I wrote a while back about the fishiness factor for political crimes. When Jack Ruby walks up to Lee Oswald on a Sunday afternoon and shoots him on TV, that displays a high fishiness factor. You want to know why he did that; you aren’t likely to accept some lame-brained answer. Why would Ruby shoot Oswald two days after the president died? What’s the explanation?
More recently we want to ask, why did Pakistan harbor Osama bin Laden? We all saw how miffed Washington was about that. The journalists commented how this discovery put a new strain on our relationship with Pakistan. That was about it. We make a hugely significant discovery, and no journalist tries to get to the bottom of it. How fishy is that?
The fishiness affects two levels, of course: the discovery itself and our reaction to it. We watched Ruby assassinate Oswald, but we didn’t dig into why he did it. We find bin Laden in a Pakistani compound, work up some indignation about that, but seem oddly incurious about why we should find him there.
Unlike Hussein, harbored by a farmer in a hole near Hussein’s hometown, Osama bin Laden lived rather openly in a large house with a wall around it, in Abbottabad. As Asra Nomani describes the place:
He wasn’t found in a cave in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, but rather in a comfortable home in a hill station that could be a mini-Colorado Springs, Colorado, of Pakistan, complete with a military academy, numerous military installations, a St. Luke’s church and the Taj Majal Cinema.
To reconsider 1963 again, we didn’t seem that curious to know why Oswald went to the Soviet Union, or what he did as a Marine while stationed in Japan. We seemed equally incurious about Jack Ruby’s connections with organized crime or the Central Intelligence Agency. When we learn years later that Oswald worked with both the FBI and the CIA, and that his killer had a similarly complicated background, you say, “Really, I didn’t know that. That makes you wonder.”
We don’t want to wait that long before we find out why Osama bin Laden rested so comfortably in Abbottabad. How long was he there? Who protected him? How did he get the house? Who betrayed him, and why? These basics shouldn’t be that hard to discover. Why would I even ask questions like that, a year and a half after his death? In our open system, wouldn’t we know those basic facts about our quarry?
Actually, we know a little about bin Laden’s betrayal. It’s an interesting story about familial jealousy, but you won’t find details in follow-up reports. You won’t learn how information travelled from bin Laden’s household to either his protectors or his assassins.
We know these basics. Osama bin Laden worked for the Central Intelligence Agency back when Afghanistan’s mujahideen fought the Soviets. That’s not so surprising, as bin Laden was a prominent member of the mujahideen. On the other side, Pakistan’s military intelligence service, the ISI, has worked closely with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban, you’ll remember, won power in Afghanistan after the Soviets left. The Taliban hosted bin Laden and his training camps in Afghanistan in the years before 9/11. That’s why we fight the Taliban now.
Throw in one more factor, and you can see we should wonder why we found bin Laden in that compound, near one of Pakistan’s best known military academies. The CIA and the ISI have worked together for a long time. Our military intelligence found bin Laden living under the protection of Pakistan’s military intelligence, in a place where all the principals go way back. The CIA, ISI, and al Qaeda could just as well have had a reunion at bin Laden’s compound. I don’t know if the Taliban would have accepted an invitation to attend – perhaps the ISI could have convinced them it wasn’t a trap. Instead, Navy Seals and the White House planned an assassination. That produced a lot of blood rather than the more pleasant beer and champagne.
Let’s get curious, folks. When we smell a fish, let’s unwrap the newspaper to see what’s inside. We may want to bury those packages to fertilize our garden, but in fact our republic doesn’t thrive on crimes and secrecy. It needs more openness than it has received recently. We have the tools to publish what we find out. Wikileaks was one of those tools. The whole internet gives us an advantage in the fight for openness. We have to use it.
Look what happens instead. LBJ puts out the Warren report. People look at its size and its authors and say, case closed. Wikileaks publishes outstanding source material, including documents about our back channel dealings with Pakistan. The government shuts Wikileaks down, charging it with espionage. Instead of mounting a vigorous defense of Wikileaks, we citizens seem to agree that Julian Assange should be tried for espionage and treason. We have to be aggressive when we defend our freedom. Wikileaks is not the enemy here. Our own government means to destroy us.