How a White House Flickr Fail Outed Bin Laden Hunter 'CIA John'

What do we know and why do we know it? The story behind the revelation of a top spy hunter's identity and why we decided not to publish it.

Mr. Young is an entertaining man to talk to. Though his views have the ring of conspiracy theories, they are also fairly spellbinding. For instance, he regaled us with his suspicion that the C.I.A. knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts long before killing him, but held off as a way to keep the budgetary spigot flowing to the military and intelligence communities. “We’ve had a war going on for 11 years now, and that’s just a standard rationale for billions in military expenditures. It’s a matter of deciding when you want to kill that golden goose that’s kept the military going for more than a decade.”

“I don’t have an opinion on that,” a senior counterterrorism official said sharply, when presented with the theory. “My personal opinion is that if we could have found him a week after 9/11, we would have been happy to do that.”

Mr. Young seems habitually inclined to see a nefarious plot behind most any incident, but at least it’s a plot—with shadowy, all-powerful figures pulling the strings, controlling the flow of information, paternalistically guarding the nation’s secrets and carefully maintaining their grip on power.

That may be a frightening notion, but it’s also a reassuring one—at least compared with the other possibility: that there are actual bad guys out there, that they really can take down a building or two if they set their minds to it, and that sometimes, purely by accident, the clean-cut suburban dad dedicated to hunting them down is put in mortal danger purely by mistake, by a collection of bumbling bureaucrats who just want a little credit when things go their way.

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Additional reporting by Brian Thomas Gallagher.