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Mike Morell: He showed us that the main house had very few windows. He showed us that the compound was compartmented, broken up with internal walls so it was difficult to move from one part of the compound to another. And he pointed out to us that there was a balcony off the third floor—the interesting thing is the balcony had a privacy wall, so if there was somebody on the balcony, you couldn’t see them. And I remember Director Panetta saying, “Why would you put a privacy wall on a balcony—isn’t the whole point of a balcony to be able to see out?”
Leon Panetta: Abbottabad is about the closest thing in Pakistan that comes to a resort area—there are mountains all around. If you have a compound, you would assume you’d like to look at the mountains. To have a seven- or eight-foot wall on the third floor raised a lot of issues.
Mike Morell: Nobody said aloud that bin Laden might be there, but everyone was thinking it.
Leon Panetta: Not only was there high security around the compound, but the couriers would travel 90 miles away to make a cellphone call. In addition to that, there was this mysterious family on that third floor. Using our intelligence capabilities, looking at the clothes and the clothesline, we identified how many members were in that family. The sense was that the number of members in that family matched the number of family members they thought were in bin Laden’s family. But we never saw that family.
Mike Morell: The first briefing we did with the White House was [White House homeland security adviser] John Brennan—just John—and then a second briefing was John, Tom Donilon and Jim Jones, who was then the national security adviser.
Mary DeRosa, legal counsel, National Security Council, White House: I was in the Sit Room—as all the meetings were—and before the briefing started, I remember an unusual amount of attention to who could be in the room, including for people who were normally in everything. That’s the atmospherics—like, “What am I about to hear?” I’ve been in many very, very sensitive meetings, but it hadn’t been like that before.
Tom Donilon: The intelligence community came to me and indicated that they thought they had the best lead on where bin Laden might be since the United States lost him in the mountains of Tora Bora years before in Afghanistan.
Nick Rasmussen, senior director for cou