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Obama praises CIA workers’ role in bin Laden killing

May 21st, 2011 Top News

Obama spoke before a packed crowd in the CIA’s main lobby, and his remarks were carried by video feed to other agencies in the U.S. intelligence community. At times, the appearance had the feel of a campaign rally, with frequent bursts of applause.

The CIA played a key role in the months leading up to the raid by U.S. Navy SEALs on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The agency located the complex in August by tracking a courier known to have close ties to the al-Qaeda leader and then watched the compound for months with satellites, stealth drones and spies operating out of a nearby safe house. Obama called the operation “one of the greatest intelligence successes in American history.”

For the agency, bin Laden’s death marked the culmination of a manhunt that began even before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The CIA was faulted for intelligence failures leading up to those strikes and spent years afterward in a seemingly futile search for clues to where bin Laden had fled.

Obama said the pursuit of other operatives would be aided by information from the large stash of documents and computer drives recovered at the compound where bin Laden was found.

“We walked off with his files,” Obama said. “Today, every terrorist in the al-Qaeda network should be watching their backs. .?.?. We’re going to finish the job.”

The triumphal tone was in stark contrast to Obama’s initial visit to CIA headquarters in April 2009, after the administration had banned so-called harsh interrogation techniques including waterboarding and released controversial memos that had served as the legal framework for methods Obama deemed torture.

At the time, Obama said that the nation would be “more secure when we deploy the full measure of both our power and the power of our values, including the rule of law.” For many in the crowd, the remark served as a reminder that some agency employees might face criminal charges for their involvement in the interrogation program authorized by President George W. Bush.

Obama alluded to that appearance Friday and also recalled a second visit he had made to the CIA last year to mark the deaths of seven CIA employees who were killed in Afghanistan in 2009 by a suicide bomber who had convinced agency operatives he had information that could lead them to al-Qaeda’s second-in-command.

“Their sacrifices would be our summons,” Obama said. “You have the thanks of a grateful nation.”

Obama was introduced by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. and CIA Director Leon E. Panetta, who has been nominated to serve as secretary of defense.