Last night, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor and senior administration officials held a conference call to brief reporters on the details of the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. A transcript follows.
PRESS BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS ON THE KILLING OF OSAMA BIN LADEN
12:03 A.M. EDT
MR. VIETOR: Thank you, everyone, for joining us, especially so
late. We wanted to get you on the line quickly with some senior
administration officials to talk about the operation today regarding
Osama bin Laden. And with that I'll turn it over to our first senior
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks for joining us, everybody,
at this late hour. It's much appreciated. From the outset of the
administration, the President has placed the highest priority in
protecting the nation from the threat of terrorism. In line with this,
we have pursued an intensified, targeted, and global effort to degrade
and defeat al Qaeda. Included in this effort has been a relentless set
of steps that we've taken to locate and bring Osama bin Laden to
justice. Indeed, in the earliest days of the administration, the
President formally instructed the intelligence community and his
counterterrorism advisors to make the pursuit of Osama bin Laden, as the
leader of al Qaeda, as a top priority.
In the beginning of September of last year, the CIA began to work
with the President on a set of assessments that led it to believe that
in fact it was possible that Osama bin Laden may be located at a
compound in Pakistan. By mid-February, through a series of intensive
meetings at the White House and with the President, we had determined
there was a sound intelligence basis for pursuing this in an aggressive
way and developing courses of action to pursue Osama bin Laden at this
In the middle of March, the President began a series of National
Security Council meetings that he chaired to pursue again the
intelligence basis and to develop courses of action to bring justice to
Osama bin Laden. Indeed, by my count, the President chaired no fewer
than five National Security Council meetings on the topic from the
middle of March -- March 14th, March 29th, April 12th, April 19th, and
April 28th. And the President gave the final order to pursue the
operation that he announced to the nation tonight on the morning --
Friday morning of April 29th.
The President mentioned tonight that the pursuit of Osama bin Laden
and the defeat of al Qaeda has been a bipartisan exercise in this
nation since September 11, 2001, and indeed, this evening before he
spoke to the nation, President Obama did speak to President Bush 43 and
President Clinton this evening to review with them the events of today
and to preview his statement to the nation tonight.
And with that, I'll turn it over to my colleague to go through some of the details. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As you heard, the President
ordered a raid earlier today against an al Qaeda compound in Abbottabad,
Pakistan. Based on intelligence collection analysis, a small U.S. team
found Osama bin Laden living in a large home on a secured compound in
an affluent suburb of Islamabad. The raid occurred in the early morning
hours in Pakistan and accomplished its objective. Osama bin Laden is
now no longer a threat to America.
This remarkable achievement could not have happened without
persistent effort and careful planning over many years. Our national
security professionals did a superb job. They deserve tremendous credit
for serving justice to Osama bin Laden.
Bin Laden was a sworn enemy of the United States and a danger to
all humanity; a man who called for the murder of any American anywhere
on Earth. His death is central to the President's goal of disrupting,
dismantling, and ultimately defeating al Qaeda and its violent allies.
He was responsible for killing thousands of innocent men and women not
only on 9/11, but in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombing, the attack of
the USS Cole, and many other acts of brutality.
He was the leader of a violent extremist movement with affiliates
across the globe that had taken up arms against the United States and
its allies. Bin Laden's most influential role has been to designate the
United States as al Qaeda's primary target and to maintain
organizational focus on that objective. This strategic objective, which
was first made in a 1996 declaration of jihad against Americans, was
the cornerstone of bin Laden's message.
Since 9/11, multiple agencies within our intelligence community
have worked tirelessly to track down bin Laden, knowing that his removal
from al Qaeda would strike a crippling blow to the organization and its
militant allies. And last September the President was made aware of a
compound in Abbottabad, where a key al Qaeda facilitator appeared to be
harboring a high-value target. He received regular intelligence
updates, as was just mentioned, on the compound in September, and he
directed that action be taken as soon as he concluded that the
intelligence case was sufficiently strong. A range of options for
achieving the mission were developed, and on Friday he authorized the
Now I'll turn it to my colleagues to go through the intelligence.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. First I want to point
out that today's success was a team effort. It was a model of really
seamless collaboration across our government. Since 9/11, this is what
the American people have expected of us, and today, in this critical
operation, we were able to finally deliver.
The operation itself was the culmination of years of careful and
highly advanced intelligence work. Officers from the CIA, the NGA, the
NSA all worked very hard as a team to analyze and pinpoint this
compound. Together they applied their very unique expertise and
capabilities to America's most vexing intelligence problem, where to
find bin Laden.
When the case had been made that this was a critical target, we
began to prepare this mission in conjunction with the U.S. military. In
the end, it was the matchless skill and courage of these Americans that
secured this triumph for our country and the world. I'm very proud of
the entire team that worked on this operation, and am very thankful to
the President for the courage that he displayed in making the decision
to proceed with this operation.
With that, let me turn to my colleague to give you details on the intelligence background.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. The bottom line of our
collection and our analysis was that we had high confidence that the
compound harbored a high-value terrorist target. The experts who worked
this issue for years assessed that there was a strong probability that
the terrorist that was hiding there was Osama bin Laden.
What I'd like to do is walk you through the key points in that
intelligence trail that led us to that conclusion. From the time that
we first recognized bin Laden as a threat, the CIA gathered leads on
individuals in bin Laden's inner circle, including his personal
couriers. Detainees in the post-9/11 period flagged for us individuals
who may have been providing direct support to bin Laden and his deputy,
Zawahiri, after their escape from Afghanistan.
One courier in particular had our constant attention. Detainees
gave us his nom de guerre or his nickname and identified him as both a
protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of September 11th, and
a trusted assistant of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the former number three of
al Qaeda who was captured in 2005.
Detainees also identified this man as one of the few al Qaeda
couriers trusted by bin Laden. They indicated he might be living with
and protecting bin Laden. But for years, we were unable to identify his
true name or his location.
Four years ago, we uncovered his identity, and for operational
reasons, I can't go into details about his name or how we identified
him, but about two years ago, after months of persistent effort, we
identified areas in Pakistan where the courier and his brother operated.
Still we were unable to pinpoint exactly where they lived, due to
extensive operational security on their part. The fact that they were
being so careful reinforced our belief that we were on the right track.
Then in August 2010, we found their residence, a compound in
Abbottabad, Pakistan, a town about 35 miles north of Islamabad. The
area is relatively affluent, with lots of retired military. It's also
insolated from the natural disasters and terrorist attacks that have
afflicted other parts of Pakistan. When we saw the compound where the
brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw -- an extraordinarily
unique compound. The compound sits on a large plot of land in an area
that was relatively secluded when it was built. It is roughly eight
times larger than the other homes in the area.
When the compound was built in 2005, it was on the outskirts of the
town center, at the end of a narrow dirt road. In the last six years,
some residential homes have been built nearby. The physical security
measures of the compound are extraordinary. It has 12- to 18-foot walls
topped with barbed wire. Internal wall sections -- internal walls
sectioned off different portions of the compound to provide extra
privacy. Access to the compound is restricted by two security gates,
and the residents of the compound burn their trash, unlike their
neighbors, who put the trash out for collection.
The main structure, a three-story building, has few windows facing
the outside of the compound. A terrace on the third floor has a
seven-foot wall privacy -- has a seven-foot privacy wall.
It's also noteworthy that the property is valued at approximately
$1 million but has no telephone or Internet service connected to it.
The brothers had no explainable source of wealth.
Intelligence analysts concluded that this compound was custom built
to hide someone of significance. We soon learned that more people were
living at the compound than the two brothers and their families. A
third family lived there -- one whose size and whose makeup matched the
bin Laden family members that we believed most likely to be with Osama
bin Laden. Our best assessment, based on a large body of reporting from
multiple sources, was that bin Laden was living there with several
family members, including his youngest wife.
Everything we saw -- the extremely elaborate operational security,
the brothers' background and their behavior, and the location and the
design of the compound itself was perfectly consistent with what our
experts expected bin Laden's hideout to look like. Keep in mind that
two of bin Laden's gatekeepers, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj
al-Libbi, were arrested in the settled areas of Pakistan.
Our analysts looked at this from every angle, considering carefully who
other than bin Laden could be at the compound. We conducted red team
exercises and other forms of alternative analysis to check our work. No
other candidate fit the bill as well as bin Laden did.
So the final conclusion, from an intelligence standpoint, was twofold.
We had high confidence that a high-value target was being harbored by
the brothers on the compound, and we assessed that there was a strong
probability that that person was Osama bin Laden.
Now let me turn it over to my colleague.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. Earlier this afternoon, a
small U.S. team conducted a helicopter raid on the compound.
Considerable planning helped prepare our operators for this very complex
mission. Senior officials have been involved in the decision-making
and planning for this operation for months, and briefed the President
regularly. My colleague has already mentioned the unusual
characteristics of this compound. Each of these, including the high
walls, security features, suburban location, and proximity to Islamabad
made this an especially dangerous operation.
The men who executed this mission accepted this risk, practiced to
minimize those risks, and understood the importance of the target to the
national security of the United States.
I know you understand that I can't and won't get into many details of
this mission, but I'll share what I can. This operation was a surgical
raid by a small team designed to minimize collateral damage and to pose
as little risk as possible to non-combatants on the compound or to
Pakistani civilians in the neighborhood.
Our team was on the compound for under 40 minutes and did not encounter
any local authorities while performing the raid. In addition to Osama
bin Laden, three adult males were killed in the raid. We believe two
were the couriers and the third was bin Laden's adult son.
There were several women and children at the compound. One woman was
killed when she was used as a shield by a male combatant. Two other
women were injured.
During the raid, we lost one helicopter due to mechanical failure. The
aircraft was destroyed by the crew and the assault force and crew
members boarded the remaining aircraft to exit the compound. All
non-combatants were moved safely away from the compound before the
That's all I have at this time. I'll turn it back to my colleague.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We shared our intelligence on this bin
Laden compound with no other country, including Pakistan. That was for
one reason and one reason alone: We believed it was essential to the
security of the operation and our personnel. In fact, only a very small
group of people inside our own government knew of this operation in
Shortly after the raid, U.S. officials contacted senior Pakistani
leaders to brief them on the intent and the results of the raid. We
have also contacted a number of our close allies and partners throughout
Sine 9/11, the United States has made it clear to Pakistan that we would
pursue bin Laden wherever he might be. Pakistan has long understood
that we are at war with al Qaeda. The United States had a legal and
moral obligation to act on the information it had.
And let me emphasize that great care was taken to ensure operational
success, minimize the possibility of non-combatant casualties, and to
adhere to American and international law in carrying out the mission.
I should note that in the wake of this operation, there may be a
heightened threat to the homeland and to U.S. citizens and facilities
abroad. Al Qaeda operatives and sympathizers may try to respond
violently to avenge bin Laden's death, and other terrorist leaders may
try to accelerate their efforts to strike the United States. But the
United States is taking every possible precaution to protect Americans
here at home and overseas. The State Department has sent guidance to
embassies worldwide and a travel advisory has been issued for Pakistan.
And without a doubt, the United States will continue to face terrorist
threats. The United States will continue to fight those threats. We
have always understood that this fight would be a marathon and not a
There's also no doubt that the death of Osama bin Laden marks the single
greatest victory in the U.S.-led campaign to disrupt, dismantle, and
defeat al Qaeda. It is a major and essential step in bringing about al
Qaeda's eventual destruction.
Bin Laden was al Qaeda's only (inaudible) commander in its 22-year
history, and was largely responsible for the organization's mystique,
its attraction among violent jihadists, and its focus on America as a
terrorist target. As the only al Qaeda leader whose authority was
universally respected, he also maintained his cohesion, and his likely
successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is far less charismatic and not as well
respected within the organization, according to comments from several
captured al Qaeda leaders. He probably will have difficulty maintaining
the loyalty of bin Laden's largely Gulf Arab followers.
Although al Qaeda may not fragment immediately, the loss of bin Laden
puts the group on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse.
And finally, it's important to note that it is most fitting that
bin Laden's death comes at a time of great movement towards freedom and
democracy that is sweeping the Arab world. He stood in direct
opposition to what the greatest men and women throughout the Middle East
and North Africa are risking their lives for: individual rights and
MR. VIETOR: With that we're ready to take a couple questions.
Q One question. You said "a small U.S. team." Were these military personnel, can you say, or non-military?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Can't go into further details at this time; just a small U.S. team.
Q Good morning. Can you tell us specifically what contact there was
with bin Laden at the compound? You referred to someone using a woman
as a shield that was not bin Laden. But how was he killed? Where?
What occurred at the compound?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As the President said this evening, bin
Laden was killed in a firefight as our operators came onto the
Q Thank you. Just to go back to what you were talking about with the
attacks in response to this operation, are you hearing any specific
threats against specific targets?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. But any type of event like this,
it is very prudent for us to take measures so that we can ensure that
the security measures that we need to institute here and throughout the
world are in place. This is just something that we normally would do.
We don't have any specific threats at this time related to this. But we
are ensuring that every possible precaution is taken in advance.
Q Yes, hey, how are you doing? My question would be, what was the
type of the helicopter that failed? And what was the nature of that
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Can't go into details at this time.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We didn't say it was mechanical.
Q Was bin Laden involved in firing himself or defending himself? And then any chronology of the raid itself?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He did resist the assault force. And he was killed in a firefight.
Q Thank you. Thank you for taking this call. Can you give me a
comment on the very fact that Osama bin Laden was just in Islamabad --
and has long been (inaudible) Afghanistan (inaudible) also from India,
that Osama bin Laden is hiding somewhere near Islamabad? What does it
signify, that? Does it signify any cooperation or any kind of link that
he had with establishments in Pakistan?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As the President said, Pakistani
cooperation had assisted in this lead, as we pursued it. So we're
continuing to work this issue right now. We are very concerned about --
that he was inside of Pakistan, but this is something that we're going
to continue to work with the Pakistani government on.
Q But the very fact you didn't inform the Pakistani authorities --
did you have any suspicion that if you informed them, the information
might lead somewhere?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: An operation like this that is
conducted has the utmost operational security attached to it. I said
that we had shared this information with no other country, and that a
very, very small group of individuals within the United States
government was aware of this. That is for operational security
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would also just add to that that
President Obama, over a period of several years now, has repeatedly made
it clear that if we had actionable intelligence about Osama bin Laden's
whereabouts, we would act. So President Obama has been very clear in
delivering that message publicly over a period of years. And that's
what led President Obama to order this operation. When he determined
that the intelligence was actionable and the intelligence case was
sufficient, he gave us high confidence that bin Laden indeed was at the
Q Thank you. What is going to happen next? And what is the U.S. going to do with bin Laden's body?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are ensuring that it is handled in
accordance with Islamic practice and tradition. This is something that
we take very seriously. And so therefore this is being handled in an
MR. VIETOR: Great, thanks. Just to remind everyone, this call is on
background, as senior administration officials. We have time for one
more question, and we're going to go to bed.
Q Do you have a sense of the vintage of the compound and how long bin Laden had been there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The compound has been in existence for
roughly five years, but we don't know how long bin Laden lived there.
We assess that the compound was built for the purpose of harboring him.
But again, don't know how long he's been there.
MR. VIETOR: Great, thank you all. We'll talk more tomorrow.
Taegan D. Goddard is the founder of Political Wire, one of the earliest and most influential political web sites.
Goddard spent more than a decade as managing director and chief operating officer of a prominent investment firm in New York City. Previously, he was a policy adviser to a U.S. Senator and Governor.
Goddard is also co-author of You
Won - Now What? (Scribner, 1998), a political
management book hailed by prominent journalists and politicians from
both parties. In addition, Goddard's essays on politics and public
policy have appeared in dozens of newspapers across the country,
including the Washington Post, USA Today, Boston Globe, San Francisco
Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer and Christian Science
Goddard earned degrees from Vassar College and Harvard University. He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.
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