Bin Laden's death is anundeniable success for an intelligence community that missed the connections that might have prevented the attack. It coincides with the unofficial kick-off of the 2012 re-election cycle, where the incumbent, President Obama, has had his credentials as commander in chief repeatedly questioned by opponents and his citizenship mocked. Having scored the victory that remained beyond the grasp of George W. Bush--who graciously congratulated the president tonight--Obama's military bona fides will be harder to attack.
Whatever flaws the president's national security policies may have, and however infrequently Obama may have mentioned bin Laden, history will record that, when it came to getting Bin Laden, Obama got the job done and his predecessor, George W, Bush, whose entire presidency was tormented by bin Laden's actions on 9/11, did not despite Bush's claim that he would capture him "dead or alive."
The White House notified its Sunday press pool at 9:45 tonight that the lid they placed on coverage was lifted, and that the President would address the nation at 10:30. Then White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer Tweeted about it moments later.
The cell phones of intelligence and national security spokespeople went straight to voice mail, suggesting they were overloaded or that their bearers had been asked to shut them off, so as not to inadvertently tip anyone off.
Several senior intelligence officials, including the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, and the CIA Director, Leon Panetta, were called to the White House early today and have been out of contact with staff since then - a sign to them that something big was happening. Beginning around 9:45 p.m. ET tonight, White House officials and Panetta began to notify members of Congress, beginning with Speaker John Boehner. Former President Bush was also notified. He issued a statement shortly after Obama finished speaking. "The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: no matter how long it takes, justice will be done," Bush wrote in the statement.
Since going into hiding, bin Laden has issued about 30 rambling messages to the U.S., some of which have taunted President Obama personally. During a debate in the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama said killing bin Laden and crushing al-Qaida was the "biggest national security priority." But in a CBS interview in January 2009, he walked back those comments, saying it would be enough to keep the terrorist organization "on the run."
"If we have so tightened the noose that he's in a cave somewhere and can't even communicate with his operatives, then we will meet our goal of protecting America," he said in the interview. Tonight, he exceeded his own expectations.