U.S. intelligence officials may have received a tip from a “walk-in” Pakistani official in tracking down the location of Osama bin Laden, complicating the White House story that the raid that captured and killed the al Qaeda leader was entirely a U.S. mission, NBC news reported Monday.
NBC said several intelligence sources told the network that in 2010, the CIA received information from the Pakistani intelligence official. In addition, members of Pakistani spy agency ISI knew of bin Laden’s hiding spot, the network said.
The NBC News report corroborates part of journalist Seymour Hersh’s article, published on Sunday, saying the official U.S. government story on the bin Laden raid is not true. Hersh's article says Pakistani officials knew of the raid in advance. NBC, however, reported that its intelligence sources doubted that U.S. officials informed the Pakistani government of the raid, and were unsure which senior Pakistani ISI officials knew of bin Laden’s location.
The NBC report casts further doubt on the CIA claim, popularized in the film, "Zero Dark Thirty," that torture led to the identification of Bin Laden's hideout. That claim was seriously challenged in the Senate's torture report in December.
The NBC report was co-bylined by Andrea Mitchell, who is known in Washington to have sources at the highest levels of officialdom. The story was sourced in part to "a very senior former U.S. intelligence official," a description that reporters such as Mitchell tend to reserve for past CIA directors or cabinet-level officials.
U.S. officials on Monday denied the narrative advanced in Hersh’s article. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the article was “riddled with inaccuracies and outright falsehoods.” In a statement, National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said “there are too many inaccuracies and baseless assertions in this piece -- which apparently is based on the claims of a single anonymous source -- to fact check each one.” Former deputy CIA director Michael Morell also denounced the report, calling it “all wrong.”
Hersh wasn't the first to report that Pakistan's ISI was aware of bin Laden's whereabouts. New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall reported in March 2014 that the spy agency knew bin Laden's location and was controlling him.
The question of Pakistani involvement in the raid became a major issue in Pakistan after President Barack Obama announced the killing. The American account led to political unrest there as Pakistanis felt the U.S. raid damaged their sovereignty and proved their military ineffective or duplicitous. As a result of the fallout, U.S.-Pakistan relations plunged to a post-9/11 low.
UPDATE: May 12 -- Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes was asked Tuesday by Mitchell to comment on the reports that a walk-in played a part in finding bin Laden, and Rhodes pointedly did not deny it. "I don't have a particular knowledge or recollection of that level of detail," he said on Mitchell's MSNBC show.
This article has been updated with details on the NBC report's correspondent and attribution.