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Michael Brenner

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Myths of Abbottabad

Posted: 05/09/11 05:50 PM ET

Myth-making, especially national myth-making, is normally a slow and long process. Not so for the myths being spun about the death of Osama bin Laden. We are setting a Guinness record for the creation of a mythical story that weaves an elaborate design around a few hard facts.
 
The process began on Monday when White House terrorism czar John Brennan gave us a colorful fictive account of what happened in Abbottabad. It was pure Hollywood. The shootout with an armed OBD, his cowardly use of a wife as a human shield, the fanatical guards, the fortress villa behind 18 foot walls. In truth, a passive bin Laden, a wife shot accidentally by the American strike team, three not very fanatical guards, and a villa readily visible from the street behind standard 12 foot walls. These fabrications were doled out with obvious deceit aforethought since no one on the spot ever reported these things. By Washington's lights, any 'terrorist' threat is grave, any challenge is daunting, any success heroic. There was a day when a senior adviser to the president pronouncing on a matter of historic importance did not advertise himself for the job of chief consultant to whichever movie studio will do the film version.
 
Then there was the dramatic photo of the president and his national security team, which the White House press office said showed them watching the action from Abbottabad live. Again, a misrepresentation. There had been no live transmission because of a technical failure.
 
The bigger myth is how the nonpareil American intelligence agencies designed and executed a brilliant strategy to track down and eliminate bin Laden. An operation completed in a stunningly swift nine years, with the expenditure of only a few hundred billion. I beg to differ with this assessment. The truly amazing thing is that it took so long given that bin Laden had located himself in a highly visible place not far from where another leading al Qaeda operative, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, had been nabbed years earlier. Bin Laden's primary courier reportedly was identified four years ago. Anything less formidable would be something like his selling Afghan tribal rugs on the pavement outside the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. Sure, he had some sort of protection for some period of time by some segment of the Pakistani military. But he was not hidden. Moreover, I presume that such things as agents still are employed who circulate in Pakistani high society with the purpose of picking up clues.

The myth-making goes on. Jose Rodriguez, who as head of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center from 2002 to 2005 ran the Agency's torture program and later illegally destroyed the interrogation video tapes, is now trumpeting the idea that it was all that water boarding that led to Abbottville. Dick Cheney and his comrades fantasize that even Iraq was an integral part of the scheme for dealing this lethal blow to al Qaeda.
 
With all of these exalted folk creating the Hollywood screenplay, the professionals of the Screenwriters Guild are in danger of joining the unemployment lines.