Supporters of President Obama’s reelection apparently have decided that when it comes to discussing his record as commander in chief, Exhibit A has to be the takedown of Al Qaeda kingpin Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan last year. A coterie of current and former Pentagon officials has been making the rounds at think tanks and on the Georgetown cocktail circuit, lauding Mr. Obama’s courage in undertaking what by all accounts was a risky mission.
And why shouldn’t they? George W. Bush and Dick Cheney spent seven years looking for the mastermind of the 9-11 attacks, and never managed to corner him. That didn’t exactly send the right message to other extremists who might have sought to imitate Bin Laden’s example. If you read the published accounts of how he was finally killed, it is clear most of the relevant action occurred on President Obama’s watch — from the tracking of a key courier to the identification of Bin Laden’s compound near Islamabad to the daring raid by Navy SEALS.
So I’m not going to criticize Obama’s backers for highlighting a clear-cut victory in what used to be called the global war on terror. But I am going to complain about the player that wasn’t invited to their victory celebration: the defense industry. No doubt about it, the president took a big risk that paid off, the SEALS deserve their commendations and the intelligence community regained its reputation for world-class sleuthing. But would any of this have been possible without the secret technology provided by the defense industry?
Probably not. According to the New York Times, intelligence analysts spent weeks poring over satellite imagery of Bin Laden’s compound once his courier was tracked to the area making certain they had enough hard information to justify a raid into Pakistan. They also began monitoring the compound using sensitive eavesdropping equipment. Sophisticated software was needed to fuse together all the telltale indications of Bin Laden’s presence. And those pictures of the president’s security team watching the operation unfold on a monitor in the White House situation room — that wasn’t a feed from the KCBS news copter, it was coming from a stealthy surveillance drone that the Washington Post later reported had conducted dozens of missions in Pakistani airspace to help nail down Bin Laden’s location.
Based on published reports, the satellites and surveillance drone were probably built by Lockheed Martin, using sensors and other gear developed by Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. Raytheon probably led development of the network that processed and disseminated key imagery. The Sikorsky unit of United Technologies probably modified Blackhawk helicopters so the SEALS could fly into Pakistan undetected by local forces and Bin Laden supporters. And Chinook helicopters made by Boeing were vital to the initial staging of the operation.
Obviously, there are compelling reasons why the government can’t discuss much of this in public. It doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of whole constellations of eavesdropping satellites, most of which are apparently built by Northrop Grumman. But is it really asking too much for some sort of official acknowledgement of the role that private enterprise played in the Bin Laden raid?
The Bin Laden takedown wasn’t just a smashing success for the Obama Administration and the Joint Force, it was the latest victory for cutting-edge American technology. There really should be some mention in public discussions of the Bin Laden operation of the role industry played in making the mission work. If you don’t know that part of the story in the global campaign to defeat al Qaeda, then it’s hard to explain why the military is now able to move on to an “Asia-Pacific” posture.
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