President to '60 Minutes:' 'There had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan'
Did some people in Pakistan's government or intelligence agencies know that Osama bin Laden was living inside their country? In his first interview since the killing of the al Qaeda leader, President Barack Obama told "60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft his administration thinks there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden. "But we don't know who or what that support network was," he added.
The president told Kroft it is unclear whether there might have been assistance from people inside or outside the Pakistani government, and that the U.S. and Pakistan need to investigate this.
The interview with President Obama will be broadcast on "60 Minutes" this Sunday, May 8 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
STEVE KROFT: Do you believe people in the Pakistani government, Pakistani intelligence agencies knew that bin Laden was living there?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan. But we don't know who or what that support network was. We don't know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that's something that we have to investigate, and more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate. And we've already communicated to them, and they have indicated they have a profound interest in finding out what kinds of support networks bin Laden might have had. But these are questions that we're not going to be able to answer three or four days after the event. It's going to take some time for us to be able to exploit the intelligence that we were able to gather on site.
The first thing on President Obama's mind when planning the daring assault on Osama bin Laden's compound was getting the Navy SEAL team out under any conditions, he tells Steve Kroft. The president says those plans were constructed to provide "the best chance of getting our guys out."
Special Report: The killing of Osama bin Laden
KROFT: What was the most difficult part? I mean you had to decide. This was your decision whether to proceed or not and how to proceed. What was the most difficult part of that decision?
OBAMA: My number one concern was if I send them in, can I get them out? And a lot of the discussion we had during the course of planning was how do we make sure there's backup. How do we make sure that there's redundancy built into the plan so that we have the best chance of getting our guys out. That's point number one.
The president also told Kroft the decision to bury the body of Osama bin Laden at sea was a respectful and appropriate way that contrasted sharply with the terrorist's disregard for the 3,000 people who perished - some never to be found - in the 9/11 massacre he masterminded.
About bin Laden's burial at sea executed within 24 hours of his death as prescribed by Muslim law, the president said, "Frankly, we took more care on this than, obviously, bin Laden took when he killed 3,000 people. He didn't have much regard for how they were treated and desecrated. But that, again, is something that makes us different. And I think we handled it appropriately."
Kroft asks President Obama if it was his decision to bury the al Qaeda leader at sea. "It was a joint decision. We thought it was important to think through ahead of time how we would dispose of the body if he were killed in the compound," says the president. "And I think that what we tried to do was - consulting with experts in Islamic law and ritual - to find something that was appropriate, that was, respectful of the body."
The president talked to Kroft about the decision not to release death photos of the terrorist leader:
KROFT: Did you see the pictures?
KROFT: What was your reaction when you saw them?
OBAMA: It was him.
KROFT: Why haven't you released them?
OBAMA: You know, we discussed this internally. Keep in mind that we are absolutely certain this was him. We've done DNA sampling and testing. And so there is no doubt that we killed Osama bin Laden. It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence. As a propaganda tool. You know, that's not who we are. You know, we don't trot out this stuff as trophies. You know, the fact of the matter is this was somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received. And I think-- Americans and people around the world are glad that he's gone. But we don't need to spike the football. And I think that given the graphic nature of these photos, it would create some national security risk. And I've discussed this with Bob Gates and Hillary Clinton and my intelligence teams and they all agree.
KROFT: There are people in Pakistan, for example, who say, "Look, this is all a lie. Obama, this is another American trick. Osama's not dead."
OBAMA: You know, the truth is that and we -- we're monitoring worldwide reaction. There's no doubt that Bin Laden is dead. Certainly there's no doubt among al Qaeda members that he is dead. And so we don't think that a photograph in and of itself is going to make any difference. There are going be some folks who deny it. The fact of the matter is, you will not see bin Laden walking on this Earth again.
In Sunday's interview, the president will reveal for the first time his thoughts as he watched and listened from the Situation Room of the White House as the commando-style raid on bin Laden's compound unfolded.