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Sunday, June 23, 2024

CIA ran bin Laden operation

CIA Director Leon Panetta leaves after briefing members of Congress on Capitol Hill Tuesday, May 3, 2011, in Washington.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Has anyone noticed that CIA Director Leon Panetta has said a lot more about the Navy commandos’ killing of Osama bin Laden than has the Pentagon chief, who, after all, is second in the military chain of command behind President Barack Obama?

The reason Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said exactly nothing about the raid is that the CIA, not the Pentagon, ran the operation.

That fact speaks volumes about the government’s rarely noticed post-9/11 melding of military might with intelligence craft.

It’s gotten a lot harder lately to distinguish between soldier and spy. The blending of the two missions can blur the definition of an act of war, raise questions about oversight and accountability, and create a clash of military and intelligence cultures.

The CIA helps gather information on military targets such as bin Laden. It also runs its own shadowy commando force and flies its own killer drones under written presidential authority. The military gathers information to be exploited by the CIA, such as the trove of computer drives and similar material the Navy SEALs scooped up in bin Laden’s Pakistani safe house.

Top military leaders, including the current Afghanistan war commander, Gen. David Petraeus, believe that blending the traditional roles of the armed services and intelligence agencies is key to future success in defeating al-Qaida.

Petraeus was named last week as the next CIA chief. Panetta, meanwhile, will take over from Gates as Pentagon boss.

Yet it has taken billions of dollars, bureaucratic makeovers, and trial and error in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, to get to the point where a president could score arguably the most dramatic counterterror victory in U.S. history.

It is not uncommon for the elite of the elite among the military’s special operations forces — top-drawer “special mission units” such as the Navy’s SEAL Team Six and the Army’s Delta Force — to be assigned to covert operations under CIA control. But rarely is it acknowledged so publicly as in the case of Monday’s helicopter-borne raid on bin Laden’s secret lair.

Gates was visible in official White House photos of Obama and his national security team monitoring Monday’s daring raid, but he has not spoken publicly about the operation. Panetta, in contrast, has done interviews on NBC “Nightly News” and elsewhere this week, talking about his marching orders from Obama, the prospect of releasing a photo of bin Laden’s corpse and other details.

In the arrangement established by Obama for the bin Laden mission, Panetta was, in essence, the commander rather than Gates, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive matters of intelligence. The legal authority for this is known as Title 50, and although the president can empower the secretary of defense to run a Title 50 mission, Gates has preferred that it be done by the CIA, according to special operations officials who have worked on such missions.

The military is capable of leading a counterterror operation like the bin Laden raid, but putting the CIA in charge avoided potential controversy over legal questions.

The CIA has the necessary legal authorities and the expertise to gather intelligence and conduct operations which, under domestic and international law, would be considered by many to be highly questionable if not illegal if conducted by the military without explicit authorization from the president, a former U.S. intelligence official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive intelligence matters.

In the bin Laden mission, the chain of command extended from Obama to Panetta to Navy Adm. William H. McRaven, himself a SEAL. McRaven is commander of the military’s Joint Special Operations Command. That is the secretive outfit in charge of SEAL Team Six and the military’s other specialized counterterrorism units.

Panetta’s order to McRaven was “find Osama bin Laden.” And if the al-Qaida leader turned out not to be present at the Abbottabad compound, the CIA chief directed, “Get out quickly and safely.”

When he announced Sunday evening in Washington that bin Laden had been killed, Obama spoke about his longer-term approach to eliminating the architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The president said that shortly after taking office he directed Panetta to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of the U.S. war against al-Qaida, along with a broader effort to dismantle bin Laden’s network.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said there was good reason to put the CIA in charge. The hunt for bin Laden, Rogers said in an interview, “resembled more an investigation than tracking a target.”

The military and the CIA have had close ties since the spy agency’s creation in 1947, but the degree of collaboration — and the capabilities of special operations forces — have grown dramatically since 9/11. For example, the military’s Special Operations Command has seen its budget more than quadruple — from about $2.3 billion in 2001 to $9.8 billion today. And its manpower has expanded from 45,500 a decade ago to 61,500 today, according to Pentagon figures.

In striving for closer cooperation, the CIA and the military sometimes have butted heads. The CIA, for example, used harsher interrogation methods on captured insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan than the military believed was useful.


Robert Burns can be reached at

Kimberly Dozier can be reached at

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

8 thoughts on “CIA ran bin Laden operation”

  1. “The military and the CIA have had close ties since the spy agency’s creation in 1947, but the degree of collaboration — and the capabilities of special operations forces — have grown dramatically since 9/11.”
    The lineage of Army Special Forces is from the WWII Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The mission initially was to develop partisan resistance forces behind the lines, similar to the Operation Jedburg.
    Oh; by the way Mr. Sandune, Bush 43 is no longer President! You can start throwing the blame on Barack Hussein Obama now. If you critize his policies, I promise I won’t call you a racist.

  2. The CIA likes to clean up it’s own messes. They created bin Laden and al CIAda to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. They are funding and providing air support for al CIAda in Libya against Moammar Gadhafi. I guess terrorists are only dangerous when they speak out against the America after being used as proxies to fight for Corporate America’s agenda.

    • Yeah Woody, Osama was an aged, arabic version of Jason Bourne to our ever-fumbling, duplicit CIA…no? : ))

      I thought I’d offer one of the most comprohensive links available on the www concerning our ever-meddling government in the affairs of just about every nation on the planet. Our tax dollars at / : |

      The information found within this source will keep interested readers busy for weeks, possibly months uncovering every seedy plot in which our government involves itself in order to expand and maintain ‘Empire Americanus’.

      Carl Nemo **==

      • Almost finished my script: ‘The Osman Identity’. It kicks off with backdoor funding, develops into renal failure and ends in a dramatic hail of bu77$h!t.

        Thrilling stuff of course, but a little too outlandish I’m told.


    • Hey Woody –

      I just love those ‘mythbuster’ sites that boldly claim that the CIA never funded bin Laden. They’re right, of course. The money went via Pakistan’s ISI first.

      Not much point in having a fig leaf if it’s completely transparent.

  3. Sandune, you are due a standing ovation!

    The only place where I disagree slightly with you is the fact that Obama was the person who put Panetta in charge of that operation, and therefor may well be the man to remove our presence from the Middle East. I have seen a TV documentary in which one of the main participants was an ex-SEAL who claimed that his team had Bin Laden cornered in Tora Bora, and requested (as per SOP) permission to attack and kill Bin Laden……and was REFUSED PERMISSION!!! This was during Bush lls’ administration, during which, may I remind others, we went from having a surplus and were starting to pay off the National Debt, to the world’s biggest debtor nation…..with most of that debt owed to Red China!

    Thank God, or luck, or any other powers that may be, for Obama’s approval of Panetta and the operation which rid us of one of the worst terrorists in this world.


  4. Whoops the cat jumped on the mouse and left me in half sentence. …

    (like leaving Iraq and Afghanistan). The one man who can put the right words to do the job can come from Leon Panetta…….He may not have the appearance or personality of President Reagan but he has the brains and courage that will be an advantage to America.

  5. What a difference it makes when our leaders state clearly, and simply, the objective of any planned operation. Even Korea and Vietnam simply oozed into declaring action without the legal authority from the Congress. Could it be that the Congress had so little interest in the wars in both nations that they did not request any action at all.

    We elect the worst possible representatives and they win due to the financial backing from the corporations who will be issued the war contracts to make them wealthy. It’s a win-win and the only losers are those to pay the costs of these wars.

    Personally I was delighted that Leon Panetta was put in charge of the CIA at this time and has shown a high level of integrity long missing in our House of Representatives. If he becomes Secretary of Defense, all Americans should be glad that we finally have a man of honor who will not pull the tap dancing crap that Rumsfeld had done.

    I worked so hard against President Bush 43 and my every fear came true. Nothing in my long voting record has done as much damage to America than the Bush Administration going into Iraq. The power of his action is still causing major arguments in D.C. today. To see the backing that Bush is still getting from the GOP is shocking to anyone who really respects our Nation.

    Is there not one elected official working in the White House who has the balls to apologize to the American people that this action was based on a lie from a President who seems more like Nero with his unbalanced ego.

    To approve of what President Bush did is nothing but a cancer on the butt of our government. The Congress should hang their heads in shame. I can’t think of another leader currently in office who would not have taken a stand against this war.

    Where do we take it from there?

    I don’t know if President Obama has the courage to make the changes in the Middle East (like leaving Iraq

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