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CIA's Recounting of Bin Laden Raid Gets Mixed Reaction


FILE - A boy plays with a tennis ball in front of Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, May 2011.
FILE - A boy plays with a tennis ball in front of Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, May 2011.

The United States’ ultra-secretive Central Intelligence Agency tweeted the details of an operation that killed a top terrorist leader Sunday, drawing thousands of retweets and likes from apparent supporters while others responded with criticism that ranged from "please don't" to "WTF?"

The terrorist was al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. The operation was the one President Barack Obama approved in May 2011 that involved special operations forces flying helicopters into a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and later dumping bin Laden's body into the sea.

Twitter has been around since 2006, but the CIA is a relative newcomer with an account dating back just two years. The agency's 1,600 tweets usually involve its history, profiles of agents killed in service or public comments from current officials.

But with the fifth anniversary of the bin Laden raid, the CIA announced it would "live" tweet the details as if they were happening again to its 1.3 million followers. Over the course of six hours, the tweets laid out the events that ultimately ended what had been a nearly decade-long search for the man whose organization killed nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001.

The tweets include helicopters departing a base in Afghanistan, a picture of Obama and his top advisers monitoring the situation, bin Laden being shot, special forces flying out of the complex, and the president receiving "high probability" confirmation that the man killed was bin Laden.

"The takedown of bin Laden stands as one of the great intelligence successes of all time. History has been a key element of CIA's social media efforts. On the fifth anniversary, it is appropriate to remember the day and honor all those who had a hand in this achievement," said CIA Spokesperson Ryan Trapani.

"In the past we have done postings to note other historical events including the Glomar operation, Argo, U-2 shootdown, and the evacuation of Saigon,” he added.

For all the support implied by the likes and retweets, many Twitter users were not fans of the CIA's trip back in time.

"This is gross as hell. Please stop this," wrote user @AlexBoardGames. "It's one thing to kill an enemy because you believe it necessary. To revel in it is quite another."

Pamela Dayton (@pameladayton) called the CIA's effort "tacky and inflammatory."

"Don't you all have an actual job to do? Or are you trying to drum up a little anti-American action?" she said.

A user by the name @zippyman818 said the tweets reflected poorly on those who work for the CIA.

"This is unprofessional and not befitting the mission of the agency and it disrespects the serious work done by everyone involved."

Using a common phrase to show displeasure with a Twitter user, Kate Nowak (katherinejnowak) told the CIA it should delete its account.

In fact, Twitter brought the first reports of the Abbottabad raid, even if Sohaib Athar (@ReallyVirtual) did not yet know the extent of what was happening near his home.

"Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)," he posted back in 2011. His tweets reported a "window shaking bang" and the evolution of possible explanations that were being discussed over the course of the hours before Obama made the announcement linking the helicopters to bin Laden.

"Uh oh, now I'm the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it," Athar posted later.

And Monday morning, the man who did in 2011 what the CIA sought to recreate in 2016 added his own critique of the agency's effort, saying the posts amounted to the CIA basically wishing everyone "Happy bin Laden's death."

VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.