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Ben Rhodes: I was struck by the absolute confidence that McRaven had in this operation. Mullen represented that in the meeting. It was interesting because Mullen and Gates had never disagreed before about a big issue.
Tom Donilon: He had a split room—the most prominent national security Americans in this country had different views.
James Clapper: In fact, we hadn’t really settled on how it was going to go—the special ops folks, they were already primed, but there was still discussion about some kind of standoff attack, either with the B-2 or one of these small anti-personnel weapons that you’d launch from a remote-piloted vehicle.
Ben Rhodes: I remember sitting in that meeting and thinking about the campaign; I wrote the speech he gave in 2007 where he said that he’d go into Pakistan to get bin Laden and everybody pounced on him. The Pakistanis had declared martial law and threatened the United States and all these things. I remembered how certain he was having that fight on the campaign. I figured already that he made up his mind—he decided years ago that if he had a lead on bin Laden in Pakistan that he would do this. I framed my recommendation around that. I said, “You always said that you would do this, so let’s do this.”
Mike Leiter: I was the last one to go. I ended with, “Even if I take the lowest range of what one of the red team analysts said—40 percent—in my view, that’s 38 percent higher than we’ve been for the past 10 years going after bin Laden.” Even if it is not a slam dunk, it is thoroughly more convincing than anything else we’ve seen.
Audrey Tomason: I was nervous, understanding that this opportunity had never come around before and that “The Pacer” could have left at any moment. The circle of people who were aware was starting to grow, which increased the risk of a leak, which then increased the risk of tip-off. The moment we had was fleeting. I was nervous we might miss it.