In the clickbait WaPo, under the categories “Analysis” and “Fact Checker”, Glenn Kessler has an article published on Thu 2018-08-02 titled “The zombie claim that won’t die: The media exposed bin Laden’s phone“.
I wasn’t going to click. I didn’t want to click. Liberal “fact checking” generally takes the form of partisan nit-picking and deliberate misunderstanding, and I wasn’t in the mood. I had a few minutes to spare that morning before prepping for the workaday world, so I clicked on the piece anyway, and I found that this one falls under the category of, oh, what shall we call it? How about, “Accurate but Fake”*. As in, the claim is accurate, but they’ll call it fake because it makes them, or their side, look bad. See for yourself; the WaPo takes issue with the following:
“One of the worst cases was the reporting on the U.S. ability to listen to Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone in the late ’90s. Because of that reporting, he stopped using that phone and the country lost valuable intelligence.”
— White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, remarks at a news briefing, Aug. 1, 2018
The WaPo goes on:
“Sanders made these comments while pushing back at suggestions that President Trump tolerates his supporters menacing reporters at his rallies. She said that he supports a free press but that there also is responsibility on the part of the media. “The media routinely reports on classified information and government secrets that put lives in danger and risk valuable national security tools,” she lectured. “This has happened both in our administration and in past administrations.” Then she dropped the bin Laden example.”
It’s a shame Sanders wasted the opportunity to cite the numerous other times when our media have published classified information, doing direct harm to the interests and security of the United States. The NYTimes comes to mind in particular, having revealed secret military bases, operations, and intelligence gathering tools. Just so we’re clear, we’re talking unprosecuted violations of the Espionage Act.
“We hope she was not suggesting reporters were responsible for the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.”
No, of course she was not suggesting that, but the WaPo would like to suggest (*wink* *wink*) that’s what she really meant. Further, the WaPo does hope that she would suggest exactly that, or better yet, make an outright accusation, so that the WaPo could then indignantly and haughtily claim to acquit itself and all other press from such a scurrilous charge, and they could then go on to make their own counter-accusations as they wrap themselves in the blanket of victimhood. Ugh, the disingenuous snark of the WaPo.
The WaPo helpfully explains:
“Like a zombie, this false claim won’t die.”
Sanders is repeating this bogus talking point: The news media published a U.S. government leak in 1998 about Osama bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone, alerting the al Qaeda leader to government monitoring and prompting him to abandon the device.”
The article goes on at some length on the history of this claim; how the Washington Times was accused of leaking information about how ObL was using cell and satellite phones, which turned out to be public knowledge, and so forth, and so on, at substantial length, it goes on, and on. And on.
None of it is relevant.
“It was not until Sept. 7, 1998, that a newspaper reported that the United States had intercepted his phone calls and obtained his voiceprint. U.S. authorities “used their communications intercept capacity to pick up calls placed by bin Laden on his Inmarsat satellite phone, despite his apparent use of electronic ‘scramblers,’ ” the Los Angeles Times reported.”
And there we have it. It’s one thing for ObL to know that it was no secret he was using cell and satellite phones, but it’s quite another for him to learn that they can be tracked by location, unscrambled and recorded by American intelligence.
The WaPo says this “vicious leak that destroyed a valuable intelligence operation” doesn’t count, because ObL “communication to aides via satellite phone had already been reported in 1996 — and the source of the information was another government, the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan at the time.” It’s safe to say that the ObL didn’t take that tip seriously, and understandably so. The Taliban weren’t in a position to speak with any authority on their knowledge of secret U.S. intelligence gathering.
It probably rang a bell, though, when the Washington Times article was published on Aug. 21, 1998, just one day after the U.S. launched a cruise missile attack on ObL. After that, ObL phone comms went dark. The WaPo insists that “causal effects are hard to prove”, and conflates the reporting of ObL cell/satellite phone use with tracking and comms intercepts.
This WaPo “Fact Checker” analysis actually refutes itself.
The WaPo conclusion, and I kid you not: Four Pinocchios
Slab Hardrock conclusion: Fake News. Go broke, WaPo. I’m looking forward to their next round of layoffs which can’t come too quickly.
* This is a play on “Fake but Accurate“, another scandalous example of NYTimes journalistic malpractice.