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?