Biden dishes on bin Laden decision
January 27th, 2012
04:56 PM ET

Biden dishes on bin Laden decision

By Adam Levine, CNN

The mission to get Osama bin Laden seems to be the raid that keeps on giving for the Obama White House.  Whether it is a mention at the top and bottom of the State of the Union address or a highlight in a campaign speech, the president frequently refers to the mission as evidence of his leadership and foreign policy strength.

Vice President Joe Biden jumped on the Obama leadership bandwagon Friday when he revealed that he cautioned the president against signing off on the raid on bin Laden's hideaway. Despite his reservations, Biden said the president made the decision all alone.

Speaking to a meeting of congressional Democrats in Maryland, Biden shared a few new details about the tense decision-making process preceding the president's approval for the daring Pakistan raid by special operations forces.

Biden said that for a four-to-six week period in early 2011 only six people knew that bin Laden might be hiding in the military town of Abbottabad, Pakistan. When enough information finally surfaced, the president convened his national security staff on April 28.

“The president, he went around the table, with all the senior people, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and he said, 'I have to make a decision, what is your opinion?' He started with the national security adviser, the secretary of state, and he ended with me. Every single person in that room hedged their bet, except (then-CIA Director) Leon Panetta. Leon said go," Biden recalled.

Biden told the president, "My suggestion is don't go," saying there were more details that had to be checked to ascertain if bin Laden was indeed in the compound.

"You end up having to make decisions based on the moon, will there be enough light. And we had to make a decision,” Biden said.

According to the vice president, Obama left that meeting and said he would make the decision.

"The next morning he came down to the diplomatic entrance, getting in a helicopter I believe to go to Michigan; I'm not positive (about) that. He turned to (national security adviser) Tom Donilon and said 'Go,' " Biden said.

In fact, Obama was leaving for Alabama the morning of April 29, not Michigan. CNN previously reported that Obama gave the order at 8:20 a.m. ET.  Obama boarded the helicopter at 8:30 a.m. ET, according to the White House schedule that day.

John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, told reporters last May how the inner circle "debated across the board," so the president could ensure "at the end that he had the views of all the principals."

"He goes around the room, and he wants to hear people’s views. And so you have a circumstantial intelligence case. And so people will see that either there is insufficient circumstantial evidence to go forward with something like this, which involves a unilateral operation in another country to go after somebody you believe is Osama bin Laden - and there were differences of views that were discussed. That’s what the president wanted to know," Brennan said.

The vice president isn’t the only who had second thoughts about pulling the trigger. Robert Gates, then the defense secretary, has also admitted he had reservations about the raid.

Filed under: Al Qaeda • CIA • Gates • Military • Most Wanted • Osama bin Laden • Panetta • Terrorism
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