ABC’s planned docudrama The Path to 9/11 contains numerous inaccuracies and misrepresentations. Here’s another one.
On the second night of Path to 9/11, a CIA analyst makes the following complaint:
Besides, ever since the Washington Post disclosed that we intercepted his calls, UBL [Usama bin Laden] stopped using phones altogether. He’s using couriers now, like they did a thousand years ago.
This isn’t true on a number of levels. First, as Daniel Benjamin makes clear, the publication at issue is the Washington Times:
Here’s what happened: On Aug. 21, 1998, the Washington Times, the capital’s unabashedly conservative newspaper, which regularly breaks more intelligence-related stories than any other daily, ran an article saying that Bin Laden “keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones.” This occurred less than two weeks after the destruction of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam by al-Qaida and the day after the United States had bombed al-Qaida targets in Afghanistan and Sudan. After that report, Bin Laden stopped using his phone and let his aides do the calling. This story is recounted in both The Age of Sacred Terror (2002), which I co-wrote with my National Security Council colleague Steven Simon, and the 9/11 Commission Report.
Not only is the scene inconsistent with the 9/11 commission report, it’s perpetuating an urban myth. Actually, “Bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone had already been widely reported by August 1998, and he stopped using it within days of a cruise missile attack on his training camps in Afghanistan.”
Why was it included anyway? One explanation: it is frequently cited by right-wing politicians “seeking to impose greater restrictions on the news media.” This is a film that doesn’t let the facts get in the way of its agenda.