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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
We Got Him: Obama, Bin Laden, & The War On Terror. Aired 8:30- 10p ET
Aired May 6, 2016 - 20:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:30:11] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Dan Simon in Alberta, thanks so much. Stay safe.
Before we go quick (inaudible), be sure to tune in this Sunday at 9:00 p.m. for a new episode of "ANTHONY BOURDAIN; PARTS UNKNOWN", in the Greek Island of not so that instead right but it still beautiful.
The AC360 special "We Got Him: President Obama and Bin Laden and the Future of the War in Terror" starts now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are your future plans?
OSAMA BIN LADEN, AL-QAEDA LEADER (In Translation): You'll see them, God willing, in the media. You will hear about them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A plane crashed into the World Trade Center.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda Network, the most immediate and serious threat this country faced.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States is conducted in an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda.
This had been a priority from the beginning of my presidency. I made a commitment when I ran for office that I would go after bin Laden, wherever he was.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: On the fifth anniversary of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, President Obama sat down with me in the White House Situation Room. The first time he's ever sat with a reporter in this highly secure room where the nation's most classified secrets are discuss.
OBAMA: Shortly after assuming office, I directed Leon Panetta who was then head of the CIA to prioritize this.
BERGEN: I met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1997. It was his first television interview.
BIN LADEN (In Translation): We declared Jihad against America, because America government is unjust and criminal and tyrannical. BERGEN: Back then his name was virtually unknown in the west.
BIN LADEN (In Translation): I swear by God who has elevated the skies without pillars neither America nor those living of America will dream of security.
BERGEN: After 9/11, bin Laden went into hiding, eluding an intense manhunt. Then a breakthrough.
In 2010, the CIA tracked a Pakistani man known as the "Kuwaiti" to this compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan home to a top military training academy. The CIA linked the Kuwaiti to bin Laden after piecing together a range of information including interrogation of members of al-Qaeda.
OBAMA: We had seen our intelligence slowly build a case that a high value target was at Abbottabad. We could not definitively say it was bin Laden, but there were couriers who we knew were associated with bin Laden. Clearly something was going on.
BERGEN: Surveillance showed a family living there who rarely left the property. Among them, one man who stood out. They called him "The Pacer."
Why they called him "The Pacer"?
WILLIAM MCRAVEN, FMR UNITED STATES NAVY ADMIRAL: He would walk around the inside of a compound just to get a little exercise. And so he pace around the compound.
JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: It was reminiscent of other opportunities I had in previous years to see, observe somebody who we thought was bin Laden. He has a think of a very distinctive look. He's tall and lanky and his gate is -- was very deliberate and so it -- it was something that had struck me that when I saw it we call it instinct or whatever, I said yeah, I think that's him.
MCRAVEN: But they could never get a good indication of whether or not it was in fact bin Laden.
BERGEN: The CIA had another problem. If it was bin Laden, how would they get to him? They turned to the Admiral William McRaven, commander of special operations forces. Admiral McRaven has never given these details on the planning and execution of the raid until now.
MCRAVEN: As soon as you hit the ground, you became vulnerable. So as I looked at the compound, and the distance between Afghanistan and compound, you became -- pretty quickly became apparent to me that we were going to need to fly directly to the target.
BERGEN: It was risky, but it was doable. Especially since the elite SEAL team 6 would carry out the mission. The Pakistanis knew nothing about it. No one really knew if bin Laden was actually there, but the time had come to act.
[20:35:00] What did you feel about the evidence?
JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, as is always the case in Intelligence, it wasn't complete. We couldn't confirm.
BERGEN: Exactly five years ago today, you were here, having the final meeting about the decision. Secretary Gates gave an advice. Vice President Biden, Secretary Clinton. What did they say, how did you process that?
OBAMA: What was clear from all my advisers was that the importance of getting bin Laden to defeating al-Qaeda was critical. The odds that it was bin Laden were probably 50-50. There were some dispute even within the Intelligence agency, but there was good reason to think it might be him.
Part of my thinking was shaped by the extraordinary cabinets I had in our Special Forces and Bill McRaven who was heading up our Special Forces and we have done run throughs of what the operation will look like. And I felt that we had not obviously in any way eliminated the risk, but we had managed the risk as best we could. And after the discussions with the principals, it was clear to me that this was going to be our best chance to get bin Laden. That if in fact we did not take the action, that he might slip away and might be years before he resurfaced.
We knew that it was going to cause some significant blow back within Pakistan and if it wasn't bin Laden, the probably the costs would outweigh benefits. And -- yeah we would lose face internationally because there was probably going to be a lot of difficulty keeping it secret once the operations started. But having weighed all that, I thought about the 9/11 families who I've met and their, you know, continuing pain and sense that it was important for us to bring him to justice. And I though about the fact that during that time, we were still monitoring on an ongoing basis, plots that were being developed by al-Qaeda and the importance of us being able to reduce those threats.
HILLARY CLINTON, FMR SECRETARY OF STATE: In that particular meeting, the last meeting he sat through and listened to everything and then asked each and every one of us to tell him what he should do. And -- so I went through a thorough rehashing of what we heard and how I evaluated it and then concluded that I thought he should take action.
BERGEN: And by action meaning the SEAL raid?
CLINTON: Yes, I recommended the SEAL raid.
DENIS MCDONOUGH, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: President recognized that this was not a slam dunk.
BERGEN: Well some of your top advisers were saying don't do the raid.
OBAMA: Well I think it's important to note that everybody thought getting bin Laden was important. There were some who thought we should develop more intelligence and take the risk of an additional month or two of, you know, intelligence gathering to get a sense is to whether we could confirm it.
The problem there was that we had no idea what might be underneath the compound. Whether in fact at some point the individual we were targeting might slip out. We didn't have 24/7 visuals on the compound and as it was we only saw when he was taking us walks in the compound.
The other debate was even if were we going to go after this guy, should we just fire a missile and obliterate the compound? And I weighed that. Obviously the advantage was didn't put our guys in harm's way. The problem was we would not be able to necessary low confirm that we had captured or killed bin Laden. The possibilities of collateral damage were more extensive.
BERGEN: The best option left was Admiral McRaven's plan to send the SEAL team into the compound.
McRaven was the chief planner, what did he said ...
BERGEN: ... you had a lot of confidence in him?
OBAMA: Incredible more in confidence. You know, Bill McRaven is as impressive, effective, cool individual as I know in any field. You know, he's had central casting in a lot of ways.
[20:40:09] These guys had been through a lot of harrowing moments and Bill McRaven had supervised a lot really tough operations. And so maybe he was as nervous as everybody else was, but he sure didn't show it. And I think that had certainly helped all of us.
BERGEN: April 28th, the President ended the meeting and retired for the night. It was 7:00 p.m. he would get hive his answer on the raid the following morning.
When did you make that decision?
OBAMA: Its interesting on decisions like this, your leaning in a certain direction, I had been inclined to take the shot fairly early on in the discussions, but you hold back the decision until you have to make it. And in the end, what I very much appreciated was the degree to which we had an honest debate. I could honestly say by the time I made the decision that everybody had their say, that we had all the information and we were going to be able t get.
We had not looked at it through rose-colored glasses. We knew the risks involved. We had prepared as well as we could and it was in that way emblematic of presidential decision making. You're always working with probabilities. And you make a decision not based on 100 percent certainty, but with the best information that you have get.
BERGEN: Jimmy Carter made another form of this decision that contributed to him being a one-time president. Did you think about that?
OBAMA: Yes. And if I hadn't thought about on my own, it was raised by a number of advisers.
BRENNAN: And so when the President left the sit room that night, he left open question about whether or not he's would approve it.
[20:45:37] BERGEN: Friday morning, April 29th and the President had made his decision. It was a go. He met quickly with his counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, Deputy National Security advisor Denis McDonough and National Security advisor Tom Donilon.
BRENNAN: Tom, Denis and I met with the President as the President was ready to take off. We all agreed that the intelligence was solid and sound, it wasn't dispositive of bin Laden's presence there. The operational plan was solid and sound. And that's -- this was the best opportunity we had ever had.
MCRAVEN: You really look at the President his National Security team. The decisions they had to make with incomplete intelligence. Regardless of what your politics are, you would have been incredibly proud of the way the President and his National Security team can handle this very, very difficult and ambiguous situation. There was never any discussion about politics and whether or not the decision the President may or may not make how that would affect his political career. At least certainly I never saw any of those in the Situation Room.
BERGEN: The SEAL team was ready, but weather conditions would delay the start of the mission.
MCRAVEN: There was some low-lying fog and some of the valleys that we knew we would fly through. And while it wasn't a huge problem, I knew that waiting until Sunday we would be in a little better position to go and conduct the operation and I didn't want to rush the failure on a thing.
BERGEN: So the raid was set for Sunday, but first the President needed to attend the White House Correspondent's dinner. This is never before seen footage of the President preparing to give his speech with the raid looming the next day. He puts on a good game face. Poking fun at Donald Trump.
OBAMA: You fired Gary Busey. And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night. Well-handled, sir.
BERGEN: Thousands of miles away at the air base in Jalalabad, the SEAL team was ready and waiting.
MCRAVEN: Initially I had come up with a plan that said, look I understood Pakistan pretty well. If really everything goes some on us, we could probably have figure a way to get out in a manner that we're not have been connect it, we would had not gotten to a large firefight.
But at one point in time, the President cautioned me correctly so and then directed me I have a plan to fight our way out if we had to. We built up a package that I kept on the other side of the boarder in Afghanistan. If all of a sudden we got into an engagement and I needed fire support, I needed to this lift to get guys out, the President assured that I had those resources to do that.
BERGEN: So we say a package, that means more helicopters, more quick reaction ...
BERGEN: ... for people who could come in.
MCRAVEN: I was 100 percent confident, I trusted the guys on the ground. We had, you know plan A, plan B, plan C, plan D, we had thought through all of the potential consequences of the actions of where the risk points would be. And I knew how to handle those risks. We moved out on Sunday.
BERGEN: There was no moon that night?
MCRAVEN: There was no moon that night. And the electricity was often Abbottabad, right. And obviously we have planned it to have no moonlight. That was part of the mission. We wanted to come in under darkness. We did not plan to have the electricity off.
BERGEN: The mission was under way. The President and his advisers again met in the Situation Room to wait for word on the mission. Once the SEAL team arrived in Abbottabad, the President and his advisers crowded into a smaller room across the hall where they can watch a live drone feed of the raid.
Why did you come into this room set?
OBAMA: Well, this is where we actually had a live view of what was happening. And so, as you can see, it's pretty small conference room. We were all jammed up in here.
OBAMA: One of our key guys was sitting here. I was sitting here in my wind breaker and guys (ph) was there and Hillary, and we were essentially watching what was happening in real time.
[20:50:10] BERGEN: You came here because you could see here in that except here?
OBAMA: And there we could only hear it. Here we could actually see it. McRaven was able to narrate to us essentially what was happening in real time.
BERGEN: Admiral McRaven was in Jalalabad and in close verbal communication with the SEALs on the ground.
MCRAVEN: I was in a small cubby hole to be honest with you. We have built a small closet for me to be able to communicate with director of the CIA Leon Panetta and the White House later on came up on the video teleconference as well.
BERGEN: As the first chopper came in to land, the heat trap by the high walls on the compound destabilized the chopper then caused it to very quickly lose altitude.
OBAMA: We came in here at the point where the helicopters were about to actually land. It's here where we observed for example that one of the helicopters got damaged in Atlantic.
BERGEN: And what were you thinking?
OBAMA: I was thinking that this is not an ideal start.
CLINTON: It was so almost surreal because the stress was intense. We could see the one helicopter's tail clipping the wall and being disabled. I mean your heart was in your throat the whole time we were in there. I've never spent a more stressful 30 plus minutes in my life.
BERGEN: Do you remember what you told people back in Washington when this helicopter went down?
MCRAVEN: I think I said we're moving on to plan B. I think it seemed a lot more, it was probably dramatic to the guys were in the helicopter although I know a lot of those guys had been in hard landings and crashes before. I know what I crash looks like and I had a chance to talk to the helicopter pilot ahead of time, because we were concerned as they came in to conduct the mission and fast rope down into the compound. That helicopter was at eye level with the third deck of the living quarters. The potential that somebody could come out and fire a rocket or a grenade or just small arms weapons at the helicopter, we knew that it was a possibility.
We had snipers and the helicopter ready to deal with that. But the helicopter pilot always told me, look if take an RPG or I take small arms and unless I'm killed in the action, I didn't get that helicopter into what we refer to as the animal pen which was in the open space next to it. And I very quickly could see that they were exiting the helicopter and helicopter was not on fire.
BERGEN: Where you send it, you know, the White House is watching this all live. I mean they could have reached to you and said hey, you know, we don't want this to proceed.
MCRAVEN: The White House never interfered with any of the actual decision. And nor that Director Panetta, they understood that I was the military commander of this mission.
BERGEN: Never got you to abort?
OBAMA: No, because during our planning we had made sure that we had back up helicopters. My initial concern was extraction. That if something happened to the helicopter, that we could make sure that we got our guys out. And so we had back up helicopters that were set up away from the compound that could be there quickly. Nevertheless they gave you a little jolt. I think it reminded you that no how well you plan there's always going to be something that comes up.
BERGEN: You're in the room and the chopper goes down. What is the next big event that you are?
OBAMA: Well at that point you can see folks going into the building. And the, you know, there was a well plotted approach and entry and McRaven essentially is narrating what has happening at that point to us.
There was immediately some fire and so we knew that we have engaged someone.
[20:58:00] BERGEN: The first helicopter went down, but the mission continued. Despite the setback, the SEAL team kept moving.
MCRAVEN: The living quarters were barricaded. They had some steel gates, the guys had to brief, had to blow down in order to get through. The guys on the outside swung through initially what appeared to be a door. Turned out to be a false door. So the compound of actual been built with the express purpose of protecting bin Laden. In ways that we were not able to detect ahead of time. We assumed that there would be some booby tracks, we assumed that the whole place actually could have been loaded with explosives.
We had seen this a number of times in Iraq where an entire compound was set to detonate if allied forces came in. So they had to come through another instance, they all kind of collect it got together and then move accordingly up the three flights of stairs to get where bin Laden was on the third deck.
They moved up, they obviously engage the one of operators on the bottom floor. Bin Laden son came moving very quickly down he was killed, I think on the second deck. And then as they moved up for the third level, the first operator, coming up and saw bin Laden peeking out through the door. And I thought whether he said I knew immediately it was bin Laden.
Again you have to understand it was dark inside the house. The operators are wearing night vision goggles. So your view is not perfect. It's not like daylight. It's a very good, but it's not perfect. Your adrenaline is pumping, you just came up three flights of stairs, you had to engage a couple of combatants and you all of the sudden you get to the top of the stairs and there bin Laden is. And the operators did with a again had planted there which was a flowed into the room as a normal practice.
OBAMA: At that point once that engagement took place, it was fairly quick where we hear that they may have bin Laden.
[21:00:08] BERGEN: How was that communicated?
OBAMA: Well, there is a code name that is used.
MCRAVEN: I got the code word "Geronimo" back, but it took me a minute to wonder whether or not to Geronimo meant we had captured bin Laden or we had killed bin Laden.
So, when the word came across from the ground force commander and he said for God and country, Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo. Well I had to go back and ask the question, was Geronimo EKIA, Enemy Killed In Action. And the word came back, that yes, Geronimo, EKIA.
OBAMA: Everybody sitting around this table had been through the ups and downs of any wartime situation. It's interesting the degree to which nobody cheered or nobody high-five because we couldn't be sure at that point.
BERGEN: You said we got him?
OBAMA: I said I think we got him. And -- but right now let's get you guys home.
MCRAVEN: Frankly, I'm watching the clock and I am watching what is going on around the compound. Of course, by this time we have a helicopter is now on the compound. The Pakistanis we know are beginning to realize something is happening in Abbottabad. And you can begin to see them trying to figure out what best to do.
BERGEN: The SEALs were now trying to get out before the Pakistani military could respond.
MCRAVEN: We began to receive word that the operators had gone down to the second floor and now all of a sudden found this kind of treasure trove of hard drives and documents and so they were trying to pull all this information.
So as 30 minutes turned into, you know, 35 and 40 and I think we were finally on target by the time we actually got off target about 48 minutes.
After about 40 minutes I was getting a little bit anxious probably because I just didn't want to be too long on target. In some point time I relayed to the ground force commander to get everything you can but it's time to wrap this up and get out Abbottabad.
BERGEN: And they did. They destroyed the high-tech stealth Black Hawk that crashed and took bin Laden's body along with everything else they gathered at the house and took off on one of the backup helicopters.
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Something that doesn't get enough attention is when they blew the helicopter not sure of exactly what the consequences would be. The SEALs took the time to bring all the women and children out of the compound behind the back lows far from the helicopter being blown as possible.
BERGEN: Admiral McRaven was on video link with the White House when the helicopters landed in Jalalabad. MCRAVEN: As the helicopters were landing, at some point in time the President asked me, he said, Bill, can you confirm that it's bin Laden? And I said, Mr. President, I can't until I go visually ID the body. And the landing field was about five minutes or so from where I was positioned. So I left the video teleconference with the President and Director Panetta.
We traveled over to the, to the airfield. About time I got into the hangar, the guys had, had landed. They'd offloaded the body, brought it into the hangar. I unzipped the body bag, took a look at bin Laden. Obviously, he had -- he didn't look terrific, he had two, two rounds in his head, and his beard was a little shorter. But we had several photos and, as soon as you pulled the photo close to the face, it was immediately obvious that it was bin Laden.
One of the interesting stories that comes out of this was I knew bin Laden was about 6'4. So as, as I removed his remains from the body bag, I looked at it, and there was a young SEAL standing nearby, and I asked the SEAL, I said, son, how tall are you? He said, well, sir, I'm about 6'2. I said good, come here, I want you to lie down next to the remains here. He kind of gave me that look and said, I'm sorry, sir. You want me to do what? I said, I want you to lie down next to the remains. OK, sir. So, he did. And of course the remains were a couple inches taller.
I didn't think much of it at the time, so but I came back to the -- to my headquarters. And I told the President, I said, Mr. President, I can't be certain without DNA that it's bin Laden, but frankly I -- it's probably about a 99 percent chance that it is bin Laden. And then I told the President, I said, in fact I had a young SEAL lie down next to him, and I know he was about 6'4, and the remains were a little taller. And there was a pause on the other end of the, of the video conference.
[21:05:03] And of course by this time, we had bin Laden, the troops were back safely, the mission was for all intent and purposes over, and the President comes up on the video and he says, Bill, let me get this straight. We had $60 million for a helicopter, and you didn't have $10 for a tape measure? And it was one of those light moments in the middle of, you know, a very anxious time in our nation's history. And it was, again, kind of perfectly timed. It, it lightened a very tough moment, and was the right thing to say. A couple of days later the President presented me with a, a tape measure, so that next time we did a mission like this, I'd be prepared.
BERGEN: The raid was over, but the questions were just beginning, especially on the Pakastanis. Did they know bin Laden was hiding there for all those years? And, five years later, are we safer?
SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I wouldn't suggest we take a victory lap, but I think, if you look at it analytically, clearly the threat that, that we faced so many years ago, pre-Bin Laden raid, from Al-Qaeda and its core in particular, is diminished.
JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: Bin Laden's death was very important, both strategically and symbolically. LISA MONACO, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Al-Qaeda core is really largely decimated. ISIL, on the other hand, has proven its ability to project its power outward.
[21:10:22] BERGEN: The raid is over, bin Laden is dead. This never before seen footage shows the President as he gets ready to announce it to the world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes two minutes, yes.
BERGEN: The senior advisers who lived through the raid with him now wait for the final act of the night.
OBAMA: Good evening. Tonight I can report to the American people and to the world, the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda.
BERGEN: This is the view from the White House as crowds gathered outside once word leaked about the announcement.
Did you hear cheers when you were walking down this way to give your speech to announce bin Laden's death?
OBAMA: I could. At that point, people had already began to gather almost immediately after the news broke out that it was a warm evening and people were already lined up outside.
OBAMA: You guys did a great job.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You too.
BERGEN: When you were walking down this hall to make the announcement to the world that bin Laden was dead, what were you thinking and were you certain and?
OBAMA: Well, at that point we were 99 percent or supposed 98 percent certain.
OBAMA: I was thinking about the families, yeah the 9/11 families that I had talked to that I'd met with. I wanted to make sure that they knew that their government had stood by as promise, as commitment. I thought about the incredible Special Forces that had carried this out and their courage. I had a chance to visit them a little bit later and what was striking was that unlike to the Hollywood casting, a lot of them were in their 40s, gray haired, if you passed them on the street, they were wearing a baseball cap and a polo shirt, you would think that they were just a dad going to an office somewhere.
BERGEN: Did you ask them who took the shot?
BERGEN: Did anybody volunteer?
OBAMA: That's something that we don't discuss.
BERGEN: Right. But in a way it was a team effort.
OBAMA: It was a collective effort and the humility, the camaraderie, the professionalism with which those guys operate is awe-inspiring.
I came here for a simple reason, to say thank you on behalf of America. This has been a historic week in the life of our nation.
Thanks to the incredible skill, and courage of countless individuals, intelligence, military over many years. The terrorist leader who struck our nation on 9/11 will never threaten America again.
MCRAVEN: Well I very much appreciated the President took the opportunity to come down and meet with the whole members of the team. Not just the SEALs, but the helicopter pilots and we had an opportunity to brief the President and the Vice President and Chief of Staff and others on the details of the mission. So we actually have the chance to meet the ground force commanders and SEALs, the helicopter pilots and again it was a wonderful moment for both me and my team and I hope for the President.
BERGEN: When he met with the SEAL team, did he ask who had killed bin Laden?
MCRAVEN: He did not actually.
BERGEN: Did anyone volunteer?
MCRAVEN: No, no one did. And I think the President understood not just -- can we cut this?
[21:15:01] It was everybody that has fought in the Iraq and the Afghanistan War after 9/11. I mean, this was and this is why it wasn't important who killed bin Laden. I mean this was an American effort, an allied effort and I think the President understood that. The members understood that. There may have been one person that pulled the trigger, but there were hundreds of thousands of troops behind this.
BERGEN: DNA evidence later proved that the body, the SEALs brought back was 100 percent Osama bin Laden. He was given a burial at sea and almost immediately questions about the raid began to surface.
Did torture lead to bin Laden?
OBAMA: You know, I ...
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERGEN: Five years after the raid and still lingering questions. First, the courier, the man known as "The Kuwaiti". Analysts pieced together his link to bin Laden, partly through interrogation. But did torture help?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where was the last time you saw bin Laden?
BERGEN: The popular movie "Zero Dark Thirty" depicts waterboarding another forms of torture. In the movie version, this leads to information on the Kuwaiti who is then tracked to bin Laden's compound. But what about in real life?
JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I can't confirm or refute that information so derived had any direct bearing on the location of Osama bin Laden. I just can't say that. I wasn't around when it was going on.
[21:20:05] BERGEN: Yeah. So you have take -- I mean just, you just have no evidence?
CLAPPER: I can't comment on it. I just don't know.
JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: Some of that information intelligence came from individuals who were detained and debriefed by the agency. Some of that intelligence came from individuals who were subjected to the enhanced interrogation techniques.
But as I have said before, you cannot determine cause and effect as far as they wouldn't have given up that information except for those EIT's.
BERGEN: Did torture lead to bin Laden?
OBAMA: You know, I do not believe that torture was the key to us getting bin Laden. You can't argue counterfactuals.
Essentially, you have a mosaic of intelligence threats that the IC, the intelligence committee, was pulling at collectively all that information. Led us to point A, point B, point C. What ended up being absolutely critical is hard to disentangle. What I know is that we can go after folks and bring them to justice without resorting torture.
BERGEN: The Senate Intelligence Committee report found that torture did not lead to bin Laden. Another question, did the Pakistanis know?
How could the Pakistanis have not known that bin Laden was in Abbottabad for almost six years, next to their military academy?
CLAPPER: Well, that's a good question. I can't answer it.
BERGEN: Then the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton couldn't answer it either, but she now reveals her own suspicions.
CLINTON: There was never any evidence that we could uncover that led directly to the top of the Pakistani Military and Intelligence Service. I believe Pakistanis knew. I believe Pakistanis either in service or retired or both knew.
It is just too much of a coincidence Peter that that house, that unusual looking house would be built in that community near the military academy surrounded by retired military professionals.
So, no, we couldn't prove it, and believe me, we tried. We could not prove it. But I think that there are a lot of arrows pointing in that direction.
BERGEN: A lot of people say, how can the Pakistanis not have known that bin Laden was in Abottabad, so near their military academy who's there for almost six years. What do you think?
OBAMA: I think it's hard to say.
BERGEN: Is there evidence that they knew?
OBAMA: There's no evidence that they knew and I take them at their word. What is also true is that we have in many ways excellent C.T. cooperation with Pakistan. But their interests don't always align with ours.
BERGEN: And what about the lights at Abbottabad that went out at just the right time before the SEAL's descended into bin Laden's compound?
MCRAVEN: There are some out there that believe that we were clever enough to turn the electricity off. I can tell you that was not the case. I think it was just a blackout that again was fortuitous to us. That the electricity just went off in the Abottabad area and it's certainly helped us in terms of conducting the mission.
BERGEN: Because blackouts are common in Pakistan?
MCRAVEN: They are common, yes.
BERGEN: Another big question, were the SEAL's ordered to kill bin Laden?
MCRAVEN: A lot of people out there think that this was a straight kill mission, it was not. We had looked at the possibility that if bin Laden came out and his hands were up and we knew he didn't have a suicide vest on, the rules of engagement for the operators were if you get in there and you know that categorically that he is not a threat, his hands are up in the air and you can tell he does not have a suicide vest on, then you have an obligation to capture him. And we had a plan if we captured him.
BERGEN: And perhaps the biggest unanswered question, why didn't bin Laden fight back? He knew someone was coming, and he had guns in his room.
We can't read his mind obviously, but why wouldn't he fight back?
MCRAVEN: You know, honestly a lot of women and children in the area. So, there is the potential that he was concerned about his family. And as evil as he might have been, he had a family and so that is a possibility or maybe it was just the fact that he knew the Americans were coming and -- or somebody was coming and he probably assumed that it was the Americans, and then it was and the game was over.
[21:25:04] BERGEN: As a SEAL yourself, you know, must give you satisfaction to know that the last thing he saw on this earth was a SEAL.
MCRAVEN: Well I'm sure he probably didn't know it was a SEAL which was fine by us, but I think probably more importantly is the last thing he saw was an American. That's what's important.
OBAMA: Hopefully at that moment, he understood that the American people hadn't forgotten the -- some 3,000 people who he had killed.
BERGEN: The threat from bin Laden is gone, but a new form of terror has emerged, sprung from the roots of Al-Qaeda.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are going for you, Barack Obama.
BERGEN: Did the death of bin Laden matter?
MCRAVEN: I think -- and the President said it well. I think it was about justice. This wasn't about revenge, it was about justice. All of us that have been fighting this war I think recognized that the impact of killing bin Laden, we didn't expect that it was fundamentally going to change the fight.
BERGEN: Has killing bin Laden made us safer?
[21:30:00] OBAMA: Yes, but it obviously does not solve the problem of terrorism in general.
BERGEN: Is ISIS coming here to the United States?
CLAPPER: Well, they certainly want to. They clearly have the west as their enemy.
BERGEN: Do they have the capacity to do a Paris-style attack where 130 people were killed or a Brussels-style attack were (inaudible)?
CLAPPER: Well, sure they do.
BERGEN: Here in the United States?
CLAPPER: They have that capacity, and that's something that we worry about a lot.
OBAMA: The Paris-style attack, the Brussels-style attack is the challenge that we're going to continue to face.
BERGEN: If you were to describe ISIS in one word, how would you put it?
CLINTON: Evil. MONACO: Opportunistic.
OBAMA: Overall, I think we can draw a lesson from the bin Laden raid that we've got really effective people and a government that knows how to do this. And as long as we operate from a position of confidence and strength and are true to who we are, groups like this or individuals like this can't defeat us.
MONACO: The terrorists should know.
MCRAVEN: If you come after the United States
DENIS MCDONOUGH, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: That the do as harm.
RICE: We will go anywhere
MCRAVEN: We will spend the rest of eternity hunting you down.
MCDONOUGH: America doesn't forget.
MONACO: Our reach is long and our memory is long.
CLINTON: The United States will not rest.
MCDONOUGH: We will find you.
OBAMA: We will be patient. We will be valid but eventually justice will be done.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We hope you enjoyed CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen's in-depth report on the raid and decision making process by President Obama and his team of National Security Advisers. And they all agree America is safer because of bin Laden's death but they also know the terror threat is by no mean is over.
The ideology of bin Laden and Al-Qaeda has of course continued with the rise of ISIS. The group many believe has eclipsed Al-Qaeda in its brutality and determination to destroy the west.
In the past five years, we have seen continued terror attacks, abroad and at home. President Obama recently ordered more U.S. troops on the ground in Syria to help fight the war on ISIS.
Peter Bergen was given exclusive and unprecedented access to the White House so we could speak with the President about all of this, plus his thoughts on Donald Trump's foreign policy credentials and his advice for the next president. They begin in the Situation Room at the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BERGEN: Has killing bin Laden made us safer?
OBAMA: Yes, but it obviously does not solve the problem of terrorism generally. I think what we can definitively say as a consequence of not only killing bin Laden but also going after systematically the leadership infrastructure of Al-Qaeda in the FATA that although you can never say they pose no danger to us, their ability to mount large- scale operations was greatly diminished. And at this point there what's remaining of Al-Qaeda in that region is hunkered down and has a great deal of difficulty mounting any significant operations or complex operations.
But as we were already seeing even while bin Laden was still alive, the ideology that he put forward, the methodology that he tried to spread, metastasized in some fashion. And we have to remain vigilant, and we have built, though, the kind of hardening of our defenses that it makes it much more difficult to carry out a 9/11 attack than it was back in 2001.
BERGEN: How about a Paris-style attack or.
OBAMA: The Paris-style attack, the Brussels-style attack is the challenge that we're going to continue to face. I think that we, here in the United States, face less of a threat than Europe. A lot of that has to do with the outstanding work that our military, intelligence, Department of Homeland Security, law enforcement do in monitoring those who might threaten us.
[21:35:25] Probably an even larger factor is the degree to which our Muslim-American citizens and residents are much more incorporated into our society and, you know, have been successful and are models of how in a pluralistic society, those of us of different faiths can live together. Something that Europe has had more of a problem in dealing with.
They've ghettoized, not always intentionally, but for a range of historical reasons, these populations in a way that there's more alienation, more resentment. There probably more Muslims in Belgium who don't consider themselves Belgium, and whereas the overwhelming majority of Muslims in America consider themselves American and that is a terrific inoculator against some of the threats.
But having said that, as we saw in San Bernardino, if somebody is willing to die, particularly given the relatively easy access of not just small arms but more sophisticated weaponry, they can do a lot of damage.
And so we have to continually remain vigilant. And part of what that argues also is that until we defeat or at least gravely shrink the appeal of the ideology that bin Laden represented, the notion that the perversion of Islam that we've seen and the notion of a clash of civilizations and that innocents are fair game and that the only way to truly express fidelity to the faith is to kill, you know, non- believers. Until we are able to defeat that we're going to continue to have these kinds of struggles.
BERGEN Five years ago you were attending the Washington Correspondent's Dinner and had to keep your game face on famously Donald Trump was there as well.
Donald Trump is here tonight.
BERGEN What are your thoughts about if he was to be sitting in this chair about how he would be handling these decisions?
OBAMA: Well, I don't have those thoughts ...
OBAMA: ... because I don't expect that to happen. I do think that there's a larger issue though. And that is, the American people are rightly worried about ISIL. There's a barbaric organization that not only ruthlessly kills Muslims in its area, as well as Christians or people of other faiths who stand in their way, but they are continually trying to brainwash young people in the western world to kill themselves and kill people around them.
So, the American people, I think, are right to be concerned about it. But I do think that it is important for us to understand the nature of the threat, what works and what doesn't.
Painting the Muslim community with a broad brush does not work. They are our greatest allies in fighting against these organizations.
Sending in huge numbers of troops to try to impose order on countries that are very different than ours, generally is not going to work. We just don't -- even as great as our military is, we don't have the capacity to maintain massive footprints all throughout the Middle East.
You know, one of the things that I think we've done very effectively since bin Laden was killed is I've removed 170,000 Americans who were in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan while still being able to prosecute our CT goals. And when it comes to trying to reduce conflict and create a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East or South Asia, there we have to work with partners on the ground. And they have to take responsibility for their own security.
[21:40:03] And what we've tried to do is to build up our CT capacity, and build up our Special Forces capacity, greatly build up our intelligence capacity. But also build up our partnering capacity. And that's an area where we still have a lot of work to do, but I would say that, you know, if I have a mission for myself and for the next president, it's for us to think much more carefully and be much more attentive to how do we create partners in the regions that are responsive to their people, that can conduct basic law enforcement, that can reduce corruption, that provide outlets for political frustration.
And when terrorist organizations like this spring up, they can go after them effectively with us.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Coming up, President Obama on the personal toll it takes when innocent civilians are killed in drone strikes his order. He also revealed his surprise at the rise of ISIS.
[21:45:00] BERGEN: You know, one of the, usually, Special Forces if you current, the drones who killed thousands of militants and some civilians.
BERGEN: Did you anticipate all this when you began your presidency?
OBAMA: Not completely. The drone technology in some ways was just being refined and developed ...
OBAMA: ... as I came in. And I think over the course of several years, our intelligence gathering and the precision and lethality of predator strikes increased significantly. It has proven to be an enormously important tool in going after terrorists in remote areas that would be extraordinarily difficult to reach with U.S. personnel. I think it became clear to me a year, year and a half into my presidency that the legal architecture and the control systems that we placed on this new tool were not entirely sufficient. And I felt it was important for us to start trying to build an internal architecture because in some ways, I think it became so easy to use them without thinking through all the ramifications.
BERGEN: It doesn't round here, I mean ordering
OBAMA: Absolutely. It, look war time weighs on you generally. And one of the things that I've always indicated when asked about predator strikes is to remind people that when I order a conventional forces into a region, there's enormous collateral damage. And, in fact, there's probably fewer civilians that are accidentally killed through predator strikes proportionally than there are when we send somebody in. If you look at, for example, the bin Laden raid or some people there who may have been related to bin Laden but were not themselves terrorist operatives. They got killed.
OBAMA: And so, you know, what we've tried to do is to make sure that we are accountable at the highest levels for how we're predators, that we have a significantly higher standard of higher than, in fact, we would in a conventional war so that we insist on near certainty, that not only is the individual that we're trying to strike or the compound that we're trying to strike an active terrorist threat but also that we're avoiding civilian casualties.
Having said that, you always lose sleep because you know that there's always the possibility and kinetic action that's somebody who shouldn't be killed is killed. Now, I also lose sleep when American troops are killed. And I have to weigh those risks as well because clearly in some of these areas where terrorists are operating, the risks of us sending yeah personnel in are significantly higher.
BERGEN: Could you hear cheers when you were walking down this way to get your speech to announce bin Laden's death?
OBAMA: I could. At that point, people had already begun to gather almost immediately after the news broke out. It was a warm evening and people were already lined up outside.
BERGEN: So what did you think?
OBAMA: You know, it confirmed for me not only the strategic, importance of us getting bin Laden but the symbolic importance. The message that if you harm America, we will be patient, we will be dogged, but eventually justice will be done.
BERGEN: But, you know, he dies but his ideology continues, ISIS is doing sort of OK. I mean so five years later, how do you assess it?
OBAMA: Well, as I said earlier, I think that the ideology has not been extinguished. The world is still dangerous. In many ways, the Middle East is in a more chaotic situation, although that's not directly related to bin Laden. It's related to what was unleashed during the Arabs Spring. And ...
[21:50:08] BERGEN: Are you surprise by that, right because it's such thing such a hopeful moment and yet that ISIS seems to be ...
OBAMA: Well, I think all of us were surprised with the direction that the Arab Spring took. When I came in the office, I think all of us understood the fragility of some of these regimes that were unresponsive to their people and there were not a lot of Democratic outlets. There was an ideology that was anti-western that was brewing, anti-modern in some cases.
But, I don't think anybody thought that necessarily, Mubarak someday would have been out. And after Mubarak left, I think many of us were hoping that the spirit that was reflected in terrorist square which was more liberal and liberal in the sense of believing in civil society and believing in pluralism that that would express it self and clearly it hasn't. And there was always the danger which we knew from the start that in places where there had been an active suppression of civil society and where the only true binding credo was religious, but there was a danger that it would turn in a negative way.
I think very few people anticipated the speed with which a lot of this happened and the extraordinary consequences in places like Syria.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Next, you'll hear President Obama on his greatest fear. He tells Peter Bergen what he's keeping him up at night about the direction of war on terror is going, also his advance for the next president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[21:55:37] BERGEN: What keeps you up at night now and what should the next president be most concerned about?
OBAMA: I think that we have built an incredible structure of cooperation between intelligence, military, law enforcement that has hardened the American homeland. And the capacity of an organization like an ISIL or Al-Qaeda and Arabian peninsula to carry out a big catastrophic attack is much lower.
But as we have seen, you now have a proliferation of groups because of power social media, there is a mechanism to recruit volunteers that are already located in the west that are much more difficult precisely because they don't engage in the same kind of planning. And what that means is that we've got to continue to be vigilant. It means that we have got to go after ISIL in its core where it allows itself to maintain the illusion that somehow it is on the march.
It's going to be important for us ultimately to take them out of Mosul, to take them out Raqqa. Make sure that they don't have those kinds of safe havens to where they can pretend that they are a state in some fashion. That will diminish their appeal. But we're going to have small groups, lone actors who for some time will continue to find this perverted ideology appealing. And we have to be prepared for that. We have to be resilient and not react in ways that makes the problem worse rather than better.
We have to understand that the kinds of Special Forces and intelligence gathering that we saw in the bin Laden raid is going to be more often than not the tool of choice for a president in dealing with that kind of threat that sending the 100,000 troops to invade every country where an organization like this appears is going to be counter productive and in some ways feeds the kinds of ideology that we're fighting. Most importantly, we have to stay true to our values during this process.
We have to make sure that we're not engaging in the kind of knee jerk anti-Muslim sentiment that we have heard from some politicians. We got to make sure that the legal structures around our intelligence gathering and our use of predators is subject to oversight. It's not always going to be easy. It's not always going to be perfectly smooth. There are going to be times where as president you make a decision knowing that there are going to be critics and knowing that there is some gray areas and ambiguities that you have to deal with given the realties and situation.
But overall I think we can draw a lesson from the bin Laden raid that we've got really effective people and a government that knows how to do this. And as long as we operate from position of confidence and strength and are true to who we are groups like this or individuals like this can't defeat us.
BERGEN: Thank you very much that was great. Thank you, sir.
OBAMA: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: We thank President Obama for giving us so much of his time and to Peter for his excellent reporting. We also of course want to thank the men and women in uniform who helped make that mission a success and who remain on the front lines every single day and we honor the nearly 3,000 victims from the attacks on September 11.
[22:00:04] Thanks for watching.