Peter Bergen’s new book, “Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden– from 9/11 to Abbottabad,” has been sitting on my horizontal bookshelf (née dining-room table) for a week, and I regret that. Had I cracked it open immediately, I would have learned at least two fascinating new details about the operation that killed the al Qaeda leader. Time magazine excerpts the book this week. Fascinating detail number one: you know that famous White House Situation Room picture featuring President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary Clinton, et al? That picture wasn’t actually taken in the Situation Room.
Adjoining the White House Situation Room, which can accommodate more than a dozen senior officials at a large, highly polished wooden table and a couple dozen more staffers on the backbencher seats along the walls, is a much smaller meeting room. Like the Sit Room, this room has secure video and phone communications, but it has only a small table and can comfortably accommodate only seven people… Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, went into the small conference room to watch the feed from the stealth drone and was soon followed by members of Obama’s Cabinet. “Slowly, onesies and twosies, they kept poking their heads in,” Leiter recalls… Obama then stepped in, announced, “I need to watch this,” and settled into a chair off to one side of the cramped room, next to Webb. (It was here, not in the Sit Room proper, that the famous image of the President and his team would be taken.)
Fascinating detail number two: the helicopter ride to Abbattobad was even more dangerous and harrowing than you (or at least I) ever knew. (You can watch a “nap of the earth” flight from the first person perspective above, and third person perspective here.)
[T]he helicopters flew “nap of the earth,” which means perilously low and very, very fast–only a few feet above the ground, driving around trees and hugging the riverbeds and valleys that lace the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountain range. This also made them harder to detect by radar. After crossing the border, the choppers swung north of Peshawar and its millions of residents and eyeballs. The total flight time to the target was about an hour and a half, the distance about 150 miles.