The Hersh Story: Fantasies, Falsehoods and a Forewarning

November 10, 2009

Dr. Shireen M. Mazari

hershISLAMABAD, Pakistan— In Bob Woodward’s book, “Bush at War”, he recalls how when he (Woodward) quoted Hersh to Bush, the latter replied that Seymour Hersh was a liar! Hersh’s article “Defending the Arsenal” in The New Yorker (November 16, 2009) has predictably caused a stir in Pakistan. But this always happens after the event; after foreign journalists have been given excessive access into the corridors of power in Pakistan. So it has been with Hersh. Now the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) claims Hersh has a well-known “anti-Pakistan” bias. If that is the case, then did the MFA give an official perspective on how much access Hersh should have been given in Pakistan? Did they advise the President to avoid meeting this man or did they give any official brief to the President on what to say to him on sensitive issues? Clearly, the Zardari meeting with Hersh has no reflection of the MFA or any official Pakistani position. Instead, there is a reflection of ignorance with the President declaring that our army officers are “British-trained”!

However, leaving aside these minor issues, there are two aspects that reflect the speculative and often factually incorrect nature of the piece. First, let us look at some of the inaccuracies, if not outright falsehoods. The manner in which Hersh has dealt with Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and his claims that Pakistan and the US began sensitive nuclear cooperation, reveal a preconceived mindset. The author set out to make certain points and then sought mostly unidentified sources to prove his point! This is evident because the largest single interview cited is of “Colonel Imam” whom Hersh describes as “the archetype of the disillusioned Pakistani officer”! Now anyone who knows Col Imam knows he is a maverick, with his own idiosyncratic perspective and is certainly not typical of even disillusioned army officers – although how many of those Hersh has actually met is also questionable.

But for Hersh, Imam provides a logical development to his other theory, that it is not so much a Taliban seizure of the Pakistani nukes that is worrisome to the Americans but the fear of a “mutiny” within the army with extremists believing in the Hizbul Tahrir goal of setting up a Caliphate taking control of some nuclear assets or even diverting a warhead. Talk about being far fetched given that there is no history of mutiny in the army and the organisational interest is always supreme. Also, to a large extent the prevailing culture within the army reflects, to a large extent, the leadership at any given time. Also to assume that extremism is rampant in the military because generals no longer serve alcohol to visiting journalists is a bit ridiculous. I had argued on this point long and hard with Hersh after his last visit to Pakistan, when we met abroad, but clearly when a point has to be made, it will be made despite evidence to the contrary and no matter how fanciful the “proof”!

On the nuclear security agreement also, some claims are debatable at least. For instance, he describes Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine as being based on a de-mating of the warheads from their triggers. This is absolutely false and nowhere has the military ever claimed this either in any reference to doctrine. In fact, the weapons are not de-mated at all but are simply not on hair trigger alert – which they do not need to be on in any case. So if his source of information is so incorrect, many of the other assumptions are also subject to doubt. For instance his claim, and he cites a former US intelligence officer to prove his point, that the Pakistanis gave the US a virtual look at such sensitive information as number of warheads, some locations, and so on is bizarre since even within the nuclear community this knowledge is not known except by very few. As for giving them information about command and control, Pakistan is one of the few countries that has put out a detailed explanation of its command and control structure in the public space. So what one can assume is the intelligence officer is confusing the briefing given to some journalists – foreign and Pakistani – about command and control, the programme and so on as a “virtual look”! That briefing is impressive and on seeking an explanation to the Hersh claim from SPD (Strategic Plans Division), the answer was that this is the only briefing that could have created the false impression.

Coming to the Mullen news conference of 4th May where Hersh claims the Admiral spoke openly about increased cooperation on nuclear security between the US, Mullen did note that the US had worked with the Pakistanis to improve the security of their nuclear arsenal. Of course even this limited access to the US military is too much from the point of view of our arsenal’s security, but it does not imply “highly sensitive understanding” of the US “with the Pakistani military”. There is also little proof that ongoing consultations on nuclear security between Washington and Islamabad intensified after Obama’s Af-Pak policy – especially since the Af-Pak idea got a cold reception in Islamabad. Finally, the most far-fetched claim, citing an American official, in Hersh’s piece is that the army is controlled by the Punjabis who cannot get along with the Pushtuns, so somehow that creates a simmering undercurrent within the military, creating a veritable goldmine for mutiny! He really needs to look more carefully into the Pakistan army and its composition as well as its culture.

Moving on from the actual factual inaccuracies, even falsehoods, to an equally important issue raised by the article is the question of access. Why do we allow these people so much access in this country – right from the President down? President Musharraf talks openly of the supposedly secret tunnels and so on. Others are equally prone to spilling their guts out to inquisitive foreign journalists. Why? And why must we abuse each other through these journalists? Incidentally, this time round Hersh did not seek the official version from the MFA; nor did he seek an interview with General Kidwai of SPD. He told me Hersh had sought access but could not get it, but on checking I found he did not send in any written request.

Finally, a most disturbing aspect of the piece – and also the most threatening, is his description of what the US plans are for Pakistan’s nukes. That is what the game is all about – a unilateral US plan to have a force in Pakistan to attempt to take out the triggers and thereby decapitate the nukes. Is that why we are seeing so many covert US personnel coming into Pakistan? There is no deal; but there is a threatening unilateral US agenda. That Hersh has explained most vividly!



  1. Momeens are such cretins that they do not hesitate to quote even bush-2 their enemy no one to prove their point when required.

  2. I think army os fully capable of securing our nuclear assets … Gen Tariq CJCS today categorically stated that the US knows nothing about pak nukes and I don’t think a couple of hundred Americans will be able to take over our nuclear arsenal that easily.

  3. This is information warfare.

  4. Hersh’s article is all speculations and has no meat or merit. I think he was expecting free Johnnie Walker from “gora lovers” which he did not get.

    However, comments about Zaid Hamid and Dr Israr brought smile on my face.

    Keep it up Zaid Hamid, the idea of caliphate really burns their bacon.

    Original article here

  5. I truely believe in the revolutionary ideology of both Dr. Israr Ahmad and Zaid Hamid. I pray to Allah for their success and security. May Allah grant them progress and success, two figures who think outside the sphere of their selves, for the Nation and for Islam.

    Hersh mentioned both and it actually reflects the fears of revolution within the army, the way he is describing the “serving of juice and tea” in his article.

    Pakistan Zindabad and Paindabad.

  6. WTF????

  7. somebody give this guy a jonnie walker…. 🙂

    good article by shireen mazari, but i have to disagree on some points she made in the end…..she implies that Musharraf is very happily disseminating classified information, but if u look at the article, he is simply saying that the weapons are in underground tunnels so deep that they can withstand a nuclear attack – translation : ‘we have nukes and there isn’t shit you can do about it’. And there is nothing classified about saying that the nukes are in underground facilites, i mean, thats probably an SOP for all nuclear armed nations. Another point i wanna make with respect to Mazari’s article is that she is questioning why is hersh being given access to high level officals in the government…. The answer is, i think, in Mazari’s article itself….Hersh deliberatly didn’t contact the SPD so that he could concoct a false story….had the SPD known what Hersh was up to, i think it would certainly have forced him to contact them, in order to ensure the record is set straight. People like Hersh are blackmailers and if for example you are a high level figure but refuse to meet Hersh, he will just replace you with some ‘unnamed source close to so-and-so’. So its better to confront such people otherwise you just make it easier for them to stab you in the back. However, its true that Zardari shud be made to shutup, and shud be kept away from all journalists, not just Hersh 🙂

  8. Hersh is the person who wrote that it was Dic Cheeney whose group killed Benazeer.

    This is how these western journalists create a lobby and so also they get inroads.

    We Muslims ignore Allah’s Commandment as stated in Ayah 120 of Surah Baqarah.

    I request all Muslims to read it with translation pl.

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