No Cover Story in Case of Bin Laden Raid Failure

U.S. officials knew what they’d say if SEAL Team 6 pulled it off, but there was no plan B for what to tell the American people if the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden had failed, the CIA’s former top information officer said Tuesday.

“I did not have some kind of cover story waiting in the wings” if the May 2011 raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, went badly, said George Little, who was chief spokesman for then-CIA Director Leon Panetta. “If one existed, it didn’t exist with me,” he said.

“I think we probably at some point would have had to acknowledge what happened,” Little said at a Pentagon briefing. “And, look, there were any number of contingencies that could have occurred and we couldn’t possibly plan against all of those. And this was a very risky operation.”

“I think we would have been truthful about what had happened” if the raid had failed, he said. “Thankfully, we didn’t have to go that route and it was a successful operation,” said Little, who followed Panetta to the Defense Department and has served for the past year as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s chief spokesman.

Little, who will be leaving his post at the end of the week, left another matter from the Bin Laden raid still hanging. He said that Defense Department and the Justice Department might still pursue a civil suit against Matthew Owen, one of the SEAL Team 6 members on the Bin Laden raid, who wrote the book “No Easy Day” on the operation.

“The Department continues to assert forcefully that this individual breached his legal obligations by publishing the book without pre-publication review and clearance,” Little said. “It’s a basic tenet of your contract with the department in these kinds of roles.”

Little said that DoD and Justice officials were discussing an out-of-court settlement with Owen’s lawyer but “we’re also poised to pursue civil litigation, if necessary, for the author’s breach.”

Hagel has yet to decide who would succeed him as Pentagon chief spokesman, said Little, who also has yet to decide on his future other than spending the holidays with his family without interruption.

Little also said earlier that he was back on speaking terms with Bravo, Panetta’s pet who was once called the “most powerful dog in Washington.” Bravo sat under Panetta’s desk for many of the top-secret planning sessions on the Bin Laden operation.

Little incurred the wrath of his boss, and Bravo, when he described the dog for reporters as an Irish setter. Bravo is a golden retriever, despite his reddish coat. “I have made my amends with Bravo,” Little said.

About the Author

Richard Sisk
Richard Sisk is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.