WASHINGTON — The Pentagon and intelligence community aren’t saying much on why the head of U.S. special forces ordered the destruction of photos showing the dead body of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Michael Lumpkin, head of the special operations directorate at the Defense Department, told BuzzFeed on Tuesday he had not spoken to Adm. William McRaven about the incident.
McRaven, who is now head of U.S. Special Operations Command, was the top military officer who helped plan and coordinate the May 2011 Navy SEAL raid that ended with the death of the al-Qaeda leader. Emails showing he ordered the destruction of pictures proving bin Laden’s death were revealed on Monday by Judicial Watch, a legal watchdog. McRaven’s spokesman, Ken McGraw, declined to comment.
Lumpkin said he did not know the pictures were destroyed until news reports surfaced detailing McRaven’s order to purge any photos of bin Laden’s body. He said word of the order to destroy the photos was based “on a single report” that had yet to be verified by other sources.
Lumpkin declined to comment on whether questions as to why U.S. military officials still had possession of photos or material associated with the bin Laden operation, when that material should have been handed over to CIA, could be grounds for a formal inquiry by the Defense Department. The Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office has launched several probes into possible disclosures of sensitive or classified information tied to the raid since 2011.
Judicial Watch obtained the emails under the Freedom of Information Act. It found that less than a week after the bin Laden raid on a compound in Pakistan, McRaven sent a message to unidentified military officials saying all photos of the operation — especially those of the al-Qaeda leader’s corpse — should have been handed over to the CIA.
“If you still have them, destroy them immediately,” he wrote in the May 2011 email, according to The Associated Press.
CIA spokesman Ned Price declined to comment on the bin Laden photos specifically, but told BuzzFeed that any documentation of the special operations raid collected by U.S. military forces were the property of the agency, since the entire operation was under Langley’s control.
Members of the Navy SEAL team that carried out the raid and reportedly took the infamous pictures of bin Laden’s body were “acting under the authority of the CIA” and not the U.S. military, Price added.
Any order issued by McRaven or other top U.S. military leaders to hand over any and all photos, documents, or records of the operation to the CIA “makes perfect sense,” he said.
“[Any] materials associated with the bin Laden raid were handled consistent with the fact that the operation was conducted under the direction of” the intelligence agency, Price added.