As Obama enjoys his victory lap following the death of Osama bin Laden, his unrelenting critics can find grist for their mill in this AP tick-tock of the hunt and eventual raid:
By mid-February, the officials were convinced a "high-value target" was hiding in the compound. President Barack Obama wanted to take action.
"They were confident and their confidence was growing: 'This is different. This intelligence case is different. What we see in this compound is different than anything we've ever seen before,'" John Brennan, the president's top counterterrorism adviser, said Monday. "I was confident that we had the basis to take action."
Options were limited. The compound was in a residential neighborhood in a sovereign country. If Obama ordered an airstrike and bin Laden was not in the compound, it would be a huge diplomatic problem. Even if Obama was right, obliterating the compound might make it nearly impossible to confirm bin Laden's death.
Said Brennan: "The president had to evaluate the strength of that information, and then made what I believe was one of the most gutsiest calls of any president in recent memory."
Obama tapped two dozen members of the Navy's elite SEAL Team Six to carry out a raid with surgical accuracy.
As they explain, bombing an upscale suburb of Islamabad was not a live diplomatic option. That means the choices were a manned raid, or continued dithering while waiting for more intel.
But dithering may not have been an option either - it was just last week that Wikileaks dumped some info that can be pieced together to lead back to the compound in Abbottabad:
Buried in a document from 2008 released by WikiLeaks last week are notes from the interrogation of a Libyan, Abu al-Libi, who had apparently been with Bin Laden in Afghanistan.
According to the document, Libi fled to Peshawar in Pakistan and was living there in 2003 when he was asked to become one of Bin Laden's messengers. The document says: "In July 2003, detainee received a letter from [Bin Laden's] designated courier, Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan, requesting detainee take on the responsibility of collecting donations, organising travel and distributing funds for families in Pakistan. [Bin Laden] stated detainee would be the official messenger between [Bin Laden] and others in Pakistan. In mid-2003, detainee moved his family to Abbottabad (Pakistan) and worked between Abbottabad and Peshawar."
Hmm - one would have presumed that Osama et al had thought through the implications of the al-Libbi capture. Would they really have first learned from WikiLeaks that al-Libbi might have been cooperating with his interrogators? Then again, maybe they had persuaded themselves that the trail back to Osma had gone cold. Still, seeing Osama's home base cited in a CIA memo might have re-opened an old debate at Osama's headquarters and reinforced a faction arguing that it was time to move on.
Tricky. I can imagine that advisors in the White House were very worried that these leaks would prompt the departure of whatever HVT was within the compound. And if it were subsequently leaked that Obama lost an HVT to WikiLeaks while waiting for more intel... one can ony imagine the pressures on the man with the loneliest job in the world.
READING THE BODY LANGUAGE: The Times describes the study of the bombing option:
Mr. Gates was skeptical about a helicopter assault, calling it risky, and instructed military officials to look into aerial bombardment using smart bombs. But a few days later, the officials returned with the news that it would take some 32 bombs of 2,000 pounds each. And how could the American officials be certain that they had killed Bin Laden?
“It would have created a giant crater, and it wouldn’t have given us a body,” said one American intelligence official.
I am just guessing that this option was prepared by a group that favored another course. 32 bombs?
HMM: Per the Times, the name of the courier mentioned by al-Libi was probably false:
After Mr. Libi was captured in May 2005 and turned over to the C.I.A., he too was asked. He denied knowing Mr. Kuwaiti and gave a different name for Bin Laden’s courier, whom he called Maulawi Jan. C.I.A. analysts would never find such a person and eventually concluded that the name was Mr. Libi’s invention, the official recalled.
Yet he gave the right city for his own location.