Bush's Policy Adviser: Bin Laden's Demise 'Tribute' To Obama

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Stephen Hadley, the principle White House foreign policy adviser to President George W. Bush, tells NPR's Steve Inskeep that Obama conducted a "well-run operation" to kill Osama bin Laden. He says that it was Bush's No. 1 priority while he was in office — and Bush "took some satisfaction" that he put things in place in the intelligence community.


We're going to talk about the death of Osama bin Laden next with Stephen Hadley. He was National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009, among other positions. Mr. Hadley, welcome back to the program.

Mr. STEPHEN HADLEY (Former National Security Advisor for President George W. Bush): Nice to be here.

INSKEEP: I want to go back through some of the history here, if I might. The last known, publicly known location of Osama bin Laden that I could think of was in late 2001 he was believed to have been in Tora Bora section of caves in Afghanistan. Was that the last - up until this weekend - was that the last time that you knew where he was, or anywhere that he had been?

Mr. HADLEY: I think that's fair. We had some thoughts in the two to three years after that. The expectation was, and the indications were, that he was the tribal areas in Pakistan - in remote areas of the tribal areas - but there was really no hard or confirmed evidence. That was probably as much circumstantial and speculative. And in the last four years of the Bush administration what was really remarkable was that there was really no indications or intelligence coming in at where he was.

And so what the intelligence community did was work developing human intelligence sources and other things in a very methodical way, and that years of effort resulted in the opportunity that led to the events of yesterday.

INSKEEP: Now, it seems that this investigation of the leads that they had really heated up in the last several months, but we're also told that some of these leads stretched back several years, presumably back into the Bush administration, the time when you were national security advisor, when some of these couriers where being followed and so forth.

Mr. HADLEY: That is true, and the press reports come out today. We've seen talk about how in the 2006, 2007 timeframe, detainees in Guantanamo began to identify people who were part of the support structure for Osama bin Laden, and who were potentially couriers. And it was really developing in following those human intelligence sources that seems to have led to the identification of the compound and the successful operation.

INSKEEP: Was that the kind of information that would be of high priority enough to come across your desk, that there was someone who was potentially a courier, who had potentially been found with a potential connection to bin Laden?

Mr. HADLEY: Absolutely. And the fact of these couriers was briefed to the president of the United States, President Bush, and it was part of the effort that he pushed the CIA very hard in terms of finding Osama bin Laden. It was his number one priority.

INSKEEP: It must have been frustrating to leave office and know that you had not gotten that one off the checklist.

Mr. HADLEY: I think it was. The president talks about it in his book. But I think he also, I think, took some satisfaction at the time. And I know he takes some satisfaction today that the things that were put in place within the intelligence community and the special operations capability, the things that were put in place during his watch are what ultimately led to the successful operation.

But it is a tribute to the Obama administration. This was a well-run operation. And of course, especially to the men and women of our intelligence services and our special operations forces who did such a magnificent job.

INSKEEP: So I'm just trying to think through the timeline here: 2001, Osama bin Laden is believed to be in Tora Bora; 2001 to maybe 2005, it sounds like perhaps he was in the tribal areas - that was the best indication you have; and now we believe that as of about 2005 or so, he may have been in this house in Abbottabad. That's the best timeline we could come up with for now?

Mr. HADLEY: I think so. Again, I'm reading mostly press reports. In terms of the construction of the house, that's right. But one of the questions we don't know yet is exactly when Osama bin Laden moved into the house, and whether some of the pressure that is being put on the tribal areas actually resulted to relocate. I haven't seen any press reports on that. I'm sure that's one of the things that will probably come out in the days ahead.

INSKEEP: Mr. Hadley, one other thing. As you know very well, there are people who felt that the war in Iraq was a distraction from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the hunt for Osama bin Laden. There were people in the military who felt that resources were diverted. And of course, resources have been added in recent months and years.

Is there any feeling on your part that had things gone differently, you might've been able to find bin Laden sooner?

Mr. HADLEY: No, actually the kind of intelligence work that we did was actually going on under the Bush administration, as we just discussed in terms of the couriers and the like. So, and secondly, look, al-Qaida decided to make their stand not in Afghanistan but in Iraq. Iraq was where al-Qaida decided to make a stand against the United States. And with cooperation of the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi people, al-Qaida was delivered a huge defeat in Iraq.

And now, of course, with the killing of Osama bin Laden, this is yet another blow to al-Qaida. That's all good news.

INSKEEP: Stephen Hadley was President Bush's national security adviser from 2005 to 2009.

Thanks very much.

Mr. HADLEY: Nice to be with you.


This is special coverage from NPR news.

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