Did the White House watch the Bin Laden raid live via the SEALs’ helmet cams?

posted at 8:34 pm on May 12, 2011 by Allahpundit

I don’t know the answer to this question and neither does anyone else outside the White House, but I’m offering it in hopes that someone might have a more educated guess than mine. In light of the news tonight that the SEALs did, in fact, capture the raid on helmet cams, Drudge is highlighting the fact that Panetta said last week there was a “25-minute blackout” where the White House didn’t know what was going on. Evidence of something shady happening with the video? From what I can tell: Nope. Here’s the quote via the week-old Telegraph piece that Drudge is linking:

In an interview with PBS, Mr Panetta said: “Once those teams went into the compound I can tell you that there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes where we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on. And there were some very tense moments as we were waiting for information.

“We had some observation of the approach there, but we did not have direct flow of information as to the actual conduct of the operation itself as they were going through the compound.”

Unless I missed a quote from another interview, Panetta never used the term “blackout.” That’s the Telegraph’s characterization of his comments. All he really said is that the White House didn’t know what was happening while the SEALs were inside the building. How is that possible if they were watching a live video feed? Because: The feed they were watching, I think, wasn’t from a helmet cam but from a UAV overhead. It might have been a Predator or, per Defense Tech’s speculation, it might have been a RQ-170 Sentinel, but something was up there transmitting as the SEALs approached the compound. If my hunch is right, the White House would have seen their chopper land in the yard and the exchange of fire with Bin Laden’s courier outside the guest house. But once the SEALs were inside, there would have been nothing to see until they reemerged, hopefully carrying Bin Laden’s body with them. That’s the “blackout,” I take it, not any technical malfunction.

Incidentally, I’ve always assumed that Hillary’s horrified look in the now famous “Situation Room” photo was her reacting to the SEALs’ chopper landing. It wasn’t supposed to do that, remember; they were supposed to rappel down, but the helicopter couldn’t stay aloft because the walls of the compound were too high to keep enough air circulating below. The White House’s great fear was that they’d end up with a “Black Hawk Down” scenario involving the SEALs being stranded and facing off against Pakistani troops — and now here it was unfolding before them. I have no proof of that, obviously, and Hillary herself has said she doesn’t remember what she was reacting to, but seeing the chopper touch down would have been an obvious moment for the photographer in the room to grab an all-hell-breaking-loose reaction pic. Exit question for soldiers and/or military experts: Is there any reason theoretically why the White House wouldn’t be watching the helmet cam video? If that was available, why wouldn’t they avail themselves?


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It’s possible those helmet cams weren’t transmitting live feed, but recording for the obvious reason, intelligence gathering, and later down the road for SEAL training.

Dr Evil on May 13, 2011 at 8:24 AM

Is there any reason theoretically why the White House wouldn’t be watching the helmet cam video? If that was available, why wouldn’t they avail themselves?

Are we sure there were helmet cams? If I were a SEAL I wouldn’t want helmet cams – it’s bad enough that we can’t keep the loose lips at the W.H. from bragging about their role in the operation, and I’d be worried that the tape would ‘leak out’ and my identity would be compromised.

Also, Eric Holder could go rogue and use the tape as evidence that they committed war crimes, and if they decided to destroy the tapes he’d accuse them of destroying evidence./

Buy Danish on May 13, 2011 at 9:30 AM

Those helmet cams are brutal to watch. They will give you a headache at least if they don’nt make you sick.

saiga on May 13, 2011 at 10:15 AM

DISCLAIMER: I’m just an Air Force desk jockey, but I’m in the operations area of expertise, i.e. monitoring the real time execution of the air war and aiding in the real time decision making process that can turn air craft on a dime to achieve desired effects on fleeting targets.

Is it possible? Yeah… Anyone ever see Special Ops Mission? Hell, the Global Hawks, Reapers, and other remote piloted vehicles all have “real time” video feeds that are beamed to the other side of the world just for the pilots flying them, with the recon feeds also going to the ops floors where the intel guys are doing their thing. My thought is that that is what they were really watching… Another possibility is that they were monitoring a feed that transmitted the location (coordinates and altitude) of the operators as they were moving through the objective. (See these products for an idea of what we’re capable of.) This wouldn’t give the whole picture, but would increase situational awareness (SA), and coupled with an audio feed, a decent mental picture could be made of what was going on. Although, as previously noted, the jargon used by operators isn’t exactly clear to the standard bureaucrat. Such a system wouldn’t be tracking the tangos, but for the folks in the operations center actively monitoring and managing the mission, it would do the trick.

Tremor on May 13, 2011 at 12:55 PM

Are we sure there were helmet cams? If I were a SEAL I wouldn’t want helmet cams – it’s bad enough that we can’t keep the loose lips at the W.H. from bragging about their role in the operation, and I’d be worried that the tape would ‘leak out’ and my identity would be compromised.

Also, if a SEAL was killed or captured, the film recorded by a helmet cam could be confiscated and used for propaganda by Al Qaeda or the Taliban and broadcast on Al-Jazeera to inflame further violence against Americans.

Steve Z on May 13, 2011 at 1:48 PM

I assumed Pannetta was lying about the 25 minute lapse. But he isn’t in that room if you notice. So maybe he saw something else.

I think they saw it and I think there is tape. And I think it will not see the light of day for decades.

petunia on May 13, 2011 at 4:14 PM

Comment pages: 1 2