Mike Leiter: The three analysts spread the probability that it was Bin Laden: the highest was 70, 75, 80 percent, then there was one who said 60 percent, and then the most low was 40 percent.
Ben rhodes: It led to this brief debate about who’s right, and Obama cut it off with some irritation and just said, “Look, it’s inevitably a 50/50 call. We’re just going to have to accept it.
Leon Panetta: McRaven basically presented this summary of what would happen: helicopters would come in and [SEALs would] abseil, enter the enclosure. It would be an overnight operation. After that, the president looked at everyone around this table and said, “What do you think? ”
Tom Donilon: He had seated in the situation room at the table some of the most prominent Americans in national security – from Vice President Biden to Secretary Gates to Admiral Mullen to General Cartwright to Leon Panetta and Mike Morell and John Brennan, Hillary Clinton – all of whom have brought a tremendous amount of experience to the table. The president moved around the table, asking people for their point of view.
Ben rhodes: The first person to speak was Bob Gates, and Gates was against the raid. It was a great thing for the Secretary of Defense to express this caution. When Gates made his point, he referred to “Desert One” and Jimmy Carter’s catastrophic efforts to rescue the Iranian hostages. It was the worst ghost you could bring into the room. It was a scenario that no one wanted to think about, but it was a scenario that clearly ended Carter’s presidency. Gates’ comment framed that decision – it won’t be a slam dunk.
Leon Panetta: When the President asked me, “I said, Mr. President, I had an old formula that I used when I was in Congress and had to vote hard on an issue.” I was like, if I told an average citizen in my neighborhood, if you knew what I knew, what would you do? In that case, if I told the average citizen in my neighborhood that we have the best information on bin Laden’s location from Tora Bora, I think that citizen would say we need to do this operation. That is what I am telling you, Mr. President. I think it would be important to do so. I think we regret it if we haven’t.
James clapper: I trust the instincts of analysts who have been doing this for years. They seemed pretty confident he was there. I recommended that the president listen to the experts.
Ben rhodes: Hillary made a really long intervention that made a long case against going forward now, basically talking about all the negative fallout that could take place in Pakistan and things that could go wrong with the operation. But then she made an equally lengthy intervention saying this was the best chance we have – the best circumstantial case we’ve had for a lead on bin Laden. You don’t want to live knowing that you didn’t take this chance. She spoke in favor of doing so.
Tom donilon: Me and John Brennan and Denis McDonough had already given our point of view to the president – we were in favor of the raid and the operation. We saw the president every day and had many conversations about the operation.
Ben rhodes: And then Biden. Biden had done a lot of work on Pakistan over the years, and he really exposed the risk of things going wrong and the potential for confrontation with the Pakistanis. Our embassy being invaded, the fallout that could result. I don’t remember it as being strongly against it, but more like “I’m going to point out the downsides that you have to take into account from Pakistan’s point of view. “
John brennan: I think Joe Biden was most concerned about mission failure, what it would mean for Barack Obama and his prospects for a second term.
Ben rhodes: I was struck by the absolute confidence that McRaven had in this operation. Mullen represented him at the meeting. It was interesting because Mullen and Gates had never disagreed before on a big issue.
Tom donilon: He had a shared bedroom – the most prominent Americans in national security in this country had different views.
James clapper: Actually, we hadn’t really decided how it was going to go – the special ops, they were already ready, but there was still talk of some sort of ranged attack, with the B -2 or one of those little anti-personnel weapons that you would throw from an unmanned vehicle.
Ben rhodes: I remember attending this meeting and thinking about the campaign; I wrote the speech he gave in 2007 in which he said he would go to Pakistan to look for Bin Laden and everyone threw themselves on him. The Pakistanis declared martial law and threatened the United States and all those things. I remembered how certain he was that he had this fight during the campaign. I already thought he had made up his mind – he decided years ago that if he had a lead on bin Laden in Pakistan, he would. I framed my recommendation around this. I said, “You always said you would do this, so let’s do this.
Mike Leiter: I was the last to leave. I finished with: “Even if I take the lower range of what one of the Red Team analysts said — 40% —in my opinion, it’s 38% higher than what we’ve been for the past 10 years after bin Laden. ” While not a slam dunk, it is way more compelling than anything we’ve seen.