In a November 9 Human Events interview, retired SEAL Chuck Pfarrer, author of SEAL Target Geronimo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama bin Laden, [St. Martin’s Press, $25.99], described how after decades of repeated intelligence failures, the CIA used stagecraft to take advantage of presumed SEAL-silence to turn their work into a public relations coup for the agency.
“The more I dealt with gathering information on this book, the more I found that the agency was trying to make all the hay it could,” said the former SEAL commander, who spoke to members of SEAL Team Six, and other principals involved in the raid code-named “Neptune’s Spear.”
The stagecraft involved three main steps, he said. First, at the insistence of the Director of Central Intelligence Leon E. Panetta, a CIA civilian interpreter, untrained in air assault, was put on the mission, which allowed it to be described as a joint SEAL-CIA mission.
This was the basis for reports that CIA and special operations forces have learned to work together despite the clash of cultures.
It was also a useful capstone to the agency’s tragic failure to alert leaders to bin Laden’s 1998 attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the 2000 attack on the destroyer U.S.S. Cole and the Sept. 11 Attacks, Pfarrer said.
“It was an attempt for them to redeem themselves on the backs and on the valor of my teammates, another thing I did not take too kindly to,” he said.
Second, a SEAL liaison officer was assigned to CIA headquarters to sit next to Panetta all through the evolution to explain the unfolding events, Pfarrer said. “It is a common practice; we call them ‘pet SEALs.”
This arrangement had information passing from Adm. William H. McRaven, the commanding admiral of Joint Special Operations Command, forward deployed at his mobile joint operations center in Afghanistan relaying updates to CIA headquarters along with the drone provided video feed with the SEAL LNO making sure Panetta got it right as he passed data to the White House.
This created the impression at the White House and elsewhere that it was a CIA-led project, he said.
The third element of CIA stagecraft was Panetta’s invitation to reporters and Hollywood-types to the CIA for briefings about the mission to ensure that the CIA’s narrative was dominant, he said.
It was from this maneuver that the press reported there was a 40-minute firefight at bin Laden’s compound—remarkable for a 38-minute mission.
Another story that leaked out was that during the mission, a crowd gathered outside the compound and the CIA interpreter addressed and dispersed it, Pfarrer said. “Look, it was something out of a fairy tale.”
In the book, Pfarrer wrote that after the publicity surrounding the Sony Pictures fundraiser for the president linked to the film company’s development of a bin Laden movie, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, timed to hit
screens just before the 2012 election, the outsiders were blocked out of the CIA.
But, after Panetta left CIA to lead the Defense Department, Bigelow was quietly invited to the Pentagon. It was not quietly enough, however, to avoid being overheard by two SEALs in street clothes sitting at the next table. This overheard conversation may have been the true genesis of the book.
Pfarrer said the CIA counted on the SEAL culture of silence to leave the field uncontested.
Given their choice, the SEALs would have preferred the news of the hit on Geronimo remained a secret as long as possible, so they could fully exploit the trove of intelligence in the documents, hard drives and other items seized from the compound, he said.
With that opportunity lost, and the work of CIA mythmakers, it is right that the true story be told.
The book is more than just a high-adventure black ops thriller. It is a work of historical importance that sets the record straight about our struggle against forces dedicated to rebuilding an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East.
The author covers a lot of ground: Beirut, the life of Bin Laden, weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, the birth and maturation of al Qaeda and more. It is a book you will read as you walk on the sidewalk because you do not want the action to stop.