WASHINGTON, May 2, 2011 — A senior national security official today provided insight into the decision process leading to the raid by U.S. special operations forces that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan yesterday.
John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security, called the attack a defining moment in the war against the terror group that killed 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001. Americans from the Defense Department and the CIA worked together to cut off “the head of the snake known as al-Qaida,” he said during a White House news conference today.
“It is going to have, I think, very important reverberations throughout the area, on the al-Qaida network in that area,” he said. “This is something that we’ve been after for 15 years. It goes back before 9/11.”
Soon after taking office, President Barack Obama ordered the CIA and DOD to find and kill or capture bin Laden. Last year, intelligence indicated the terrorist was holed up in a million dollar compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, –- a well-off suburb of the capital city of Islamabad. Months of relentless examination strengthened that conclusion. The president polled all members of his national security team on whether they felt the intelligence on bin Laden was valid, Brennan said. “That’s what he does,” Brennan said of Obama’s decision-making process. “He goes around the room, and he wants to hear people’s views.”
Intelligence seldom is a sure thing, Brennan said. Often, he explained, evidence is circumstantial and analysts build a case for one action or another. In this case — a unilateral attack well inside a friendly nation — a risk of making the wrong decision exists.
“That’s what the president wanted to know -– as well as the different … courses of action,” Brennan said. “So this was debated across the board, and the president wanted to make sure at the end that he had the views of all the principals.”
On April 29, the president made the decision to go after the al-Qaida leader. The CIA analysts were confident bin Laden was in the compound, Brennan said, and there were many supporters of launching the raid.
“But the president had to look at all the different scenarios, all the different contingencies that are out there,” he said. “What would have been the downside if, in fact, it wasn’t bin Laden? What would have happened if a helicopter went down? So he decided that this is so important to the security of the American people that he was going to go forward with this.”
Brennan said questions remain about how bin Laden could have stayed at the compound as long as he did. “People have been referring to this as ‘hiding in plain sight,’ ” he said. “Clearly, this was something that was considered as a possibility. Pakistan is a large country. We are looking right now at how he was able to hold out there for so long, and whether or not there was any type of support system within Pakistan that allowed him to stay there.”
U.S. officials are talking with the Pakistanis and will pursue all leads on what type of support system and benefactors that bin Laden might have had in the nation.
“I think it’s inconceivable that bin Laden did not have a support system in the country that allowed him to remain there for an extended period of time,” Brennan said. “I am not going to speculate about what type of support he might have had on an official basis inside of Pakistan.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)