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Audrey Tomason, director for counterterrorism, National Security Council, White House: They allowed everybody to have a voice, which felt different than other senior-level meetings that I had sat in on in the past. It was a lot of questions that were about what happened after: What happens if bin Laden is killed? What do we do with the body? What would the reaction of the Pakistanis be? What is the threat that would come afterward, particularly to U.S. Facilities and persons abroad? What is the future of al Qaeda without bin Laden?
John Brennan: The CIA had adrenaline and momentum that just sustained it 24/7 to do everything possible to try to confirm that bin Laden was at the compound.
Nick Rasmussen: One of the meetings that was particularly impactful was March 29, when the president convened a meeting of the National Security Council. The president asked what I thought was a very practical question: “Will the intelligence picture get any better? Will we be able to narrow the gap of uncertainty in the weeks or months ahead?”
One of the things I admired about the way CIA dealt with this was that they were very honest. They certainly were pulling out every stop, but Panetta was very clear in saying, “Look, we’re doing lots of things, but Mr. President, none of those is likely to give us in the near term a much better picture than what we have today.”
Adm. William McRaven: In March, we started having these meetings with the president—I was a junior guy at the table—but the president’s leadership was really remarkable. He made sure that all of the principals sitting around the room, everybody had an opportunity to give their opinion. Everybody had the opportunity to dissent. This was a very important part of the process. Being a military guy, to me process is important, because process allows you to get eventually to the best decision.