On Thursday, President Obama will visit ground zero in New York City to mark Osama Bin Laden’s death and to meet with families of 9/11 victims. FrumForum interviewed 9/11 family members to get their reaction to Bin Laden’s killing. We also spoke to intelligence officials for their reaction to the operation and its implications for the War on Terror.
The military victory brought out a wide range of emotions from the 9/11 families. Gordon Haberman who lost a daughter, Andrea, was very somber, stating “my first impression was great humility for all the servicemen who have given their lives… I have to give President Obama credit where credit is due. He authorized this.”
Susan Rescorla, whose husband Rick died on 9/11, cried when she heard the news and wanted Americans to understand that “I have lived it every day since my husband was murdered. This is a moral victory, a symbol.”
Bob and Shirley Hemenway who lost their son Ronald were pessimistic, feeling that “Americans will forget real fast, in about a week. A piece of justice has been served by all who died. However, this is just a step along the way. The five at Guantanamo Bay must also be put away.”
Debra Burlingame, who lost her brother Chic, a pilot on American Airlines Flight 77, was very emotional. She recounted how “on the morning of 9/11 I got the call from the same brother who [later] called to tell me that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. I am glad that Bin Laden knew the American people had finally caught up with him.”
All had the same feelings of bestselling author Vince Flynn that, “It’s a great day for America, the CIA, and the JSOC.” Maureen Santora, who lost a son, Christopher, said it best, “Americans are strong because we are compassionate. God bless our soldiers and God bless America. I am thrilled this has finally happened. My son Christopher and his buddies and all those who were murdered are celebrating in heaven that goodness won over evil.”
The former intelligence officials FrumForum spoke with wanted Americans to know that the foundation for getting Bin Laden had been laid shortly after September 11th. They agreed with Pete Hoekstra, the former ranking member of the intelligence committee who commented that “there have been a lot of people focused on catching him for almost ten years. There is no doubt that this is a success and will have an impact since it clearly shows everyone that no one is safe.”
One former high-ranking CIA official was proud of the Agency and the Navy SEALs and wanted Americans to understand that “this was a victory for persistence. We have been unrelenting, the mojo never left. People working at counter-terrorism have never taken their eyes off the ball. “
Jamie Miscik, the former CIA’s deputy director for intelligence explained at the The Global Conference on Tuesday that prior to 9/11 the intelligence community knew that something was going to happen but did not know when. She proudly stated that “from 9/11 until Sunday people in the intelligence community were focused with intensity, skill, and dedication in making sure we got Bin Laden.”
The officials thought President Obama exhibited a great amount of courage in approving the operation. Fran Townsend, the former Bush Homeland Security Advisor, remarked that the President chose a risky operation but felt he had no other option. She explained that a predator attack was not an option since it was necessary to get eyes-on-confirmation that Bin Laden was really dead.
The White House is also debating whether to release photos of Bin Laden’s body. According to Townsend, the videotapes and still photos of the battle “must be released even if grisly. There will be some who will not believe his death absent of the photographs. We did it with the sons of Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.”
There were mixed reactions regarding Pakistan’s role in hiding Bin Laden. Hoekstra thought that individuals within the Pakistani government knew where Bin Laden was but not the Pakistani civilian administration itself. Townsend believes that either the Pakistani government knew or is very incompetent. She felt the Pakistanis were not trustworthy and was confident that “the Obama Administration did not tell them anything. If you pass sensitive information to them and that information was leaked the operation would be rendered impossible.”
Does the elimination of Bin Laden mean the War on Terror is over? Absolutely not, say the experts. Michael Hayden, the former CIA Director summarized the feelings of the intelligence officials FF spoke with by noting that Bin Laden’s death boosted America’s reputation around the world. Although America showed dedication and commitment in achieving the mission, he too made it clear that the war on terror is still ongoing.
He emphatically stressed that, “it was important to get Bin Laden. It does hurt them. They will have trouble replacing him. This is a nice macro lesson for the entire world about the reach, precision, and persistence of American power. However, this is far from over. Al Qaeda is not a hierarchy; it’s a network.”
Everyone interviewed pointed out that besides the Taliban there are other fronts to worry about, notably in Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Americans need to be diligent warns Clare Lopez, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Policy, considering “Ayman al-Zawahiri (the expected successor) is responsible for Al Qaeda operations…and still wants to kill Americans.”
Jamie Miscik warned that “Bin Laden was a hugely important symbolic leader of this movement. His absence will have a dramatic impact on the organization. Although he was not calling the shots for every single operation, he was a huge, attractive, charismatic figure. When the analysis is done what is usually seen is a quick surge in the activity to show that they are still relevant, that they still have the ability to carry out an attack.”
A former high ranking CIA official agreed that the operation boosted our standing. He noted: “America can use this incident to say to the Pakistanis, if you do not help us we will do it ourselves.”
Overall, this was a successful operation in which all Americans can be proud of the intelligence community and the military, notably the SEALs.