ZERO LIGHT FORTY (OR TWENTY, WHATEVER)
The movie Zero Dark Thirty came out to great acclaim, Hollywood doing its usual job of cheerleading for America's darkest deeds. It's fiction, of course, loosely based on loose facts supplied by a truth-loose Pentagon, and "unauthorized" books whose versions have that sweet tang of the illicit. The Pentagon was damned angry about the unauthorized stuff, you might remember. And it strikes me as rude to make a big-budget Hollywood film of a version of the events that the Pentagon -- which, let's remember, did put its men on the line -- disliked to the point of threatening lawsuits. Still, in the interests of entertaining and entrancing Americans, everyone seems to have put aside their differences.
What I've disliked about the version (well, versions) of the raid that we've all heard is that the facts could fit a quite different story. One fat, prominent, braying fact, ignored far and wide, is that the CIA, in seven months of surveillance, neither saw nor heard bin Laden. By D-Day, the best they could give the leaders were certain odds that he was actually in the house. So I thought I would put together my own version of the event. It wouldn't make such a great movie, now that I think of it, more a good one-act play on the order of Twelve Angry Men. But with regard to the facts, it seems to me more valid than the movie version.
(And just for the record, I reiterate: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.)
(*based on the true facts of an untrue story)
The Rainmaker had worked as a government employee -- he had no illusions about using the term "served" -- for forty-seven years, and had never lost his raw wonder at the blockheads, both the wide- and narrow-eyed, who played the World's Great Game. Watching the bickering at the far end of the table, he resorted to his usual trick to stay awake: with one hand, he took apart a pen -- unscrewed the middle, pulled out the cartridge, pulled off its spring, held all four components parallel and flat in his palm, then put it all back together again. He was not ambidextrous, but with the decades and the long moaning meetings, he could do this with either hand, and so fast that anyone who saw would gasp in amazement -- but he did it under the table.
That's it, children, argue yourselves out, he silently told the scrapping officials. Then you'll be ready for the Voice of Reason. It was what he called his Meeting Rope-a-Dope. And did these people ever need it -- Chip Bookbinder had that one right on the money.
Why? Because the hard-boiled CIA guy up by the screen, laser pointer in hand, was telling the truth and wasn't budging from his position. This vexed the many top officials assembled -- NSA, White House, State, DoD, and sundry emissaries from the far-flung empire of American security -- vexed them just on general principles: in Washington, telling the actual rank truth only showed weakness, and as to budging from a position, well, we all budged eventually. It was just a question of more access, control, or budget. All had been offered, graciously and frankly, and still the CIA guy was sticking to his point like a barnacle to a hull.
That is: here they were, just days away from the scheduled raid on Osama bin Laden's house in Abbottabad, Pakistan -- wavelengths assigned, teams limbered up, choppers gassed -- and CIA was tossing a stick into the churning spokes of America's War on Terror.
Following White House orders, CIA, dubious yet dutiful, had trailed Osama bin Laden's personal courier right to The Man's house in Abbottabad -- all this the previous September. Then CIA -- methodically, delicately, discreetly -- set up surveillance of the house. Cameras in the guise of chunks of cement, arms busted off little dolls, and used condoms gazed without blinking at those four mammoth walls day after day. Listening gadgets beamed microwaves -- from down the street, from across the rooftops, from a hundred miles up in the cold dentist's waiting room of space -- beamed them so long and hard that, as the CIA guy put it, "everyone in the goddamn place should have been turned into roast beef by now."
Yet not a voice-printable peep was heard from Osama -- not so much as an "Anybody seen where I left my glasses?"
Nor had a single glimpse of his six-foot-six frame lumbering past the windows been wrung from the terabytes of video streamed 24/7 over hundreds of days.
Could The Man be that security-conscious, the CIA man's listeners wondered? After all, the compound's inhabitants burned their own trash rather than have it trucked away, lest some street urchin come across The Man's fingerprints on a Pakistani Playboy. The kids shepherded to school each morning never once let slip to classmates anything about Grandpa Osama, causing the White House guy to mutter, "Wish I had staff that reliable." And as bad luck would have it, there was no phone line to tap, though surely the neighbors -- neighbors being neighbors the world over -- all wondered why someone would build two million dollars of bad taste on their street and not put in a phone line.
"And that has led to our considered conclusion," the CIA man had said after his half-hour presentation, "that the subject is not there and never was. The courier -- if indeed he was a courier -- was someone else's."
The room was stunned. The room raised holy hell.