Perhaps you read or heard the brief flurry of excited reports: an intelligence expert was saying that, contrary to what the Obama White House told us, Osama bin Laden’s body was not hastily thrown into the ocean last May, but instead was secretly flown by a CIA plane to the US, where it underwent forensic examination.

For those of us who see plenty of holes and inconsistencies in the official government account of the Navy SEAL raid last May that purportedly bagged bin Laden, the new reports were tantalizing.

Tantalizing but untrue. The back story is revealing about the tragic ways in which the public is jerked around: manipulated and lied to both by the government and by irresponsible critics of the government who benefit from selling fear and scandal.


The kerfuffle over Osama’s body got impetus recently when the website WikiLeaks began publishing a vast trove of e-mails from the private US security company Stratfor. They had been obtained by the hacker collective Anonymous and its splinter group Lulzsec.

Quite a few of the e-mails are interesting, but one set stood out. They were from the day after the US raid on a Pakistani compound where, we are told, Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, then flew his body to a ship, whence it was dumped in the ocean.

In the early morning of May 2nd, 2011,Stratfor staffers began sending internal e-mails about the bin Laden news. Most of them were from Fred Burton, Stratfor’s vice president for intelligence.

The first, and the one that got so much interest, contained the provocative subject line

[alpha] Body bound for Dover, DE on CIA plane

followed by:

Than [sic] onward to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Bethesda.


This would have been a big deal for several reasons. If true, this would contradict claims by the White House, State Department and other entities that bin Laden’s body was identified, then dropped into the sea. It would be of particular interest because of Burton’s background and supposed credibility—the very reason, purportedly, that he is employed by Stratfor, and one of the reasons that the company is able to charge hefty fees to private and government clients for its analysis and assumed inside information.

Burton, Stratfor’s Vice President for Intelligence, is touted as one of the world’s top experts on terrorism. According to his bio,

Burton served as a special agent and deputy chief of the counter-terrorism division of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), the arm of the U.S. State Department that protects embassy officials across the globe. In that capacity Burton tracked Libya-linked master terrorist Abu Nidal,  the international terrorist Carlos the Jackal, and directed the capture of RamziYusef, architect of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and pursued the assassins of world leaders like Yitzhak Rabin, Meir Kahane, and General Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq, the president of Pakistan

He’s supposed to have great insider contacts. So, if he writes to his colleagues that bin Laden’s body is being flown to the United States, then presumably he knows something the rest of us do not.

Burton’s email got the attention of websites that routinely claim to have “good sources” or interview those touting their own inside information, and assert that the United States lies about everything. His comment was seized upon as proof that the public story of bin Laden’s demise was a falsehood.

However, cautious or open-minded persons would want to see more corroborating detail. They would wonder how either Burton or other Stratfor execs expanded upon his brief assertion, and whether he confirmed it or corrected the internal record.

Certainly, the claim that the body was bound for Dover, DE on a CIA plane has real specificity. So does the reference to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Bethesda.

On the other hand, this sequence would constitute a kind of routine practice. For example, when CIA officers were killed in a bomb blast in Afghanistan more than a year earlier, their bodies were flown to Dover Air Force Base. You don’t have to be a world-acclaimed terrorism expert to know that if Osama’s body were flown to the US, it would first go to Dover. That’s the preferred place for US government forensic medical examinations of remains coming from abroad—US officials and CIA included.

It’s not surprising that a body like Osama’s would go on a CIA plane, and not surprising that it would end up in Bethesda at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. Except for one thing: that facility was already well into a years-long process of shutting down in May, 2011. (it closed in September)


So, what did Fred Burton know? Nada. It was apparently… call it what you will: speculation, puffery, a bluff.

When one goes through more of the e-mails, one comes upon this one from the afternoon:

FBI (more) on Body




2011-05-02 15:11:03



Down & dirty done, He already sleeps with the fish….

** Fred’s Note: Although I don’t really give a rats ass, it seems to me
that by dropping the corpse in the ocean, the body will come back to haunt
us….gotta be violating some sort of obscure heathen religious rule that
will inflame islam? I was sleeping thru that class at Langley.

The US Govt needs to make body pics available like the MX’s do, with OBL’s
pants pulled down, to shout down the lunatics like Alex Jones and Glenn


What’s so interesting is that Burton does a complete flip and confirms the official story—without ever explaining how he got it wrong to begin with. Nor does he apologize for foisting speculation upon his colleagues in the guise of certitude.

This, of course, is a huge embarrassment for Stratfor. Since the hacker scandal, the company has hunkered down, refusing to answer questions. And, it has sought to distract by offering temporarily free access to its otherwise expensive product.

I contacted Stratfor’s media office for comment; Kyle Rhodes, Public Relations Manager, wrote back to say:

I’ve included our official statement below – we’re not commenting beyond this.

You can read that statement here. It’s a model of deflection and obfuscation.

*** .

The moral of this story is not that the government told the truth, nor that it lied about bin Laden. Many questions still remain about that raid—foremost among them, why the White House falsely claimed that it was possible to get a positive identification of bin Laden in the short time between the raid and the sea burial, and why they have never reconciled highly inconsistent accounts surrounding the whole affair. Other questions would relate to patently ridiculous claims about the raid from on high, including that the SEALs themselves—not military officials nor the president—made the decision to kill bin Laden rather than capture him alive. (Again, you can read about all of this here.)

No, the moral of the story concerns several other things:

-An increasing number of websites and purported news entities thrive by putting out information that is exciting, shocking, controversial—and often wrong.

-The business of claiming to have “inside sources” is akin to that of the old-fashioned medicine show. It is designed to trick others. At WhoWhatWhy, we know, from years of experience, that there are hardly ever real leaks on Top Secret matters that are not authorized—that is, perpetrated with a specific propaganda or policy purpose. They are often not true or are intentionally misleading. The rest of the leaks, when not sanctioned, are usually the result of some “reporter” talking with a braggadocio ex-insider who has had too much to drink and is frustrated by no longer being privy to real secrets. Such “leaks” are just speculation.

-WikiLeaks is not a journalistic enterprise. If it were, it would do actual reporting to verify whether things in the documents it distributes are true. Instead, it seeks to obtain a broad range of material and to publish everything. Some of its “revelations” are true. Some merely document what people have said when they were deliberately lying, either in their own self-interest or in the service of some larger agenda. Sometimes, as in the case of Stratfor, a WikiLeaks document dump happens to include the corrective material as well—though in this case it was not publicized as such.

In fact,WikiLeaks is not that different from hundreds of other sites. The difference is that, thanks to hackers, it does get access to real documents. However, the documents themselves may not be telling us the truth.

And private “establishment” outfits that are gung ho parts of the military-industrial complex, such as Stratfor (and there are many others), should be viewed with great wariness as well.



0 responses to “Body of Evidence: Osama bin Laden, Stratfor, WikiLeaks, and Journalism That Isn’t”

  1. Siusaidh says:

    Can anyone offer actual proof that OBL hasn’t been dead since late 2001?

  2. April M. says:

    One would probably want to inquire as to which corporation held the contracts for forensic pathology &/or death care services at the Dover facility &/or in the foreign country. If SCI ( or subsidiaries)held any contracts, you might want to take a second look.

  3. Jeff Grotke says:

    i doubt seriously that the Bushies would have let Obama get away with claiming they killed him if it wasn’t true. That is one secret that would have come out at the election

  4. Anshah800 says:

    test .. to see whether this comment get posted b4 i air my view on this matter..

  5. Peter Duveen says:

    For a while, I got Stratfor’s newsletter and articles free via email. When the Libya thing came down, Friedman, the head of stratfor, penned an article concluding that the NATO intervention in Libya was indeed for humanitarian reasons. After that, I was no longer inclined to read any Stratfor stuff. Getting that wrong shows that they are a dull blade indeed, or more likely, are deliberately misleading. One must remember that it was Stratfor Columnist Bob Novak quoted in saying in his famous 9/13/01 piece that Israel was the beneficiary of 9-11. That piece was among the very first, if not the first, to cite experts saying that 9-11 was an inside job.

    • Guest says:

      The second part of your post doesn’t appear to follow from the first. In fact, it really doesn’t appear to be related at all, except to the extent that you associate Novak with Stratfor. As for Israel benefitting from 9/11, I should point out that benefitting doesn’t imply culpability. And as far as I can see, there is a preponderance of evidence that 9/11 was certainly at least a LIHOP operation and more likely a MIHOP operation. And the only folks in a position to carry this out would have been elements of the U.S. military.

      What really bothers me is that the suggestion on the part of some researchers that Israel was involved is used by the so-called left gatekeepers to marginalize serious research.

  6. TN says:

    What would be an easy way to “prove” to the public that Bin Laden was shot on that day?

    First, tell the “official story” and use the mainstream media to spread them. So you get the sheeple their story.

    Then, let some “hackers” steal some “confidential” emails and publish them via a “we the people”-website. So the system critics get their “real, true story”.

    What do you need to do something like that? You have to own/control
    – the related government agencies and their contractors like the SEAL team, FBI, CIA, Stratfor, etc (DONE)
    – the mainstream media (DONE),
    – the anonymous hackers (easily DONE)
    – (if you wish) the publishing sites like WikiLeaks (most probably DONE)

    What do you receive? The “prove” that Osama Bin Laden was shot that day.

    • Guest says:

      The only problem I have with your analysis, which is generally quite good, is the suggestion thet Wikileaks is somehow directly involved. Keep in mind that Wikileaks only publishes what it receives from others, after some kind of process of verification. Wikileaks does not go out and look for stories like a normal news organization. Is it being fed slanted or edited info? Perhaps. But don’t blame the messenger if that info is one sided.

  7. Matt Prather says:

    That was pretty good fact-checking where you learned that the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology was nearly completely shut down by this time.

    I’d just point out that MAYBE they had still had sufficient facilities there to take his body in May, if perhaps they kept at least one unit/room/facility there for important pathology. Maybe everyone who works there knows that by May, there was no way they would be called on to handle the bin Laden pathology / examination (and in that case, I would dispose of Burton’s first email as a bunk concoction), but just knowing that it was closed in September is not enough for me to think that Burton was apparently hypothesizing a real-sounding story on the fly (because maybe there was still a good-quality, private, functional medical facility there to handle one high-profile corpse).

    But on the whole, I agree with your point that irresponsible or sensationalistic (my words not yours) news sources are too quick to leap to conclusions, and that discerning investigation usually leads to probabilities and theories and more questions, and surface-level reporting does not usually lead to the sorts of smoking guns that some people like to pretend they publish and that some people like to read.

  8. Matt Prather says:

    Good reporting above.

    Good comments below (below mine).

    …I just came by to drop this off and run, though:

    U.S. Marines waiting for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to speak at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan Wednesday were ordered to leave the room and place their weapons outside. The order to disarm came from Maj. Gen. Mark Gurganus, who commands troops in Helmand province.

    “This is not a big deal,” Gurganus said. But he then added that “you’ve got one of the most important people in the world in the room,” referring to Panetta.  When it was pointed out that this had not been the custom, Gurganus — who is new to the post — replied, “There’s a new sheriff in town.” 

    …edited and underlined by me, to suggest two things.
    1: For whatever valid or invalid reason, they wanted all the rank-and-file soldiers disarmed in the presence of Leon Panetta.
    2: Some of the General’s words can be seen as “globalist”, to some, such as myself. Speculatively, of course.

    Bonus quotation:

    A senior defense official told CNN that Gurganus made the decision to have all coalition troops disarm on Tuesday, but “the order never got passed down the line to the individual units.

    “So, unfortunately, it wasn’t until all the Marines were sitting down Wednesday that anyone realized what the general really wanted. It looked bad. But at that point they needed to comply with the order.”

    edit / postscript:
    Mr. Baker, I notice that here:
    you describe Panetta thus:
    “a man with civilian roots, notwithstanding two mid-60s years as a Lt. in military intel: Former Congressman, Clinton White House budget chief and Chief of Staff, credentials with civil rights and environment movements — a fellow with real distance from the true spook/military mojo.”

    After reading FOS, and considering Panetta’s start in the military and his recent job as DCI… I just can’t see Panetta as a civilian. He looks like a career spook to me, much like GHW Bush was.

    His being Chief of Staff to Clinton seems more like the shadow government keeping tabs on its puppet than civilian service.

  9. Geoffreyjames says:

    Killing a known CIA asset like Bin Laden would set a very bad example around the world for U.S. covert endeavors. Where he is I do not know but the administration did not kill him. I made a bet on 9/11/01 that Bin Laden would never be brought to justice. This is just the seal on that deal.

  10. slowriøt says:

    he got one thing right. alex jones is a joke. 

  11. blueskybigstar says:

    The news media is not covering this.

    CIA Director William Colby: “The Central Intelligence Agency own everyone of any significance in the major media.”

  12. GDNPB says:

    Who would ever believe they would shoot him unarmed and then quickly dumped him in the ocean? the scariest part is the official lies are getting dumber and dumber and the masses never think about or question them. it’s almost like they are coming up with such BS to see how far they can go. I mean heck it took years to get a majority of the population in the US to understand that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11.  good job russ loved FOS get us another book 

  13. jimmmmmy says:

    I doubt Bin Laden had much to do with the U.S. version of 9/11. It smelled life a Saudi operation from the get go. Your article on the curious goings on in Florida adds weight to my suspicions. Interesting article though.

    • Larrypayne says:

       Saudi operation? How in hell did Saudis gain access to plant the explosives in the towers?

      It wasn’t Saudis who insured the towers against terrorism and then attempted to collect double claiming there were two attacks.

      Ask Larry Silverstein why he didn’t show up for breakfast in the towers on 9/11 as he normally did. Ask why his son and daughter also didn’t show up to work in the towers that day.

      Saudis, indeed!

  14. A Fan says:

    Are you sure about Stratfor offering free access to their subscription services? That sounds a lot like a prank email that circulated in which the CEO “resigned” and offered free access.

    “The email proclaims to be an announcement from George Friedman about
    changes to Stratfor services, including making their premium content
    available for free due to the inconvenience of their services being
    unavailable.” [ ]

    • Russ Baker says:

       Yes, I’m sure. In fact, I signed up for the free subscription and have already received newsletters. So far, nothing earthshattering, though.

    • Philip Hingston says:



      I’ve got free access to the “vital” Stratfor services. I even felt privileged until  I realised it was all  propaganda and drivel.

      I now read the headline of their latest “intelligence”, try to work out what the spin is, and then delete them.

      I get enough propaganda already, thanks…

  15. 451_degrees_or_more says:

    Why is Burton’s first email to “alpha” necessarily untrue simply because Burton told the official story to “secure”?  Perhaps Burton is helping to shape the “official” narrative and the strategy to undercut skeptics.
    It seems to me that “closing down” the Pathology destination to a skeleton crew, actually, makes sense given that OBL would be soon arriving.

    Thou doth seem to protest-eth too much.

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