In an article in the London Review of Books dated May 21, 2015, the American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh claims the official account of how Osama bin Laden (founder of al-Qaeda, which claimed responsibility for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States) was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 2, 2011 is false. In the official account by the White House and American government, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) secretly followed the movements of one of Osama bin Laden's couriers who led them to bin Laden's hiding place. Seymour Hersh claims that

In August 2010 a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer approached Jonathan Bank, then the CIA’s station chief at the US embassy in Islamabad. He offered to tell the CIA where to find bin Laden in return for the reward that Washington had offered in 2001.

Hersh also claims that

bin Laden had been a prisoner of the ISI [Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence] at the Abbottabad compound since 2006

Hersh makes other claims but those are two of the most important. Is Seymour Hersh's account of the killing of Osama bin Laden credible, or is it -- as critics have claimed -- a conspiracy theory?

2 Answers 2


The main criticism come from the government and some journalists doubting Hersh's sources. From the White House, they're saying Hersh's stories are more fiction than reality. Former Navy SEALs doubted the content saying that have with full of lies. For example, about the ISI intelligence officer who was at the operation with the SEAL team; one soldier who was there expressed:

“I saw Osama bin Laden standing on two feet, there was no ISI up there. I shot him in the head twice and then I shot him again in the face while he was on the ground.“

On the other hand, there are journalists that claimed this work isn't news at all. RJ Hillhouse is a former professor who wrote in her blog about the ISI official who was bribed track Osama Bin Laden down in 2011. She asked several times about what is the big news in Hersh's work.

However, there are other media groups who backed up Hersh's work; they made a double-check with their intelligence sources the officer who was there. About the same:

The NBC News sources who confirm that a former Pakistani military intelligence official became a U.S. intelligence asset include a special operations officer and a CIA officer who had served in Pakistan. These two sources and a third source, a very senior former U.S. intelligence official, also say that elements of the ISI were aware of bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad. The former official was emphatic about the ISI's awareness, saying twice, "They knew."

The main problem with the story itself is the sources. Most people don't trust in "anonymous sources", the Hersh story's heart; the story itself depends a lot of the reader's trust.

  • 2
    Because that argument will surely arise: Yes, stories are often only based on anonymous sources - however for a story that far out of the major consensus narrative anonymous sources just don't cut it.
    – user45891
    Jun 1, 2015 at 15:59
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    Also notable is the fact that the last quoted section, where they sources say the ISI knew of bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad, does not, in any way, refute the official version of events. The USA has always claimed that there were elements in the Pakistani government agencies that knew about and assisted bin Laden. That was the whole reason why they went in without giving any notification, according to the official version. Saying they knew he was there is not the same as confirming he was being detained in the compound by them. Oct 3, 2017 at 19:05

As a matter of policy, you kill an enemy rather than capture and put on trial if you fear what he will reveal on the witness stand. You scatter the remains randomly to prevent any focus for martyrdom.

None of the above is evidence for or against Seymour Hersh's claims, they are in the same category as 'cui bono - who profits by it', non-factual, legally inadmissible, but far more effective in revealing guilt than facts and evidence, which are falsifiable. High probability is far more reliable than false certainty.

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