WASHINGTON — After Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, the White House released a photo of President Obama and his Cabinet watching the raid.
Standing just outside the frame of that now-famous photograph was a career CIA analyst. In the hunt for the world's most-wanted terrorist, there may have been no one more important. He hunted bin Laden for 10 years.
Interviews with former and current U.S. intelligence officials reveal a story of quiet persistence and continuity that led to the greatest counterterrorism success in the history of the CIA.
Call him "John." From 2003, when he joined the counterterrorism center, through 2005, John was one of the driving forces behind the most successful string of counterterrorism captures in the fight against terrorism: Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Nashiri, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Ramzi bin Alshib, Hambali and Faraj al-Libi. But there was no greater prize than finding bin Laden.
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He examined and re-examined every aspect of bin Laden's life.
His ability to spot the importance of seemingly insignificant details, to weave disparate strands of information into a meaningful story, gave him a particular knack for hunting terrorists.
John also pushed to expand the Predator program, the agency's use of unmanned airplanes to launch missiles at terrorists. The CIA largely confined those strikes to targets along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. But in late 2007 and early 2008, John said the CIA needed to carry out deeper attacks.
The CIA tracked some leads to a walled compound in Abbottabad.
An agonizing 40 minutes after Navy SEALs stormed the compound, the report came back: Bin Laden was dead.