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CIA Director Reveals Intent Was to Kill Bin Laden

Leon PenettaDuring the May 3rd interview of CIA director Leon Penetta by NBC Nightly News’ Brian Williams, Mr. Penetta all but admitted that killing Osama bin Laden was the intent of the mission.

The authorities we have on Bin Laden are to kill him. And that was made clear. But it was also, as part of their rules of engagement, if he suddenly put up his hands and offered to be captured, then– they would have the opportunity, obviously, to capture him. But that opportunity never developed.

The only way that Seal Team Six would have captured Osama is if he dropped to the ground, raised his hands and pleaded for mercy – not OBL’s style.

The interview also discusses the reveal of pictures of Osama’s corpse. As Dir. Penetta says, “The government obviously has been talking about how best to do this, but I don’t think there’s– there was any question that ultimately a photograph would be presented to the public. Obviously I’ve seen those photographs. We’ve analyzed them and there’s no question that it’s Bin Laden.”

Mr. Penetta also makes it clear that the Pakastani government knew nothing of the operation – until the rather impressive sound and fury of an exploding Blackhawk helicopter awoke them. “So I think the only time the Pakistanis found out about it, frankly, was after this mission had taken place. We had to blow the helicopter, as you know, and that probably woke up a lot of people, including the Pakistanis”, said Penetta.

Brian Williams even tries to elevate Obama’s actions above G.W. Bush by asking why we didn’t do this sooner, but Panetta is not sucked in and answers rather honestly.

And why, I’ve heard several people asking, could this same thing have been done at the start of the Iraq war to save the lives of all those souls we had to bury? To– to save all those young Americans from coming home with such grievous injuries in the commission of that war?

*Update 5/4 – President Obama will not allow the release of any photos showing the corpse of Osama bin Laden

Full Interview Transcript:

WILLIAMS:

There is a report as we have this conversation, for the record, 10:36 a.m., that the President, the White House, has decided and, it may already be out, to release a proof of death photo. What light can you shed on this?

PANETTA:

The government obviously has been talking about how best to do this, but I don’t think there’s– there was any question that ultimately a photograph would be presented to the public. Obviously I’ve seen those photographs. We’ve analyzed them and there’s no question that it’s Bin Laden.

WILLIAMS:

Were you debating how the release of a photo would go over, given its gruesomeness, versus the need on behalf of people all over the world to demand proof of death?

PANETTA:

I think there’s no question that there were concerns and there were questions that had to be debated about just exactly question kind of impact– would these photos have. But the bottom line is that, you know, we got Bin Laden and I think we have to reveal to the rest of the world the fact that we were able to get him and kill him.

WILLIAMS:

Is the world safer?

PANETTA:

Brian, I– I don’t think there’s any question that– you know, when you get the number one terrorist in the world that we’re a little safer today than we were when he was alive. But I also don’t think we ought to kid ourselves that killing Osama bin Laden kills al Qaeda. Al Qaeda still remains a threat. They’re still going try to attack our country. And I think we have to continue to be vigilant– and– and continue the effort to ultimately defeat these guys. We’ve damaged them, but we still have to defeat them.

WILLIAMS:

Asked another way perhaps, what does this change?

PANETTA:

I– I think what it– what it represents is that you know, President Bush, President Obama– were very intent on making clear that we were going go after Osama bin Laden. I think soon after I became director of the CIA– President Obama pulled me into the Oval Office and said”: “Look, I just want you to know that your top priority is to go after Osama bin Laden.” I think the fact that we were able to do that– that we were successful in this effort, has sent an important signal to the world that the United States, when it develops a focus on what’s important, what we have to do, we get the job done.

WILLIAMS:

When did the President’s order in this mission become real and go up and become a possibility?

PANETTA:

Well, as you know as we’ve been- debating this issue for a long time. And we had a number of sessions at the White House going over all of the intelligence and all of the approaches as to how we would conduct these operations. But it wasn’t until Thursday morning that the national security advisor called me and said that the President had made a decision to proceed with this operation. And then later that day I received orders signed by the President of the United States to proceed to conduct this operation under Title 50, which means it was a covert operation. And we would be responsible from the President for seeing that this mission was accomplished.

WILLIAMS:

What did the Pakistanis know and when did they know it?

PANETTA:

The Pakistanis did not know anything about this mission. And that was that was deliberate on our part that this would be conducted as a unilateral mission. President Obama had made very clear to the Pakistanis that if we– if we had good evidence as to where Osama bin Laden was located we were going to go in and get him. And– that’s exactly what happened.

So I think the only time the Pakistanis found out about it, frankly, was after this mission had taken place. We had to blow the helicopter, as you know, and that probably woke up a lot of people, including the Pakistanis.

WILLIAMS:

Well, and I ask that because I’m curious as to why, given all the hardware, the garrison, the personnel, it– retired military officers in that immediate area, why weren’t the United States forces fired upon?

PANETTA:

Well, that was obviously a concern that was raised at the time we were considering this operation which was going into this kind of sensitive area with helicopters and SEALs and landing on this compound– would the Pakistanis suddenly respond and you know, try to pin down our forces.

Frankly, we, you know, we considered all of those contingencies. That’s why we had the backup helicopters in place. But the reality was that I think in– in– in going in, I think the military commander felt confident that we would be able to get in and get out, hopefully within 30 to 35 minutes. The fact was that we completed this operation within 40 minutes and we had everybody on their way out of that country. And even at that point, the Pakistanis were not aware of just exactly what had happened.

WILLIAMS:

Did the President’s order read capture or kill or both or just one of those?

PANETTA:

The authorities we have on Bin Laden are to kill him. And that was made clear. But it was also, as part of their rules of engagement, if he suddenly put up his hands and offered to be captured, then– they would have the opportunity, obviously, to capture him. But that opportunity never developed.

WILLIAMS:

And why, I’ve heard several people asking, could this same thing have been done at the start of the Iraq war to save the lives of all those souls we had to bury? To– to save all those young Americans from coming home with such grievous injuries in the commission of that war?

PANETTA:

You know, I believe that Osama bin Laden, obviously, was the– the number one terrorist that we were after and-what he did in attacking this country made him clearly the number one target for us. But the fact was that this has been a long and difficult road. And I don’t believe there was really another opportunity that had been provided to be able to– to pin him down and be able to conduct the kind of operation that we did. I– you know, the bottom line reason that I think the President made the decision to go was that this was the best evidence we had of Bin Laden and where he might be located going back to Tora Bora. And because it was the best evidence we had, even though it was circumstantial, it demanded that we take action.

WILLIAMS:

You see why I’m– I’m asking the– you know, the Iraq war was very personal, very personally about one man. And while reasonable people will debate whether or not it was an elective war of the choices after 9/11, it became about him and this so called single bullet directive by the President, aimed to take out one man that– that of course– in the course of it saved so many Americans. I’m just asking if that could not have been– a route we could have pursued in that war?

PANETTA:

Well, you know, I– I guess there’ll be a lot of second guessing as to what could or could not have been the case, but I think the reality was that even though I’m sure a lot of people wanted to get Bin Laden from the very beginning, we just did not have the same opportunity to do it as we had within these last few days.

WILLIAMS:

I’d like to ask you about the sourcing on the intel that ultimately led to this successful attack. Can you confirm that it was– as a result of water boarding that we learned what we needed to learn to go after Bin Laden?

PANETTA:

You know, Brian, in the intelligence business you work from a lot of sources of information and that was true here. We had a multiple source– a multiple series of– sources that provided information with regards to the situation. Clearly some of it came from detainees and the interrogation of detainees but we also had information from other sources as well. From Sigent intelligence, from imagery, from other sources that we had– assets on the ground. And it was a combination of all of that that ultimately we were able to put together that led us to that compound. So– it’s– it’s a little difficult to say it was due just to one source of information that we got.

WILLIAMS:

Turned around the other way, are you denying that water boarding was, in part, among the tactics used to extract the intelligence that led to this successful mission?

PANETTA:

No, I think some of the detainees clearly were, you know, they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees. But I’m also saying that, you know, the debate about whether– whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always going to be an open question.

WILLIAMS:

So finer point, one final time, enhanced interrogation techniques, which has always been kind of a handy euphemism in these post-9/11 years.

PANETTA:

Right.

WILLIAMS:

includes water boarding?

PANETTA:

That’s correct.

WILLIAMS:

How often did the desert raid circa Carter administration, how often did Black Hawk Down in Somalia rattle around your heads, rattle around the room as you sat during the planning stages?

PANETTA:

Well, that was clearly part of the debate. You know, this– this was a risky mission. There were a lot of risks and a lot of uncertainties. We had, you know, the bottom line was this. That we had the best intelligence– on the location of Bin Laden– since Tora Bora. That that– that presented an obligation to act. And the President obviously felt that we had that obligation to act.

What course we would take, whether we would use an assault– the way we did or whether we would try other methods was also debated. And when we came down to considering the assault, the risks of having helicopters go down, the risks of suddenly being in battle with the Pakistanis or having a serious incident there, all of that was discussed.

And we all knew that that was– that was part of– the risks involved here. But the President, to his credit, made the decision that we had to go. And I think we had great confidence in the capability of these SEAL teams who conduct these operations two and three times a night in Afghanistan. We had tremendous confidence that they could get the job done.

WILLIAMS:

Related subject regarding at least, a world figure. Director Panetta, do you have any proof since Saturday night that Muammar Khaddafy is alive?

PANETTA:

Do I have any proof that he is alive?

WILLIAMS:

Yes.

PANETTA:

Is that what you’re asking, Brian?

WILLIAMS:

Yes.

PANETTA:

I– at least– best intelligence we have is that he’s still alive.

WILLIAMS:

So there’s been– there’s been a sighting, a communication by him? You have positive proof of life?

PANETTA:

It– best intelligence we have on Khaddafy is that– he is– he is still alive.

WILLIAMS:

And finally, a question on Pakistan. How do you relate to them now? How do you go to them and say, “I understand that in the most important– military operation that’ll probably be conducted in your soil in modern times we didn’t inform you in advance. We regard you as a trusted ally though you have broken our trust in the past.” How do you go forward from here?

PANETTA:

We– we have to go forward with the– the Pakistanis. The reality is that we continue to confront our enemy in their country. We conduct operations against that enemy and their country. They have provided cooperation with regards to that effort to go after those terrorists. At the same time, obviously– there– there are questions. And there are complications that we have to work through with the Pakistanis.

And the bottom line here is that they were clearly told that if we had Bin Laden, if we knew where he was, we were going to go in and get him. And actually, when– when– when we revealed to them that this operation had taken place, interestingly enough, the first comment from them was congratulations. So they knew very well what we intended to do.

And, hopefully, we can continue to work with them, because the reality is that in that part of the world we have to have Pakistan’s cooperation in dealing not just with the issue of terrorism in their country, but dealing with the issue of how we find peace in Afghanistan.

WILLIAMS:

And I lied about the last question. One more was just handed to me. A statement from overseas reads simply, “Pakistan has family members of Osama bin Laden in custody.” Is that true?

PANETTA:

That’s correct. The family members who were at the compound and were left there by our– our– our forces– our understanding is that the Pakistanis now have– have them in– in their detention. And frankly, we have asked access to those individuals so we can continue to gather intelligence. And the word we go back from the Pakistanis is that we would have that access.

WILLIAMS:

What do you think they have for you? What’s the value to the U.S., potentially?

PANETTA:

You know, Brian, we have– we’ve gotten an awful lot of– of– potential intelligence out of this operation, beyond just going after the number one terrorist. The reality is that we picked up an awful lot of information there at the compound. If you combine that with the ability to continue questioning the family, this could– this could give us a lot of valuable information regarding threats, regarding the location of other high value targets and regarding the kind of operations that we need to conduct against these terrorists. So this was– this was an important effort, not only because we got the number one terrorist, but because of the intelligence information that we got from this operation.

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