Quick . . . how many WATM board members are in this picture? (Photo: White House)
The Central Intelligence Agency on Monday defended live-tweeting the U.S. military raid that killed Osama bin Laden to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the covert mission.
The Langley, Virginia-based agency the day before had posted a series of tweets chronicling key moments during the May 2, 2011, raid by Navy SEALs on the terrorist leader's home in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
"1:25 pm EDT-@POTUS, DCIA Panetta, & JSOC commander Admiral McRaven approve execution of op in Abbottabad," it tweeted, referring to the local time the go-ahead was given by President Barack Obama, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta and then-Joint Special Operations Commander Navy Adm. William McRaven.
The agency's decision to do so came under fire from many observers on Twitter and other social media sites.
One of those was Phillip Carter, a former Army officer who served in Iraq and now works as a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington, D.C., where he directs the organization's military, veterans and society research program.
"I get @CIA desire to take victory lap but tweeting #UBLRaid seems contrary to Intel Community ethos & good judgment," Carter tweeted.
But the intelligence agency defended the move.
"The takedown of bin Ladin [sic] stands as one of the great intelligence successes of all time," Glenn Miller, a spokesman for the CIA, said in an emailed statement to Military.com, using a different spelling for bin Laden. "History has been a key element of CIA's social media efforts. On the fifth anniversary, it is appropriate to remember the day and honor all those who had a hand in this achievement."
Miller added, "In the past we have done postings to note other historical events including the Glomar operation, Argo, U-2 shootdown, and the evacuation of Saigon."
In an interview that aired Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" show, CIA Director John Brennan said the raid on bin Laden's compound less than a mile from Pakistan's prestigious military academy represented "the culmination of a lot of very hard work by some very good people at CIA and other agencies."
He added, "We have destroyed a large part of al-Qaeda. It is not completely eliminated, so we have to stay focused on what it can do. But now with this new phenomenon of ISIL, this is going to continue to challenge us in the counterterrorism community for years to come."
He was referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, which overtook large parts of both countries following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in late 2011 and the start of civilian uprisings in Syria against the regime of President Bashar al Assad.
Brennan said killing bin Laden was an important victory for the U.S. in both a symbolic and strategic sense, given that he was the founder of the terrorist group and a key player in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
"It was important after 9/11 that we remove the person responsible for that," he said.
While Brennan said eliminating ISIS' leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, "would have a great impact on the organization," he also called the al-Qaeda offshoot a "phenomenon" that appeals to tens of thousands of followers in not only Syria and Iraq, but also Libya, Nigeria and elsewhere in part because of endemic corruption and a lack of governance and economic opportunity in those regions.
"Although the counterterrorism community has an important obligation to try to prevent these attacks, we need to give the diplomats and other government officials both here in this country and other countries the time and space they need to address some of these underlying factors and conditions that facilitate and contribute to the growth of these organizations," he said.
Brennan also pushed back against a recommendation from former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat from Florida who helped lead a congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attacks, to release a 28-page chapter from the investigation that may help determine whether the attackers received Saudi support.
"I think there's a combination of things that are accurate and inaccurate," Brennan said of information in the pages in question. "I think that the 9/11 Commission took that joint inquiry and those 28 pages or so and followed through on the investigation and they came out with a very clear judgment that there was no evidence that indicated that the Saudi government as an institution or Saudi officials individually had provided financial support to al Qaeda."