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Profile: William H. McRaven
William H. McRaven was a participant or observer in the following events:
US Special Forces and the CIA come to an agreement that improves cooperation on overseas operations. CIA Director Leon Panetta and Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, sign a secret agreement that sets out rules for joint CIA-Special Forces missions. This deal will be the basis for dozens of joint operations in the next couple of years in Afghanistan. By the time of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), the CIA and Special Forces will have a good working relationship. [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011]
Reporter Seymour Hersh speaking at a 2007 forum on the media in Doha, Qatar. [Source: Reuters / Fadi Al-Assaad / MinnPost (.com)]In a wide-ranging seminar with former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh at the University of Minnesota, Hersh claims that he has evidence that the US operated what he calls an “executive assassination wing” during the Bush administration, perhaps controlled by the office of then Vice President Dick Cheney. [MinnPost (.com), 3/11/2009] (Hersh will later say he used the word “wing,” but it was widely misreported as “ring” in the media.) [CNN, 3/30/2009] Hersh says he will explain his charges more fully in an upcoming book. When asked about recent instances of a president exceeding his constitutional authority, Hersh gives a response that moves from CIA activities, through the Joint Special Operations Command, to the alleged “assassination wing”: “After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command—JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him.… Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination wing essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths. Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us. It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized. In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people. I’ve had people say to me—five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee?’ But they’re not gonna get before a committee.” Mondale says of Cheney and his office that “they ran a government within a government.” Hersh adds, “Eight or nine neoconservatives took over our country.” Mondale notes that the precedents of abuse of vice presidential power by Cheney would remain “like a loaded pistol that you leave on the dining room table.” [MinnPost (.com), 3/11/2009] CIA spokesman George Little responds to Hersh’s allegation by writing: “I saw your story on Seymour Hersh’s recent allegations regarding CIA activities since 9/11. If you wish, you can attribute the quoted portion that follows to me, in name, as a CIA spokesman: ‘This is utter nonsense.’” [MinnPost (.com), 3/12/2009]
Vice Admiral William McRaven. [Source: CBS News]Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, meets with intelligence officials at CIA headquarters and is shown photographs and maps of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. McRaven is one of the first military officers to be told the highly classified intelligence. He begins planning options on how the US could kill or capture bin Laden (if bin Laden is in the compound). McRaven assigns an unnamed Navy captain from SEAL Team 6 to work on the options. The captain will work daily with CIA officials on the plans. McRaven and his associates will come up with three main options on how to raid the compound (see March 14, 2011). [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
A meeting about Osama bin Laden’s possible hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see 2003-Late 2005 and January 22, 2004-2005), is held at CIA headquarters. The attendees include commander of Joint Special Operations Command Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and other senior CIA officials. They meet around a large and highly accurate scale model of the suspect Abbottabad compound built by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency from satellite imagery. They discuss the intelligence about the compound and possible courses of action. Three choices of action are discussed: a Stealth bomber bomb strike; a Special Forces helicopter raid; and a joint operation raid with the Pakistani government. Analysts have concluded that there is a high-value target in the compound (which is now called Abbottabad Compound One, or AC1), and there is a strong possibility that the target is bin Laden. However, it is also possible the target could be someone else important like al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri or top Taliban leader Mullah Omar, or bin Laden’s family could be there without him. To be more certain, a “red team” analysis is ordered, which means that analysts so far unaware of the compound are given the evidence and asked to critically appraise it. [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011] Three months later, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
President Obama meets again with the National Security Council to decide how to act on intelligence that Osama bin Laden is probably hiding in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see 2003-Late 2005 and January 22, 2004-2005). Two weeks earlier, he had narrowed down the options to two: bomb the compound with stealth bombers and thus completely destroy it, or send in US Special Forces by helicopter and kill bin Laden with a ground assault (see March 14, 2011). Since that meeting, CIA analysts have been unable to rule out the possibility that there is a tunnel network under the compound. To be sure tunnels could not be used to escape, the amount of bombing on the compound would need to be greatly increased. At least one nearby house would be in the blast radius and probably a dozen or so neighbors would be killed. Furthermore, the heavy bombing would make it even less likely that DNA evidence could be acquired to prove that bin Laden had been killed. By the end of the meeting, Obama rules out the bombing option, leaving only the Special Forces helicopter raid option. He tells Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, to come back to him by April 18 with a more detailed helicopter raid plan and an opinion on how likely such a plan would be successful. [New York Times, 5/2/2011; Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011] Five weeks later, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
The US military prepares a Special Forces helicopter raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see 2003-Late 2005 and January 22, 2004-2005). On March 29, President Obama tasked Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, with preparing the raid (see March 29, 2011). McRaven picks members of Red Squadron, one of four squads on Navy SEAL Team Six, to take part in the raid. The team members chosen have relevant language experience and are veterans of secret operations into Pakistan. On April 7 and April 13, the SEALs stage two rehearsals in the US on a replica of the compound. The participants still do not know the target of the planned raid. On April 19, McRaven briefs President Obama on how the plan is developing (see April 19, 2011). [New York Times, 5/2/2011; Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011] Less than a month later, the strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
President Obama is briefed again on how the plan to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, is progressing. Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, has been preparing a raid by Navy SEAL Team Six, and he updates Obama on the latest preparations (see March 30-April 19, 2011). Obama mostly discusses the contingency plans for the many things that could go wrong. For instance, what if the helicopters transporting the SEAL team crash? Or what if the Pakistani military reacts quickly and attacks the team? McRaven says he plans to have a quick reaction force nearby to help extract the team if things go horribly wrong. Also, Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, plans to call General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, head of the Pakistani military, and implore him not to attack the team, if it looks like Pakistan is on the verge of doing so. But no one can be sure how Pakistan will react in such a situation. Nevertheless, plans for the raid continue to advance. [ABC News, 6/9/2011] Two weeks later, a Navy SEAL Team Six strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
President Obama meets with his national security team again as preparations to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, near their final stages. The main concern remains contingency plans in case things go horribly wrong. It is decided to use four helicopters instead of two in the raid. (The two extra helicopters will be nearby in case of emergency.) US intelligence allegedly is still not 100 percent certain that bin Laden is at the compound, and Obama’s advisers have varying opinions:
Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, who has been leading the raid preparations (see March 30-April 19, 2011), tells Obama that he thinks the raid will be successful. [New York Times, 5/2/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011] (McRaven participates remotely, because he is already in Afghanistan making last minute arrangements with the raid team.)
According to one account, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is skeptical, but finally comes out in favor of the raid. [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011] Another account says Gates still thinks the intelligence isn’t strong enough. [ABC News, 6/9/2011]
Michael Leiter, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, says he thinks the odds are less than 50 percent that bin Laden is there.
Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan is in favor of going ahead with the raid.
CIA Director Leon Panetta also is in favor. He says the odds of bin Laden being there are between about 60 and 80 percent. He also says that the “red team”—analysts only recently brought in on the intelligence on the compound to get an outside opinion—agree that bin Laden is probably in the compound.
Obama reportedly puts the odds at about 55 percent. At the end of the meeting, he reportedly says, “I’m not going to tell you what my decision is now—I’m going to go back and think about it some more.” But he adds, “I’m going to make a decision soon.” [New York Times, 5/2/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
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