NYT Osama bin Laden Investigation Shines a Light on Pakistani Reporter

Long before Seymour Hersh, there was a May 12, 2011 item by Aamir Latif.

Philip Balboni, chief executive of website GlobalPost, tells Jonathan Mahler that he did not have the resources to properly publicize the May 12, 2011 item “Bin Laden Raid: Neighbors Say Pakistan Knew.” But thanks to Mahler’s feature in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine about the media and book narratives surrounding the killing of Osama bin Laden, a great deal of attention is now going to be focused on that item.

AamirLatifPicThe biggest revelation with regards to this aspect of Mahler’s footwork is that the GlobalPost dispatch was filed by Aamir Latif (pictured), a veteran reporter who chose to keep his name and byline off the article:

Balboni put me in touch with Latif, a 41-year-old Pakistani journalist. Latif, a former foreign correspondent for U.S. News and World Report, told me that he traveled to Abbottabad the day after bin Laden was killed and reported there for a couple of days. I asked him if he still believed that there was some level of Pakistani awareness of the raid. ‘‘Not awareness,’’ he answered instantly. ‘‘There was coordination and cooperation.’’

Latif, who kept his name off the original post because of the sensitivity of the subject in Pakistan, said that people in the area told him that they heard the U.S. helicopters and that surely the Pakistani military had, too: ‘‘The whole country was awake, only the Pakistani Army was asleep? What does that suggest to you?’’

Latif, who currently heads the Karachi bureau for Pakistani wire service Online News Network, worked for U.S. News & World Report from 2001 to 2008. He can expect a lot of incoming emails in the next few days. From Latif’s report:

Three different [Abbotabad] residents said who they assumed were intelligence officers warned them not to talk to journalists about what they saw on the day bin Laden was killed. They specifically warned the residents not to speak to the foreign press…

“I cannot believe that the Pakistani government and army were not aware of this operation. The whole town was awake. We were calling each other. Even I received calls from Havelian,” Ali, one of the residents, said, referring to a town about 10 miles south of Abbottabad. “How can I believe that the Pakistan army and its Quick Response Force was asleep?”

For the piece, Latif also gathered some very compelling quotes from several fellow journalists. There is another possible scenario. As New York Times North Africa correspondent Carlotta Gall suggests to Mahler, it’s conceivable that the U.S. “alerted Pakistan to the bin Laden operation at the 11th hour.”

[Photo via: International Consortium of Investigative Journalists]