The UK's Daily Mail has an "EXCLUSIVE" story this morning on the government of Saudi Arabia reportedly sending a letter to the Department of Homeland Security in 2012 warning about suspected Boston marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. It's being promoted heavily by conservative bloggers and is, at the moment, featured on The Drudge Report. There is ample reason, however, to take this story with a massive grain of salt. As it's reported, the story is extremely thin, and its two authors have a history of wildly inaccurate reporting.
According to the Daily Mail, the "Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sent a written warning about accused Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2012, long before pressure-cooker blasts killed three and injured hundreds." The report is based on a single anonymous source: a "senior Saudi government official with direct knowledge of the document." By all indications, the Daily Mail did not obtain a copy of the letter, and they quoted officials in DHS and the White House denying that any such letter was received.
The paper even acknowledged that they could not confirm their source's claims: "If true, the account will produce added pressure on the Homeland Security department and the White House to explain their collective inaction after similar warnings were offered about Tsarnaev by the Russian government." [emphasis added] The paper also seemed unable to confirm which intelligence agency produced the document: "The letter likely came to DHS via the Saudi Ministry of Interior, the agency tasked with protecting the Saudi kingdom's homeland."
As for the Saudi source, despite claiming to have "direct knowledge" of the document, he offered vague and arguably contradictory descriptions of its contents, describing it as "very specific" about its warning that "something was going to happen in a major U.S. city." And, curiously, the Saudi source claimed the same letter was sent to the British government, but the Daily Mail report offered no indication that the paper contacted British intelligence services to confirm or deny this.
Yesterday I laid out how Richard Miniter, author of the new anti-Obama book Leading From Behind, mixes up dates to allege that President Obama was slow to act on intelligence regarding Osama bin Laden's whereabouts. Today we'll look at how Miniter lies about the president's legislative successes during the 2010 lame-duck session, claiming that Obama's agenda for that period (the vast majority of which was approved) failed in Congress.
On pages 84-85, Miniter writes about the aftermath of the 2010 midterm elections and faults Obama for presenting an "ambitious" and "unrealistic" legislative agenda for the lame-duck session. Miniter says Obama's "timing and strategy were ill-considered" and that his legislative proposals were "dead on arrival" with the "exhausted" Congress:
Obama seemed strangely upbeat. The day after the midterm elections, the president convened a meeting with his senior staff.
While they saw clouds, he saw the sun through them. Democrats still ran both houses of Congress until January 3, 2011, when the new session convened. To the surprise of some staffers present, he enumerated an ambitious list of measures that he would like to see made law in the next sixty days: "a tax deal, extending unemployment benefits, ratification of New START treaty reducing nuclear arms, repeal of the Pentagon's Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy preventing gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military, passage of the DREAM Act (which would grant citizenship to undocumented young adults who met certain requirements), and a children's nutrition bill advocated by Michelle Obama."
The list was unrealistic. It would have been a demanding agenda for Congress to accomplish over two years, let alone two months.
Still, Obama was keen to proceed as planned. He was finally going to lead, but the timing and strategy were ill-considered.
"Obama didn't care about the criticism that he was too insular," a White House aide said. "He didn't give a shit."
Obama's proposals were dutifully sent to Capitol Hill, but most were essentially dead on arrival. Congress was exhausted and didn't want to take any more political risks.
The "blockbuster" allegation from Richard Miniter's new book, Leading From Behind, is that President Obama dithered and vacillated when it came to authorizing the mission that led to the May 2011 death of Osama bin Laden. As Miniter puts it on page 117, rather than acting decisively "it took the president almost two years to make a decision to act" after intelligence agencies identified "bin Laden's hideout in the first few months of the Obama administration." There is, however, a fatal flaw in Miniter's allegation: he's off by a full year. To characterize Obama as having delayed action, Miniter describes intelligence activities that happened in 2010 as having occurred in 2009, leading him to repeatedly contradict his own timeline of events.
Media Matters previously pointed out the significant problems with Miniter's charge that Obama canceled three times the operation to kill Bin Laden -- specifically that on the dates Obama was alleged to have canceled the "mission," there wasn't yet a "mission" to cancel. Miniter's allegations are being treated credulously by conservative media outlets: Miniter appeared on Fox & Friends this morning to promote the book, and his claims about the Bin Laden raid received a New York Post write-up.
According to reported accounts of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, in 2009 and 2010 the intelligence community ramped up its efforts to track down the terrorist leader, leading to a key moment in August 2010 when intelligence officers tracked Bin Laden's courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, entering Bin Laden's walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. As the New Yorker's deeply reported blow-by-blow of the hunt put it:
In August, 2010, Panetta returned to the White House with better news. C.I.A. analysts believed that they had pinpointed bin Laden's courier, a man in his early thirties named Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. Kuwaiti drove a white S.U.V. whose spare-tire cover was emblazoned with an image of a white rhino. The C.I.A. began tracking the vehicle. One day, a satellite captured images of the S.U.V. pulling into a large concrete compound in Abbottabad.
For reasons that aren't clear, Miniter describes this moment as happening in 2009:
A single phone call gave al-Kuwaiti away in August 2009.14 It lasted less than a minute, but the spy satellites parked over Pakistan intercepted and recorded the call. It was logged into the National Security Agency's enormous databases. A keyword search alerted intelligence analysts. Soon America's electronic sleuths were tracking al-Kuwaiti through his mobile phone. A technical team mapped the locations of every phone al-Kuwaiti made a call to or received a call from. It showed red dots all over Afghanistan and Pakistan.
A covert ground team eventually spotted al-Kuwaiti himself in the Bilal Town section of Abbottabad, a prosperous enclave north of Pakistan's capital city of Islamabad. He liked to roam the busy streets of Abbottabad in a white sport-utility vehicle, with a distinctive red rhino emblazoned on its spare tire cover. It made him easy to follow.
Within weeks al-Kuwaiti was tracked repeatedly entering and exiting a mysterious walled compound. [Leading from Behind, pp 131-132]
The Daily Caller reported late last night that they obtained an exclusive first look at Richard Miniter's forthcoming book Leading From Behind: The Reluctant President and the Advisors Who Decide for Him, which contains the "bombshell" allegation (sourced to a single anonymous official) that in the first three months of 2011, President Obama thrice canceled the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. Miniter's and the Caller's reporting is contradicted by previous in-depth reports indicating that the plan for the raid wasn't delivered to the president until the end of March, and training for the operation didn't begin until mid-April, meaning that there wasn't yet a "mission" for the president to cancel.
The Daily Caller's David Martosko wrote last night:
In "Leading From Behind: The Reluctant President and the Advisors Who Decide for Him," Richard Miniter writes that Obama canceled the "kill" mission in January 2011, again in February, and a third time in March. Obama's close adviser Valerie Jarrett persuaded him to hold off each time, according to the book.
Miniter, a two-time New York Times best-selling author, cites an unnamed source with Joint Special Operations Command who had direct knowledge of the operation and its planning.
Miniter's reporting doesn't match up with the New Yorker's deep dive into the Bin Laden raid, published in August 2011, which offered a timeline of the planning process based on quotes and information from a variety of sources, named and otherwise.
According to the New Yorker, in late 2010 President Obama ordered Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to "begin exploring options for a military strike" against the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan where Bin Laden was thought to be hiding, and that planning began in February 2011. At that point, according to the Caller's vague reporting, Obama is alleged to have already twice "canceled" the mission.
On Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity again attacked President Obama over his relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and guests Richard Miniter and Noelle Nikpour attacked Obama over devotional messages he receives, while earlier this week, right-wing blogs attacked Obama over his church attendance. These attacks follow repeated religion-based smears of Obama both during the 2008 presidential campaign and after he took office.
From the November 29 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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From the November 29 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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While discussing ABC's upcoming miniseries The Path to 9/11, terrorism expert Roger Cressey countered a series of false assertions by James Hirsen and Richard Miniter relating to the Clinton administration's role in the lead-up to September 11 attacks.
On Hannity & Colmes, author and journalist Richard Miniter falsely claimed that when the Democrats were in power, the Republicans did not criticize the majority party's foreign policy, asserting that "there used to be a tradition in this country that politics stopped at the water's edge." In fact, during Bill Clinton's presidency, a number of Republicans criticized his conduct of foreign policy.
On Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, author Richard Miniter misrepresented the issues surrounding the Bush administration's approval of the takeover of six U.S. ports by Dubai Ports World (DPW). Miniter falsely asserted that DPW "has gone through every security check" and that the deal "was thoroughly vetted by an interagency review." Miniter also insisted that in objecting to the deal, administration critics were displaying "anti-Arab bias."