Countdown Bin Laden

Chris Wallace

Avid Reader Press

Sept 7th, 2021

Countdown Bin Laden by Fox News Host Chris Wallace is a riveting read.  It is written like a Vince Flynn novel where the readers feel the ticking clock and the intensity.  The eight months of intelligence gathering, national security strategizing, and meticulous military planning leads to the climactic mission when SEAL Team Six finds and kills the mastermind behind 9/11. 

The book opens on August 27th, 2010, 247 days and counting when CIA officers asked Director Leon Panetta for a private meeting. In that session Panetta is told an Al Qaeda courier is living in a three-story house, a protected fortress, in Abbottabad Pakistan. Those interviewed included Navy SEAL Robert O’Neill who took the three shots that killed Osama Bin Laden, Will Chesney the SEAL dog handler who helped in the raid, CIA director Leon Panetta, Gary the head of the counter-terrorism Pakistan-Afghanistan Division, Mike Morell, CIA Deputy Director, and Admiral William McRaven, who planned the mission. There is one special person also interviewed, former NYPD Jessica Ferenczy who was to be married to NYPD Jerome Dominquez. He ran into the Towers to save people that ultimately cost him his life.

This book is a must read for those who want the details about the Bin Laden killing.  It shows how President Obama was a hard-liner, Maya, an operative dedicating her career to finding Bin Laden, and all those mentioned above; all worked together to accomplish a mission where the odds were not high.  Drawing together published memoirs, journalistic accounts, and interviews helps readers understand the intricacies of getting this murderer.

Elise Cooper:  You find stories that “countdown?”

Chris Wallace:  There is a start and finish and throughout the pages it builds to a finish.  I like to explain the decision making and how a plan is executed that builds to the final event.  I also like the idea of anniversaries.  The last book, Countdown 1945, had the 45th anniversary of Hiroshima.  This book is published around the 10th anniversary of the Bin Laden raid and the 20th anniversary of 9/11.  

EC:  Do you think we are reverting to September 10th, 2001?

CW:  We will never go back to September 10th in that we will never be blindly confident that terrorism will never happen here in the US.  The anniversaries and the reading of the lists of those killed on 9/11 brings it home and still has an emotional impact.  

EC:  I think the terrorists have a say?

CW:  The other side in this war has not surrendered and are hell bent on doing evil to us.  It does not end unless both sides agree to a resolution.  I am troubled about getting out and the talk of “over the horizon” counter-terrorism.  The fight to the terrorists must be on the ground.  

EC:  Do you think your book will have an impact on remembering 9/11?

CW:  I would not pretend the book has a major impact on any foreign policy or American public opinion.  I do hope those who read the book will appreciate that as badly as the Afghan War ended there were still good and important things done.  The most important being taking out the mastermind of 9/11, decapitating Al Qaeda, and protecting the homeland for twenty years.

EC:  President Obama made the decision to not tell Pakistan we were invading their country?

CW:  Obama was resolute from the beginning that he would not notify Pakistan and involve them.  On March 29ththere was a discussion of what should be done if the Pakistanis try to prevent the SEALS from leaving. Obama responded, “Develop a plan to fight your way out.” He went on to say that we are going in on our own and will get out on our own. 

EC:  The President made a good decision?

CW:  After Admiral McRaven heard that the President said it was a go he thought it was a gutsy decision.  The SEAL Rob O’Neill said he does not agree with most of Obama’s policies but will always give him credit for going ahead and ordering the raid.

EC:  Then Vice-President Biden was against the raid and said at a national security team meeting, “Mr. President, my suggestion is, don’t go.” And in fact, Secretary of Defense Gates in his memoir said that Biden has “been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” Please comment.

CW:  In the book there is a wonderful story of how Gates was teased by Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  It was an open secret of Gates lack of regard for Biden.

EC:  Sometimes the CIA does not get enough credit even though they are shields that keep us safe?

CW:  There is a book quote, by Panetta, “We’re silent warriors.  We don’t say much.  We don’t say a lot about what we do.”  He said that at the funeral of one of the CIA officers killed in the bombing of Khost, Afghanistan. They played an enormous role with intelligence gathering and the front-line activity.  They are the ones who developed the lead to find Bin Laden. They never gave up and were determined to track him down no matter how long it took.

EC:  The civilian highlighted in the book was retired NYPD officer Jessica Ferenczy.  I thought the police today are mistreated like Vietnam veterans back then. Please comment.

CW:  I wanted to put a human face on the loss.  The obvious choice would have been someone on the plane that crashed in Shanksville Pennsylvania or someone on the 90th floor of the World Trade Center.  But I wanted to show how the police had a different sense of loss.  This had a uniqueness because she was ‘engaged’ to NYPD officer Jerome Dominquez who ran into the building to try to save people. She lost someone she loved who was a hero. But to answer your question, I think most Americans think highly of the police and the Defund the Police was one of the dumbest movements.

EC:  It is sad that a Pakistani who helped with the raid was left behind just as many interpreters are now left behind in Afghanistan?

CW:  You are referring to Dr. Shakil Afridi who is still imprisoned, but for other supposed misdeeds.  Americans should have the creed, if you stand up for us, we will protect you and won’t leave you behind. A fair criticism is we don’t always keep that promise. 

EC:  Did you interview the CIA operative Maya?

CW:  Unfortunately, no, but I did speak with Gary, Panetta, and Morell.  The real Maya was not in Pakistan and on the ground helping catch the courier as portrayed in the Hollywood movie. But she is a badass operative.  One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Panetta goes around the table asking about the prospects and one person says 60, another 80, and she unequivocally says 95.  The other is a scene when she sees Bin Ladens’ corpse and responds she is now out of a job and walks away.  Both she and Gary are no longer at the CIA.

EC:  What do you want Americans who were not even born then to understand about 9/11?

CW:  It doesn’t matter how long it takes or how far we must travel, we will get the person who attacked America.  Al Qaeda brought the battlefield to ground zero in NY, Shanksville Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon.  We brought the battlefield to that part of the world.  The US has resolve, determination, resources, and capability. It also brought justice for the victims of 9/11.  

EC:  Who deserves the credit?

CW:  There was resolve with the intelligence gathering, smart and thoughtful political decision making, and brilliant execution in the military. Ultimately Obama made the choice to go.  If he does not say it the raid never happens.  But Panetta deserves enormous credit, McRaven for putting together such an effective raid, and of course the SEALs for carrying it out so beautifully. If the last month has been a case study in all that goes wrong, then the Bin Laden raid was a case study of what happens when everything goes well. 




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About the Author

Elise Cooper

Elise writes book reviews that always include a short author interview.