Washington: The Central Intelligence Agency’s decision to live-tweet the military operation that culminated in the killing of Osama bin Laden “as if it were happening today” has been criticised as a distasteful “victory lap” and PR exercise.
Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011, after a raid at the Al Qaeda founder’s residence compound in Abbottabad in Pakistan by US Navy Seal commandos.
The series of tweets -- complete with diagrams of the compound that the Al Qaeda leader was killed in -- marked five years since “Operation Neptune Spear”.
The CIA announced to its 1.33 million followers on Twitter that it would be tweeting the raid on Sunday using the hashtag #UBLRaid.
Using the hashtag #UBLRaid, the CIA blasted out updates of the strike as if it was unfolding in real time -- in a highly unusual move for the secretive spy agency.
Tweets included the now famous picture of President Barack Obama and other high-ranking US officials watching matters unfold from the White House’s Situation Room.
"1:51 pm EDT - Helicopters depart from Afghanistan for compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan #UBLRaid," read one tweet.
"3:30 pm EDT - 2 helicopters descend on compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. 1 crashes, but assault continues without delay or injury #UBLRaid," read another.
That was followed just minutes later by: "3:39 pm EDT - Usama Bin Ladin found on third floor and killed #UBLRaid."
The tweet announcing the death of “Usama Bin Ladin” had been retweeted 2,400 times and favourited 1,700 times at time of writing.
The series concluded with praise of the “daring ... team effort”, linking to a “featured story” wrap and a more detailed timeline on the CIA’s website.
The series was met with a mix of flippant jokes -- including the omnipresent “Michael Jordan crying” meme -- and criticism.
"@CIA Are we tweeting Hiroshima on August 6th too? Or is THAT in bad taste?" tweeted one user, Kris Knight.
However, others reacted positively.
"Watching the @CIA relive on Twitter the #UBLRaid today reminds me of how proud I am of the men and women who do what they do. Thank you," tweeted Toby Knapp.
A spokesman defended the tweets in a statement to the ABC in the US, noting that it was not the first time the CIA had marked historical events on social media.
“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,” CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani said.
“On the fifth anniversary, it is appropriate to remember the day and honor all those who had a hand in this achievement.”
Amid the tweetstorm, CIA chief John Brennan warned on Sunday that Al Qaeda remained a threat, and that IS was not just an organization but a "phenomenon".
"We have destroyed a large part of Al-Qaeda. It’s not completely eliminated. So we have to stay focused on what it can do," Brennan told NBC’s "Meet the Press" talk show.
"Now, with the new phenomenon of (IS), this is going to challenge us for years to come," he added.
Asked if removing IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from action was as important as getting Bin Laden, Brennan, who does not often do interviews, was direct.
"If we got Baghdadi, I think it would have a great impact on the organization. And it will be felt by them," he said.