Osama’s satellite phone

· Civil Liberties, Edgewise, Paleoblogs

With so many lies flying around about Bush’s warrantless wiretaps — even the lies have lies — one caught my ear the other day during Bush’s press conference and repeated by 9/11 commissioner Lee Hamilton in an article in today’s Times.
The anecdote (much like Reagan’s false – but – still – believed – to – this – day tales of welfare queens and other colorful folk) asserts that “in the late ’90s” we were tracking Osama bin Laden by his satellite phone but that reports “in the media” or “in the Washington Times” tipped him off and he stopped using it.
Strangely, though, I have a clear memory of being in an airport a year or so into the Afghan war and watching CNN in the lounge when a Republican legislator (a senator, as I recall) bragged that we were tracking bin Laden through the use of his satellite phone. I remember thinking that it was ridiculous to mention this to the media for the exact reason that it would tip off al Qaeda. “Great,” I thought to myself, “now that won’t work anymore.”
So when Bush claims a similar incident happened in “the ’90s” (meaning, I suppose, “not under my watch”), it struck me as strange. If we tipped off bin Laden about tracking his satellite phone back before 9/11, then how was it that we were still tracking him that way in 2003?
Did I remember it all wrong? To be sure I did a little Googling and turned up, among other things, this story from CBS News: Osama’s Satellite Phone Switcheroo | January 21, 2003.
So, we were still tracking bin Laden by his satellite phone as late as 2003. In fact, if anything, we were overrelying on that method, if the CBS story is correct.
OK, that’s one little lie among many big ones but I thought it was worth noting, as a small gesture against the overwhelming wave of outrage fatigue I’ve been feeling lately.
*UPDATE:* Looks like I was right — the story is an urban myth.