I wish. This charge has been leveled at the president by political opponents apparently looking to find some way to muddy one of the unalloyed successes of his term. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney accused the Obama team of leaking secret information about the bin Laden raid in a July speech, and said that such security breaches were “contemptible” and “betray our national interest.” The charge is certainly untrue in my case, and I worked as hard as anyone to get close to the story.
I would, frankly, have welcomed a leak from somewhere. In the first days after the raid, White House staff members responded to a flood of questions about the mission — and in some cases got things wrong — but none of what they said revealed secrets. Someone with close knowledge of the raid itself did speak with Nicholas Schmidle of the New Yorker for his detailed account on the assault, but he has not revealed his source.
There have also been unsubstantiated claims that a SEAL team member cooperated with filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow in creating her yet-to-be-released movie version of the raid, “Zero Dark Thirty.” But with me, the White House declined to make any effort to encourage those in the military or intelligence community to discuss the raid.
The single biggest leak has come from a former Navy SEAL who has dubbed himself “Mark Owen,” and whose book on the raid, “No Easy Day,” has topped best-seller lists for weeks. He was not authorized to tell his story — indeed, the Pentagon has said it may take legal action against him. Even though his account of the raid is far more detailed than anything published previously, the former SEAL has argued that his version discloses no secrets.
Given that the death of Osama bin Laden is such a major story, it is no surprise that journalists have sought interviews with the president and key decision-makers since the day its success was announced. White House staffers spoke to me about the decision-making process, but offered only carefully guarded accounts of what they witnessed while monitoring the raid from the Situation Room.
President Obama himself hardly rushed to help me, and to my knowledge spoke to no other print journalist about it. He agreed to answer my questions almost a year after I made my initial request, and spoke only about how he arrived at the order to launch the raid and dealt with its repercussions. No member of the SEAL team, other than “Owen,” has spoken to reporters as far as I know.
In the more than a decade that has passed since the 9/11 attacks, the raid that killed bin Laden ranks as perhaps America’s greater counterterrorism success story. But if some in the White House had the urge to do the political equivalent of an end zone celebration following the attack, wiser voices evidently prevailed.
Mark Bowden is the author of numerous books, including “Black Hawk Down,” a National Book Award finalist.