Media Availability with Secretary Panetta

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - May 1, 2012

Interview with Courtney Kube NBC TV (Pool Producer)

Los Condores Air Base, Chile

Friday, April 27, 2012


            Q:  OK, so it's the one-year anniversary.  Can you express a little bit -- a little bit on that night?  And then also, you know, we've seen this iconic photo with all of these national security leaders.  You weren't there.  Like, tell us a little bit about what you were doing when they were all watching it from the Situation Room.

            SECRETARY LEON PANETTA:  Well, it was a -- it was a Title 50 operation.  And under Title 50, the CIA basically takes kind of operational control.  And the operation center for the whole bin Laden raid was out of the CIA headquarters.  We had set up an operations base there, and we had representatives from the -- from special forces, the SEALs.  They were all located there as we were tracking the operation.  So that's where I was located.  I was basically overseeing it, although I have to tell you, as I've said many times, that, you know, the SEALs and the -- and the people who actually were there and hitting the ground, those were the key people.  Admiral McRaven was there in Pakistan -- or in Afghanistan over viewing the team that was going into Pakistan.  And they were really the ones on the ground who were in charge.  They're the ones that deserve the biggest credit.

            Q:  Everyone in the Situation Room was listening to you basically narrate what was going on, right?

            SEC. PANETTA:  Right.

            Q:  So can you sort of walk through it a little bit?  There was that one moment where apparently, it went silent, when the helicopter went down.  Can you walk through a little bit about that, what you were feeling?

            SEC. PANETTA:  Well, there were, as you can imagine, a number of tense moments going through the operation, just the fact of having those helicopters go in 150 miles into Pakistan and the concern about whether or not they would be detected, and then actually going into the compound when one of the helicopters went down because of the heat coming off the ground.  It was just hotter than anybody had anticipated.  And obviously, that was pretty nerve-wracking.

            But you know, it was nerve-wracking for a lot of us that, you know, were trying to figure out what happens now.  But for -- I have to tell you, for Admiral McRaven and for the SEALs, they just -- they went right to their business and did the operation, and they didn't miss a beat.  And we had -- fortunately, we had a backup helicopter that came in and was able to pick up the people that were there.

            And you know, the next thing was obviously the question about whether or not bin Laden was really there.  We had no specific information that he was actually located there.  All we had was just -- you know, just a lot of circumstantial intelligence and information.  But all of us were kind of holding our breath to find out whether or not he was actually there.  When we got the code word "Geronimo" that that was the case, it was a huge sigh of relief by everybody involved in that.

            And then I think the last moments were trying to get all of the team back to Afghanistan and the concern that, you know, once we had to blow the helicopter and get back on that we would be found out.  And so there was a lot of concern about the ability to get everybody back to Afghanistan.  But we were able to do that, and it was at that point that I think everybody kind of looked at everybody and said, mission accomplished.

            Q:  Was there a cheer or --

            SEC. PANETTA:  Not really.  It was just that we kind of -- we looked at each other, and it was just a great feel of relief, but also a sense that all of the work that had been done by all of those intelligence analysts, by all of the intelligence people working on it, by all of the military special forces, that all of that work had been worthwhile.

            Q:  And you mentioned a point where you heard the "Geronimo," that you -- that they had the target.  But then there was a couple minutes before they said "EKIA," that he was killed.  What happened in those moments?  What was going through your head?

            SEC. PANETTA:  Well, the -- I mean, the biggest concern was, I think, the way -- the way it was expressed is, we think we heard "Geronimo," but there wasn't, you know, that kind of actual confirmation.  But within a few minutes, they said that they had -- they had KIA with "Geronimo" and confirmed that in fact that had happened.  So that was -- that was the moment when we knew that all of the work that had been done was paying off, not only for the people involved, but for America, because I think the one thing all of us feel pretty good about that were involved in this operation is that as a result of what we did, America is safer.

            Q:  Thank you very much.  Thanks, Mr. Secretary.


Media Availability with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta

En Route to Joint Base Andrews

Friday, April 29, 2012


            Q:  OK.  All right.  Well, I'll start.  I guess what I was interested in is, it's been a year since the operation, and could you just talk a little bit about what you think it accomplished and how things have changed over the past year?  And obviously, in terms of -- (inaudible) -- and just other impacts.

            SEC. PANETTA:  Well, you know, I don't think there is a question that America is safer as a result of the bin Laden operation.  And when you combine that with the -- with the other operations that have taken place that have gone after al-Qaida leadership, I think -- I think it really has weakened al-Qaida as an organization, and certainly it has prevented them from having the command-and-control capability to be able to put together an attack similar to 9/11.

            It doesn't mean -- it doesn't mean that they don't remain a threat.  It doesn't mean that, you know, we somehow don't have the responsibility to keep going after them wherever they -- wherever they are, and we are.  But I do think that, you know, if you stand back and look at the kind of threat that they represented going back to 9/11, that I do believe that this country and both the intelligence and military communities, because of the ability to work much -- much more closely together than I think they ever have in the past, that when you combine all of that together, I really do believe that America's safer.

            Q:  Did it have the impact you thought it would?  More?  Less?

            SEC. PANETTA:  You know, I was -- having been involved in the operations even before we did bin Laden, you know, it was clear that there's no -- there's no kind of silver bullet here to suddenly being able to destroy al-Qaida, and that includes even going after bin Laden.  But the way this works is that the more successful we are at taking down those who represent their spiritual and ideological leadership, the greater our ability to weaken their -- their threat to this country and to other countries.

            Q:  Is there anything from the raid that we don't know that you could tell us now?

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