Official: Bin Laden’s Death is ‘Defining Moment’

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)

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