Former chief of staff to Donald Rumsfeld tweets ‘reliable person’ telling him of Al-Qa’ida leader’s killing.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Twitter first with news of Osama bin Laden’s death via ex-Bush staffer” was written by Charles Arthur, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 2nd May 2011 08.48 UTC

News of Osama bin Laden’s death was first leaked on Twitter by Keith Urbahn, the former chief of staff for Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary under President George W Bush.

“So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.” he wrote at 10.25pm EST Sunday evening (0325am BST Monday morning).

Urbahn’s “reputable person” may well have been Rumsfeld himself – who in turn may have been tipped off by George W Bush, who was phoned by President Obama with the news ahead of the public announcement.

Urbahn said in a tweet after this story was filed that his source was “a connected network TV news producer”, adding: “Stories about the ‘death of MSM [mainstream media]‘ because of my ‘first’ tweet are greatly exaggerated.”

At the time President Obama was still writing his speech in which he would announce the killing of the US’s most-sought enemy.

Urbahn added “Don’t know if it’s true, but let’s pray it is”. A navy intelligence officer, Urbahn could have had multiple sources, given that the US Navy SEALS force – equivalent to the UK’s SAS – was involved in the attack that killed bin Laden.

The information having leaked out on the social network, it began to be confirmed by sources within the White House, the New York Times reported. President Obama had initially planned to speak at 10.30pm EST (0330 BST) but the announcement was delayed to roughly 11pm, apparently because he was writing and redrafting the speech himself.

The announcement led to an explosion in interest and searching on news websites, causing a bigger spike in the US than the Royal Wedding on Friday. Dave Karow, senior product manager at Keynote Systems, a web monitoring service, told the Venturebeat site that the spike was so large that some news sites were struggling to cope, and seeing their response times slowed so that they took six times longer to respond, or even crashed under the load. Mobile sites were particularly vulnerable, Karow suggested, as people logged in from smartphones wherever they were to read the news.

(Updated with details of Urbahn’s later tweet.)

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