them, if any, it is:
1. To corroborate the increasingly untrusted official official story in all the ways that matter. With a story that self-authenticates by creating a minor scandal over the ways in which it differs, Hersh usefully confirms that Bin Laden had indeed been killed that night; that he could not be taken alive; and that his corpse was discarded.
2. To discredit The Obama Administration for whatever reason.
3. To set the limits of permissible skepticism about the raid.
4. To piggy-back other messages on top of the ostensible main story, in pursuit of another objective. Hersh’s unflattering details about Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and his amplification of them in interviews suggest something like this might be going on.
5. To distract attention from something worse or to simply maintain control of the news cycle while burnishing Hersh’s reputation, in anticipation of injecting more messages into the ether.
6. To create internal conflict in the Intelligence Community that works to the advantage of the faction to which the retired official belongs.
There could well be something I haven’t considered but the main point is this: there is absolutely nothing going on here to cheer anyone to the left of liberal Hersh’s basic faith in the system he tells tales on and obvious sympathy for the individuals that keep it running. As with the original story, we’re being manipulated, with information from a single government official we are to accept on faith. Falling for this crap and Hersh’s chest-beating does not make you a renegade. It makes you a rube.
Which brings us around to why the comparisons to Webb are so very stupid if not downright offensive. I’ve written quite a lot about Webb already and I won’t recapitulate everything here. It should suffice that there is a moral chasm between embellishing the OBL story and flooding Black communities with crack. But if that’s not enough, consider that, unlike Hersh, Webb hadn’t spent decades writing stories based on tips from intelligence, military and State Department lifers; his big story was not 90% dependent on the extensive knowledge of a single retired intelligence official, but on myriad court documents, congressional records, eyewitnesses, all of which he procured with a massive amount of legwork and assistance from a Nicaraguan journalist; his story disclosed CIA complicity in drug trafficking, a secret that according to journalist Alexander Cockburn is among those the CIA guards the most vigilantly; his low status made envious colleagues particularly malicious; and, finally, and possibly most importantly, his story stirred up tremendous unrest in the Black community.
When the worst part of Webb’s ostracism concluded, he had no high-status allies and couldn’t even get another newspaper job. While it’s certainly true that there are Establishment elements who seem bent on discrediting Hersh, there are a number of others who are vindicating parts if not all of his story, both on the big television news outlets and in large newspapers like the New York Times. Hersh, of course, also has the full backing of Pierre Omidyar’s Fearless and Adversarial Inc., which is one more way in which he differs from Gary Webb even ten years after Webb’s death. While Hersh is clearly disgusted with colleagues maligning him, he is just as obviously delighted with having stirred so much shit. He looks like a man with nothing to fear, and rightly so. The scandal will come and go — very soon probably — and Hersh will continue to act as a useful and widely respected conduit for powerful career imperialists.
Hey everybody, apologies for indulging the Trojan Glennbot down in comments. I deleted all but the very beginning. Trust that “Jeffrey” will be indulged no more and I’ll thank you all in advance for ignoring him also.