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tv   The Ed Show  MSNBC  May 3, 2012 8:00pm-9:00pm PDT

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each of us have something different to bring to the table. i really enjoy that. >> missouri state representative, zach wyatt, gets tonight's last word. thanks for >> good evening, americans. "the ed show" is taking the night off to show you brian williams and his exclusive look at what happened inside the white house situation room the night osama bin laden was killed. enjoy the show. we'll be back tomorrow night. tonight on "rock center," from the chair the president was sitting in when this photo was taken, from this very room, television cameras are inside the white house situation room for the very first time as we look back on the death of osama bin laden.
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>> we had been preparing for months. we had seen mock-ups of the compound. we had looked at helicopter flight patterns. >> the president said, it's a go. and we looked at him. he said, it's a go. >> you know, in that situation, you just, you do some praying. >> what were you watching? >> we were able to monitor in realtime what was taking place. >> the mood was tense. >> we could see the helicopters, we could see our guys moving. >> when we saw the helicopter spinning, we said, that's not the plan. >> we were all holding our breath. >> and everyone went like, whoa. >> we thought about if there was a failure here, it would have disastrous consequences. >> when we got the message that they had killed bin laden, it wasn't over. >> the only thing that i was thinking about was, i really want to get those guys back home safe. this was the longest 40 minutes
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of my life. >> good evening. we are one floor below ground level here in the west wing of the white house. and we are about to take television news cameras inside the white house situation room for the first time in its history. we're here tonight entering this room to talk about this photograph, taken in this room a year ago, and the decisions and the military action that resulted in the death of osama bin laden. >> good evening. tonight, i can report to the american people and to the world that the united states has can conducted an operation that killed osama bin laden, the leader of al qaeda. >> usa! usa! usa! usa! >> reporter: the news came out of nowhere. no one in this country was expecting it, just as no one inside the bin laden compound
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was expecting u.s. navy s.e.a.l.s to arrive by helicopter. one image from that night has come to symbolize the mission. the photograph taken at the height of the raid, by veteran white house photographer pete sousa. >> here it is. >> uh-huh. >> there you are. >> here i am, sitting right there. >> that's an intense look on your face. and everyone is intently watching on that screen. >> this is -- if i'm not mistaken, pete, this picture was taken right as the helicopter was having some problems. but you may not remember. >> i can't say for sure. >> that's what it feels like, because i remember hillary putting her hand over her mouth at that point. >> when you look at it -- >> yeah. >> what does it conjure up inside you? >> well, that's the way i usually look when my husband drags me to an action movie. it was just an extraordinary experience, and a great privilege to be part of. >> when you see it now, what
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comes back? >> we were all just really concentrating. our entire focus was on listening to the play-by-play. as you can see, the president is sitting right behind me, and i remember turning and looking, and it was just this. no emotion. >> what comes to mind first? is it a sensation? is it a memory? >> it's just tension, more than anything else. it was just tension. and there's no other way to describe it. >> reporter: the picture was actually years in the making. when he was president, bill clinton spent 75 cruise missiles trying to kill bin laden. then after 9/11, president george w. bush vowed to hunt him down. >> and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon. >> reporter: and back when he was a candidate, barack obama pledged to step up the mission.
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>> we will kill bin laden, we will crush al qaeda. that has to be our biggest national security priority. >> the focus for this administration was on getting bin laden. that was a piece of unfinished business that went to the honor, as well as the security of our country. >> reporter: leon panetta was cia director back in the summer of 2010 when the first big break materialized. the cia tracked a man believed to be bin laden's courier to a walled off compound in abatabad, pakistan. satellites parked above the compound revealed another figure, a man taking walks in the courtyard. they gave him a nickname, the pacer. but the information was never good enough to know if it was bin laden. >> ultimately, it was a 50/50 proposition as to whether this was bin laden. >> reporter: still, it was the best intelligence breakthrough since the u.s. came close to bin laden but lost him in tora bora back in 2001.
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>> when the intel community began to pick up information, and when they began to get more of a sense that maybe there was something there, at first it was only within the white house. i was brought in in january and then we began these intensive meetings. >> reporter: a series of top-secret meetings started up inside the situation room, the sit room, as it's known in white house parlance. at one of those meetings last year, admiral william mccraven, the head of joint special operations compound, outlined a possible raid on the suspected bin laden compound. >> i had 100% faith in the navy s.e.a.l.s themselves. you know, bill mccraven, the head of special forces, had worked with us for months to think through every possible scenario. he's a guy who inspires a lot of confidence. and he's a no-nonsense guy. >> i remember the moment in the sit room, someone said, well, you know, this sounds really dangerous, that we're going to
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expose our guys and what do we know is going to happen? and he said, you know, with all due respect, we've done this hundreds of times. >> reporter: the planning picked up speed and by april 21st of last year, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff at the time, admiral mike mullen, attend address rehearsal with a team of navy s.e.a.l.s at a mock compound they'd set up in the nevada desert. >> i met that night, every single member, on the night of the rehearsal, every single member that was on that mission, and i got to look each of them in the eye. they showed me in their execution of rehearsal and also in that steely eyed glare that they give you that they were ready to go. >> did they suspect anything when the chairman of the joint chiefs came to watch them practice and drill? >> i never asked that question. i certainly suspect that they did. >> when did they learn, exactly, what their mission was and who their target was? >> actually, you'd have to ask bill mccraven that.
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but they're not idiots. i mean, they knew, certainly, how critical this was. they knew who they were and who they were working with. >> reporter: one week after the rehearsal, the launch window opened up, a favorable forecast and a moonless night, essential for an attack by air. they knew it could be months before the next opportunity. on thursday, april 28th, the president gathered the small core of planners in the situation room to debate the choices one last time. you had a couple of options. do nothing, an air raid with no evidence of after-action, no proof of death, or this. you were against this mission as they launched it, correct? >> well, as i pointed out early on, there was no consensus. the president got us all done in the situation room and he said, okay, basically roll call. >> what was your vote? >> my recommendation was to go forward. >> and why would you recommend that over others in the group?
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>> i felt the risk was manageable. the evidence, to me, was compelling enough to take the risk. i thought that we could get them in and get them out no matter what happened. whether he was there or not. >> reporter: secretary of defense, robert gates, recommended an air strike with no forces inserted on the ground. cia director panetta supported a raid by special forces. so did secretary of state clinton. vice president biden wanted to wait on further proof that bin laden was indeed there. how contentious did it get among members of your team? there was not consensus. >> it was never contentious, because i think everybody understood both the pros and the cons of action. there were doubts that were voiced inside the situation room, but they weren't doubts that were going through my own head. people who were advocating action understood that if this
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did not work, if we proved to be wrong, there would be severe geopolitical consequences and obviously most importantly, we might be putting our brave navy s.e.a.l.s in danger. >> reporter: at the meeting, the president did the not indicate which way he was leaning. >> as we're walking out, and we walked up together, as we walked out of the room, he said, you know, it's time to make a decision. i know it sounds -- the president's all alone. all alone. >> reporter: the president said he'd have an answer for the team in the morning. he walked back to the residence portion of the white house, had dinner with his family, and then went to his study after they went to bed. how does one spend that night, knowing that decision is due in the morning? >> well, there's no doubt that you don't sleep as much that evening, as you do on a normal night. you know, i stayed up late and i woke up early. you know, by that point, though,
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i felt as if i had examined every aspect of the operation. we had been preparing for months now. at that point, you have some serenity in knowing that you've made the best possible decision that you can and, you know, in that situation, you do some praying. >> in a moment, the president reaches a decision and then is forced to give the appearance of business as usual. >> you know, the correspondents' dinner was a different story. that was a little bit of acting going on there, because my mind was elsewhere. friday morning, april 29th, y of how a shipping giant can befriend a forest may seem like the stuff of fairy tales. but if you take away the faces on the trees... take away the pixie dust. take away the singing animals, and the storybook narrator... [ man ] you're left with more electric trucks.
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friday morning, april 29th, marine one was idling on the the
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south lawn, preparing to take the president on a first leg of a trip to survey the extensive tornado damage in tuscaloosa, alabama. before walking out the door to the helicopter, in a scene that was captured by the white house photographer, the president met with four members of his staff. chief of staff bill daley, national security adviser tom donilon, his deputy, denis mcdonough, and counterterrorism chief, john brennan. they were that morning the four most important irishmen on this side of the atlantic. so judging by this photo, we are all approximately in our positions, if i play the part of bill daley, the president the not here, it is 8:20 a.m. how is it you knew to be here with the president that morning? >> we had arranged to meet with him here prior to his going to tuscaloosa, alabama, to get his final decision. >> and he was touring storm damage, so he's in casual clothing. his ride is idling out the back
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door. he comes to you, stands in this grouping and says what to the best of your recollection? >> my recollection is that he said, it's a go. we're going to do the assault, we're going to do the raid, complete the orders, and let's go. >> i recall being here that morning, working up some briefing points for him, and i think tom started in and the president said, it's a go. and we looked at him and he said, it's a go, let's get it going. >> i think this was just the last check. because as tom said, he had made up his mind overnight, told us it was a go, and we then had to implement his direction. >> once the president had made that decision, we knew instantly what our timeline was and what was going to move and when it was going to move. and admiral mccraven would just check in and say, here's where we are with in the timeline and this is -- and basically, in that execution, and his feed back, i could tell that it was
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being well executed. >> did you seek anyone's counsel? >> i didn't. and the reason was because this had to be such a close hold operation. there were only a handful of staff in the white house who knew about this. the majority of my senior staff didn't know about it. my secretary didn't know about it. my personal aide didn't know about it. >> the first lady? >> the first lady didn't know about it. >> your husband didn't know? >> no. >> mrs. obama didn't know. these are big-time washington diplomatic security secrets? >> yes. this was such an important secret to keep, no one in the state department knew, same, i think, except for those with
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need-to-know in the pentagon or the cia and certainly the white house. so i just felt a personal responsibility to keep it close, but that meant that i was basically having to consult with myself, to be honest. >> reporter: keeping this secret also meant going on about the business of the presidency, touring that awful storm damage in alabama, while knowing at that very moment u.s. navy s.e.a.l.s were already on the move, halfway around the world. you had to go to tuscaloosa. >> yeah. >> you had to go have fun at the correspondents' dinner. seth myers makes a joke about osama bin laden. >> people think bin laden is hiding in the hindu kush, but did you know that every day from 4:00 to 5:00, he hosts a show on c-span? >> how do you keep an even keel, even when we look back on the videotape of that night, there's no real depiction that there's something afoot. >> you know, when i go down to tuscaloosa, i'm very much present there, because the tragedy and the devastation that
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had happened to the folks there, i think, consumed all my attention. so that wasn't difficult to focus on. you know, the correspondents' dinner was a different story. you know, that was a little bit of acting going on there, because my mind was elsewhere. >> i ran into many friends and acquaintances that night who subsequently remarked after the fact that -- pretty good poker player. he didn't give anything out. >> we didn't want to have any sense, anywhere that something was up. that we had had any sort of mass cancellations with respect to the dinner. i did run into one correspondent who said, you're leaving? you're leaving early. where are you going? and i said, i got this thing tomorrow. >> i can't remember if you went to that correspondents' dinner, but here's the president going to tuscaloosa, the correspondents' dinner, you have to laugh it up. you've got to live a little bit of a lie for the public good. >> well, that's exactly true.
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i did not go. i had one of chelsea's friends got married, i went to the wedding, i went to the reception. i was at the reception and it was so ironic. you know, all these smart, young people who work in all kinds of enterprises, one of them came up and said, do you think we'll ever get bin laden? i said, i don't know. i have no way of knowing. but i can tell you this, we will keep trying. and i thought, so i'm leaving now. >> and simultaneously seth myers at the hilton is making a bin laden joke. >> i know it! and really, i got home, i couldn't sleep, i couldn't sleep the next night. i mean, it was -- and i don't have trouble sleeping, but those were two tough days. >> it's almost, in a sport, you've taken the shot. and now you don't know yet whether the shot's going to go in or not. >> reporter: in a moment, they've taken the shot, and then something goes wrong. >> when we saw the helicopter
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on sunday morning, may 1st of last year, at 11:00 a.m., members of the national security team started arriving in the situation room for what they knew would be a long haul. the navy s.e.a.l.s were waiting for nightfall to launch the attack, and everyone knew a mistake at this stage of the game would mean scrubbing the mission. and so nothing, including the provisions for the situation room, was left to chance. is it true you ate costco food, as to not draw any attention, and multiple pizzerias were
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contacted, as to prevent any one large order from drawing attention to the gathering? mr. mcdonough, can you confirm those food details? >> as a big fan of costco, i can confirm that we did eat costco that night. and frankly, throughout the day. >> did we declassify that? >> we -- that's a good question. that's a good question, boss. >> reporter: the president played golf that morning. nine holes on the grounds of nearby andrews air force base. back at the white house at 2:00 p.m., he headed downstairs to join the others in the situation room. this is the lower hallway, the part nobody gets to see of the house where you get to live and work. and you have, you have worn a path to the situation room. i saw these. this is unbelievable. these are the -- >> these are the folks. >> this is the drama -- >> as it was unfolding. >> of that night. >> yep. >> all of the different scenes
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and vignettes. >> yep. >> i mean, when you see it now, i would imagine that was as tight as things ever get in this building? >> it was tense. it was a tough night, but i tell you, everybody operated just the way you'd hope they operated. we're going into the situation room. >> so they open it for you? >> once in a while. >> reporter: upon entering the situation room, everyone has to surrender their electronics. they're placed in a metal-lined wooden box that was once a cigar humidor. it's a bright but sparse series of rooms with low ceilings and suede-covered walls for sound insulation. and in every room, digital clocks read out the time zones, including the president's location at any given moment. that sunday at 2:30 p.m. eastern time, the situation room was notified the first wave of helicopters was wheels up from jalalabad in afghanistan en
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route to the bin laden compound over the border in pakistan. they were carrying navy s.e.a.l.s, a pakistani-american translator, and a trained military dog named cairo. >> the mood was tense, but it was one that was for all intents and purposes, because of the president's decision, it was out of our hands. so it was up to those great professionals in our military to execute this mission. >> they were accustomed to operating in the dark. they were accustomed to landing in compounds where they weren't sure what was behind closed doors. these guys were all trained to do that. and a lot of them had as much gray hair as you and me. and you know, if you had passed them on the street, you might have -- and if they were in civilian clothes, you might have thought they were accountants or doctors or, you know, worked at home depot, you wouldn't know. >> reporter: on the big monitor,
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admiral mccraven, the head of special operations, appeared from afghanistan, while leon panetta appeared from cia headquarters nearby in langley, virginia. the two men provided a kind of split-screen play-by-play narration of the mission as it unfolded. the president has always sat here at the head of the table. there's no mistaking that. and that day, as the meeting went on, as all of the participants were watching the video screen at the other end of the room, at one point the president got up from here, went out here, into the small lobby of the situation room, and then turned left into this small conference room, a room that was never built for as many people as ended up in here that day. the president took his chair in the corner. all the other participants filled in, and here's what they were watching. it's a room with two flat screen tvs. in one of them was the incoming video feed, live from a drone parked above that compound in
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abadabad, showing the military action in progress. what made you come up and get in here? >> what happened was, we were monitoring the situation in there, but most of the information was being fed from this room. and once the helicopters had taken off, it was going to be several minutes before they actually started approaching the compound. i mean, we're talking about a fairly long flight. and the question was, mr. president, do you want to just wait in here and we'll keep you updated, give you an update. and i said, no, i'd actually like to be where it is we're getting that information realtime, which was right next door. i said, i don't know about you guys, i'm going to come in here and let's make sure that we know exactly what's going on. >> reporter: in that small conference room, in the big chair, at the head of the table, beneath the presidential seal, the president himself found air force general brad webb, who was
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receiving and translating more information on the mission. as an experienced combat veteran in that region, webb was a good man to have at the table. >> he started to get up, and people were starting to go through the protocol and figuring out how to rearrange things. i said, you don't worry about it. you just focus on what you're doing. i'm sure we can find a chair and i'll sit right next to you. that's how i ended up in this folding chair. >> what were you watching? >> we were able to monitor in realtime what was taking place. >> the visualization that we were able to see on the screen in that small sit room, you know, was certainly somewhat hazy, but totally intelligible to us. >> reporter: in the immediate air space over the compound, the blackhawks were on final approach to landing and then trouble. one of the helicopters crashed, up and over a stone wall. the mishap was blamed on a bad downdraft and unusually warm surface temperatures, which affect lift and maneuverability. the mission was off to a tense
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start. >> and so what you see there is the very first thing that was needed to happen, in order for the mission to be a success, as we were told, didn't happen. that helicopter didn't make it in the right spot. and everyone went like, whoa. >> the plan was very precise in terms of how they were going to approach the compound and how guys were going to be lowered into the compound. when we saw the helicopter spinning the way it was, we said, that's not the plan. >> you're watching drone video, you can see a flash, you can see there's been an event. the reporters stop turning. >> right, right. >> so you're worried about the s.e.a.l.s on the choppers. >> right. it was just the shock of the moment. all of us sitting there, and i would even predict our military and defense colleagues, for may
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know were kind of holding that breath again. >> when we come back, a mission in jeopardy is brought back on track. >> mccraven apparently didn't change his style of speech. he said, we've amended the mission, didn't miss a beat. >> did not miss a beat. he is a cool customer. d it's very affordable. it was very delicious. could you please taste car insurance y? is one is much more expensive. ugh. it's really bad. let's s what you picked. oh, geico! over their competitor. you are a magician right? no., oh. you're not?, no., oh, well, give it a shot i am so, sorry. it was this close. living with the pain of moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis... could mean living with joint damage. help stop the damage before it stops you with humira. for many adults with moderate to severe ra, humira's proven to help relieve pain and stop joint damage.
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the navy s.e.a.l.s swooped in, they knew they didn't want to spend more than about 40 minutes on the ground in the compound. they also knew they just lost a potential ride out of there.
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while there were three other choppers, one of their best had crashed and was a total loss. >> the most concerning part of the whole operation was with when we saw the helicopter not landing the way it was supposed to. and that was a touch-and-go moment. >> we were all holding our breath waiting for word as to whether we were going to get our guys out safely. >> reporter: for at least one elder statesman in that picture that day, this picture dredged up an awful but always present reminder of desert one, the failed attempt to rescue the iranian hostages back in 1980, when eight u.s. special operators were killed. >> bob gates, who in that photo was off to my left, bob gates had been in that same room when desert one happened, so my first glance was at him. >> if this had failed in spectacular fashion, it would have blown up your presidency, i think by all estimates, would have been your waterloo. and perhaps your watergate, consumed with hearings and inquiries.
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how thick did the specter of gym where i carter, desert one, hang in the air here? >> you know, i thought of it. but i will tell you that there are moments in your presidency where you really do put politics aside. certainly, we thought about the fact that if there was a failure here, it would have disastrous consequences for me politically. we knew the examples of the carter presidency, and we understood what happened there. but i tell you, the only thing that i was thinking about, throughout this entire enterprise was, i really want to get those guys back home safe. >> reporter: as they watch the attack play out from the situation room, they could see the blackhawk pilot had managed a kind of controlled crash landing, but still that helicopter was the first casualty of the mission, and we
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latered learned it wasn't just any helicopter. when the first pictures of the wreckage emerged hours later, aviation websites went wild. this, it turns out, was the stealth version of the blackhawk the u.s. had been rumored to be developing for years, designed for near-silent, invisible operation. in the coming days, neighborhood children were seen picking through the pieces of what just hours earlier had been among the mighty u.s. military's best-kept secrets. back inside the situation room, listening to admiral mccraven's play-by-play of the mission, you'd never know something had gone wrong. >> that room had tremendous confidence, because, indeed, the officer commanding this operation, admiral mccraven, didn't have a change in innotation in his voice. >> mccraven apparently didn't change his style of speech. he said, we've amended the
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mission, didn't miss a beat. >> did not miss a beat. he is a cool customer. >> reporter: but right then, another wrinkle. one of bin laden's neighbors was up and watching all the action, and he just happened to be an enthusiastic twitter user who in his own way broke the news of the raid to the wider world via the twitter verse. "helicopter coveringcovering abbottabad is a rare event." >> you're watching this and a guy is on twitter saying, hey, you don't often see these kinds of flashes and helicopter tract here at abadabad here at 1:00 in the morning. unbelievable, but it happened. >> yes. people were making up. you know, this was in a
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neighborhood. this was not isolated with, you know, hundreds of acres around it. there were other houses nearby. and people were starting to come out on to their roofs. they were trying to figure out what was happening. >> reporter: the president knew the 40-minute timer on the commando operation on the ground was running down. >> at this point, i think all of us understand that we're a long way to go before the night is done. and, you know, i've said, this was the longest 40 minutes of my life. >> we could see the helicopters, we could see the disembarking from the helicopters. we could see our guys moving. it was an intense experience for all of us, because it was realtime, visually, until we lost the visual connection inside the building. >> reporter: as the s.e.a.l.s worked their way to the top of the staircase, a firefighter was underway. finally the people in the situation room heard the pre-arranged s.e.a.l. team code name for osama bin laden,
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geronimo. >> we knew that was the call sign, and when we heard that they felt they had identified geronimo, that was the first moment. and then geronimo, kia. >> reporter: kia, killed in action. after more than a decade of efforts to find him, osama bin laden was believed to be dead. >> when that call went out, you know, that was certainly the team's view that they had successfully captured or killed him. and as best they could tell, he was the right guy. >> now, you say "capture or kill," everybody does. were you really going to capture this guy? >> absolutely. >> and what, put him in the back of a blackhawk? >> absolutely. and you know, there had been provisions made for that outcome. >> but we also understood that
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it was not likely that he was going to be giving himself up in that way and that there was a strong possibility that he would end up being killed if, in fact, he was in the compound. >> let's be very blunt about the bottom line job description of those on this team. there is one guy walking around this country who put a laser site spot in the middle of his forehead and pulled the trigger. >> when i talked to the team about that, specifically, their response is, we all did it. >> but there was one guy who put a laser site on his forehead and pulled the trigger. and he knows it was his m-4 or whatever weapon they were using. >> they will tell you they all did it. >> when we got the message that they believed they had killed bin laden, it wasn't over, even though that was an amazing sense of, for me, satisfaction. i'll just be very honest with you. i mean, i felt like that was absolutely the right thing to have happened.
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>> reporter: the s.e.a.l.s wrapped up bin laden's body and gathered his computers and papers. before they left, they tried to destroy that crippled stealth helicopter with grenades designed to burn up the secret electronics on board, but they didn't destroy everything. back in the situation room, it got even more tense as they knew this was the tricky part, flying out over pakistan after launching a spectacular attack, and then getting safely back into afghan airspace. and during all of it, vice president biden was nervously holding on to a rosary ring. >> during all this period, i'm going like this with the rosary, and it got to the point where we knew the mission had been successful in that bin laden was on board. but then it was an hour flight back. and before they get to the border, i go like this, to put it back in my pocket. and i feel a tap on my shoulder -- >> i leaned down and i said, mr. vice president, not yet. keep it going.
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because as important as killing -- capturing or killing bin laden was, it was more important to get them out. and so we were a long way, even as we got bin laden, his body in that helicopter, we were a long way from completing that mission at that point. >> is a finger rosary, a rosary ring, part of military planning officially? >> no. no. >> reporter: finally, the s.e.a.l. team landed safely in afghanistan. they sent graphic photos back to confirm the dead man in their possession was bin laden. how'd that feel to look at that image? >> um, you know, it, uh, i think it's wrong to say that i did a high five, because you have a picture of a dead body, but understanding the satisfaction for the american people, what it would mean for 9/11 families, what it would mean for the
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children of folks who died in the twin towers, who never got to know their parents, i think there was a deep-seated satisfaction for the country at that moment. >> wasn't so much a high-five moment as a kind of looking around and just feeling together as almost one body that, okay, it's over. >> reporter: in a moment, the exhausted team inside the situation room must now go about the careful business of telling the rest of the world. >> proud of you. your guys did a great job. >> they did. training depends on technology. and when it takes a battery, there are athletes everywhere who trust duracell. they rely on copper to go for the gold. duracell. trusted everywhere. omnipotent of opportunity. you know how to mix business...
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this is rare videotape that was captured by white house staff members. it shows what happened after the president and his team left the situation room. >> good job, national security team. >> thank you. >> yeah. i'm proud of you. your guys did a great job. >> they did. >> relief and congratulations were brief, because there was another round of work to be done. revealing the secret had to be handled carefully. what's it like to call pakistan and say, we just flew 50 guys into your country, out of your country, we're out of your air space, we took out bin laden, who was living in your midst? >> we were concerned about this from the start. what made it easier from my perspective was, they were on notice. since 2007 when i was campaigning for this office, i had said that if we get bin laden in our sights, we're going to go after him. i had repeated that to pakistanis face to face.
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>> a process begins where you have to start calling presidents, domestic, foreign, committee chairs, cabinet members, all the people you wouldn't want to read about it in the paper the next day. >> we began to do exactly as you described, create the list, who was going to call who. obviously, the president called former presidents, asked me where to find my husband. >> really? >> because bill didn't know anything. i hadn't talked to anybody about it. so the first he heard was when president obama called him. >> you placed a call to george w. bush xliii whose on watch the attack happened. what was that like? >> i think it was an important symbol of who we are as a people. we get into these partisan fights, administrations come and go, but there's a certain continuity about who we are and what we care about and what our values are. >> reporter: at roughly the same time, and as we learn here for
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the first time, admiral mullen had to call his pakistani military counterpart about those pieces left from the crash stealth helicopter and how important that wreckage was to the united states. how much did you worry that it was going end to up in the wrong hands? >> well, a great deal. i called general kiani in pakistan. i felt obligated to let him know what happened. and then part of that conversation was about the helicopter. and i said, we need that back. >> a friend of mine in the military said, 48 hours after that explosion, we expected pieces of that tail to be arriving in china for their full inspection. >> well, i'm not going to comment on that. >> i figured you wouldn't. >> yeah. >> reporter: for the president, who hadn't been able to breathe a word of this to his own family, near the end of the day, he gets a chance to check in his wife and daughters. the first lady, she's at dinner? >> she's at dinner and i let her know that, you know, i'm
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probably going to miss dinner because i got a few other things going on tonight. it turns out we had a fairly important thing to announce. >> and then it came time to explain it to your young daughters. >> yeah. malia and sasha, i think, were too young to fully absorb 9/11. on the other hand, they've grown like all our children have grown up in the shadow of 9/11 and terrorism and understood who osama bin laden was. >> the reason i'm calling is to tell you we killed -- >> reporter: deep inside the white house, even as the calls were going out and a speech was being finalized, something unexpected started to erupt within earshot, just outside the white house gates. >> as we are walking out, on my way to make the formal announcement. people had already begun to gather, because the news had begun trickling out, spontaneously. and at first, i didn't
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understand, what's that noise going on? >> we could hear this roar. we had no idea what it was. and then all of a sudden we were able to decipher, usa! usa! usa! >> usa! usa! usa! >> it was an -- just an astonishing moment. >> and somebody says, well, you know, throngs of people have started to gather outside the fence and they're waving american flags and they're cheering. >> and that, i think, is, again, was a reminder of what this meant to the country and how important it would be. >> it is obvious they, the white house, wants to call attention on this crowning achievement, militarily. how will you know if it's turning to politics? >> i do worry a great deal that this time of year, that somehow this gets spun into election politics. i can assure you that those individuals who risked their lives, the last thing in the
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world that they'd want is to be spun into that. so i'm hoping that that doesn't happen. >> you got him, but what did it get you? what did it get us? are we demonstrably safer? we've had setbacks, vis-a-vis, our military with desecration, with the burning of the koran, unforced errors. what's the net effect end result now that you have a year's clarity behind you? >> even before we got bin laden, we had al qaeda on its heels. and by getting bin laden, we capped off that two-year campaign. that was important, that makes us safer. did it completely diminish all risk of terrorism? absolutely not. but all told, a year later, are we better off?
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are we safer because we got bin laden? absolutely. >> and i also think it sent a message, brian, to the whole world. you attack americans, innocent americans, we will follow you to the gates of hell. and i think it sends an incredibly strong message about our capacity and about our will. >> of all the things you've witnessed in your official life, where does this the day rank? >> it was both a professional responsibility that i had, as secretary of state, and it was personally so important to me. you know, i was, you know, at ground zero the next day. and i will never forget what it was like flying over that and watching those burning hulks and knowing all the bodies that were buried there. so it -- it is probably the most impactful combination of
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personal and professional responsibility that i've ever had. >> reporter: back home, days later, the president got to meet the s.e.a.l.s who had conducted themselves so brilliantly and with characteristic modesty, including the veteran pilot whose expertly controlled crash landing prevented disaster and saved all the s.e.a.l.s on board his helicopter. >> i will tell you, when i saw that pilot, i gave him a pretty good hug. >> what was it like for you to get to know them and to see them? >> yeah, great guys. they presented me with the flag that had gone on that mission, signed by all of them on the back. and i think it's fair to say, that will probably be the most important possession that i leave with from this presidency. >> the most important day of your presidency? >> most important single day of my presidency.
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the most intense concentrated day that i've had as president of the united states. >> one more note before we leave you. in compiling this story, everyone we spoke to, from the president of the united states on down mentioned repeatedly the most important component of all this, of course, and that would be the special operators. the people at the other end of the line, at the other end of the orders, who carry out the orders, and we will likely never know their identities. that's the way they operate. for all of us who put this broadcast together, thank you for being with us from the situation room. [ donovan ] i hit a wall. and i thought "i can't do this, it's just too hard." then there was a moment. when i decided to find a way to keep going. go for olympic gold and go to college too.
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