Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post deserves today's Diogenes Award--given sporadically to the reporter who shines the light of truth on the myths and lies mouthed by people in power and amplified by a noncritical press--for exposing as "urban myth" the claim that a "leak" that U.S. (non)intelligence agencies were listening in on Osama bin Laden's satellite phone conversations caused him to stop using that form of communication. The Bushbucker-in-Chief made the charge in his press conference Monday morning (12/19/05), while denouncing the New York Times report on NSA spying. The Washington Times published that "leak" on August 21, 1998, and Osama switched off his phone--according to the legend and the Bushbucker-in-Chief. But, Kessler explains, references to Osama's fondness for satellite phones began appearing in 1996 , with sources including the Taliban and Osama himself, and the Washington Times simply referenced that fact as a small part of a long profile on the man. The first story relating specifically that the U.S. had intercepted Osama's phone calls came in the L.A. Times on September 7, after Osama ditched his phone, Kessler said.
Left unsaid is that Osama would have to be flat stupid to believe that no one could listen in on his satellite phone calls--and he's not stupid.
To be fair, the Bushbucker-in-Chief seems merely to have been spouting received wisdom, "urban myth," Kessler calls it, that has appeared in at least one book, in the report of the 9/11 commission, and wherever people who don't bother to research anything, including, presumably, reporters and editors for the Washington Times, are given access to a computer or podium.
Kessler contacted the Bushies, who stood by their man's claim that a leak derailed America's pursuit of Osama by alerting him to danger from his phone. That they do and he does explains as much as anything why Osama bin Laden is still at large and why the Bushies are bogged down in Iraq. The Bushies aren't hunting terrorists with intelligence, with the mental adroitness needed to switch tactics to meet new situations. Flat-footed, ham-fisted, they're battling fear with ignorance.