The takeaway for most people in this CNN interview by Fareed Zakaria with former CIA chief Michael Hayden will be the repetition of the facts of the Osama bin Laden case — the development of the initial leads by interrogation at so-called “black sites” opposed by the current administration, the involvement of George Bush four years ago and his commitment to running down OBL, and so on. Hayden also tells Zakaria, in so many words, that giving the green light to the operation was a gutsy call, and that had he been the man to make it, he would have been plenty worried about another Desert One fiasco — especially since all of the evidence of bin Laden’s presence was “circumstantial.”
Hayden won’t convince anyone on either side to give much credit to the other. But what about giving some credit to the CIA and American intelligence? Hayden notes that the CIA has been under fire from critics since 9/11 for “real and imagined” failures. The success of this operation should put some luster back into Langley, and Hayden hopes that this “classic” intel operation will restore public confidence in the intelligence community. And, although Hayden doesn’t say it, perhaps some paranoia in our enemies:
The Washington Post reports this morning that Barack Obama’s national security team wasn’t exactly giving the President a full round of thumbs-up before the raid, either — at least according to Obama in his 60 Minutes interview last night:
President Obama faced sharply divided counsel and, to his mind, barely better-than-even odds of success when he ordered the commando raid last week that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the president said in an interview broadcast Sunday.
Obama acknowledged having only circumstantial evidence placing bin Laden at the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. There was not a single photograph or confirmed sighting of the man, he said, and he worried that the Navy SEALs would find only a “prince from Dubai” instead of the terrorist leader responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“At the end of the day, this was still a 55-45 situation,” Obama told CBS’s “60 Minutes” in his first broadcast interview since bin Laden’s death early last Monday. “I mean, we could not say definitively that bin Laden was there. Had he not been there, then there would have been some significant consequences.”
Obama, in his most revelatory comments about his thinking in the days before the raid, said he weighed the risks and judged that he should proceed with what was, by all accounts, the most promising opportunity to capture or kill bin Laden in nearly a decade. In doing so, he rejected the counsel of a substantial number of his national security advisers, who worried that the plan to send ground troops deep into Pakistan was too risky, he said.
So yes, it was a gutsy call — but it wasn’t the first in the series that led to bin Laden’s sudden demise.