Situation Room meetings about the 2011 bin Laden raid were named ‘Mickey Mouse meeting’ to ensure its secrecy, new account says

situation room
Then-Vice President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama, and top US military and political officials seen in the Situation Room overseeing the Osama bin Laden raid.

  • Former US officials told Politico how the 2011 hit on Osama bin Laden was planned in the White House.
  • Situation Room meetings were labeled “Mickey Mouse meeting” on calendars to hide the subject.
  • The report details in minute detail how the US located and planned to kill the al-Qaeda leader.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Situation Room meetings about the 2011 mission to kill Osama bin Laden were titled “Mickey Mouse meeting” on official calendars to conceal their purpose, according to a new account of the raid.

Last Friday Politico published an oral history, written by Garrett M. Graff, of the bin Laden raid as told by 30 US political, military, and intelligence officials who were central to its success.

The officials said that in the run-up to the strike, which began on May 1, 2011 and concluded early the next day, many steps were taken to ensure that news of the raid didn’t leak.

Mike Morrell, who was deputy director of the CIA at the time, told Politico that the idea to label the meetings “Mickey Mouse meeting” came from John Brennan, then the White House homeland security and counterterrorism advisor.

“We also had the cameras and the audio in the Situation Room covered or turned off,” Brennan told the magazine.

Ben Rhodes, then-deputy national security adviser, also told Politico that he knew something serious was underway by looking at the titles of meetings listed on the Situation Room schedule.

“Suddenly, there was a very unusual pace of deputies – and principals – level meetings without a subject. I knew that there was something happening,” he said.

“At no other point in my eight years in the White House did that happen until 2016 with the Russian interference in the election.”

osama bin laden
Al Qaeda leader and terrorist Osama bin Laden is seen in a video in 1998.

Former President Barack Obama was also keen to prevent any news of the mission getting out, especially if it ultimately went badly or failed.

On April 30, 2011, the evening before the raid began, Obama asked his speechwriter Jon Favreau to change a joke prepared for that night’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where the president typically makes a speech mocking himself.

To hit back at GOP figures for mocking his middle name – Hussein – Obama was going to crack a joke in which he referred to “Tim ‘bin Laden’ Pawlenty,” Favreau told Politico.

“He’s like, ‘Why don’t we say his middle name is Hosni, like Hosni Mubarak?’ I remember just being like, ‘That’s not as funny.’ And Obama is like, ‘Trust me on this. I really think Hosni will be much funnier,'” Favreau said.

Dan Pfeiffer, then the White House communications director, said: “No one could figure out why Obama made that change. It seemed like a weird change.”

President Joe Biden on Sunday issued a statement marking 10 years since the raid that killed the terrorist leader, saying: “We followed bin Laden to the gates of hell – and we got him.”

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Biden remembered ‘the courage and skill’ of US forces on 10-year anniversary of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden

Obama during Osama Bin Laden campaign.
US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House on May 1, 2011.

  • President Joe Biden issued a statement to mark 10 years since the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
  • “We followed bin Laden to the gates of hell – and we got him,” Biden said.
  • Biden has committed to withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It has been ten years since US Special Forces conducted a raid in Pakistan that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

On Sunday, President Joe Biden marked the 10-year anniversary of bin Laden’s death, which represented a huge victory for Americans in the fight against terrorism.

At the time of the raid, Biden was serving as vice president under then-President Barack Obama.

“Ten years ago, I joined President Obama and members of our national security team, crowded into the Situation Room to watch as our military delivered long-awaited justice to Osama bin Laden,” Biden said in a statement. “It is a moment I will never forget – the intelligence professionals who had painstakingly tracked him down; the clarity and conviction of President Obama in making the call; the courage and skill of our team on the ground.”

He added: “It had been almost ten years since our nation was attacked on 9/11 and we went to war in Afghanistan, pursuing al Qaeda and its leaders. We followed bin Laden to the gates of hell – and we got him.”

After the 9/11 terror attacks, the US invaded Afghanistan to bring down the terrorist organization Al Qaeda. The execution of bin Laden in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011, was a major accomplishment for the Obama administration.

“We kept the promise to all those who lost loved ones on 9/11: that we would never forget those we had lost, and that the United States will never waver in our commitment to prevent another attack on our homeland and to keep the American people safe,” Biden continued in his statement.

Since bin Laden’s death, the US has reduced the number of troops stationed in Afghanistan, and Biden has committed to withdrawing troops from the country by September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

“As we bring to an end America’s longest war and draw down the last of our troops from Afghanistan, al Qaeda is greatly degraded there,” Biden said. “But the United States will remain vigilant about the threat from terrorist groups that have metastasized around the world.”

He added: “We will continue to monitor and disrupt any threat to us that emerges from Afghanistan. And we will work to counter terrorist threats to our homeland and our interests in cooperation with allies and partners around the world.”

Biden ended his statement by thanking the service members that have valiantly fought to protect the US.

“We will continue to honor all the brave women and men, our military, our intelligence and counterterrorism professionals, and so many others, who continue their extraordinary work to keep the American people safe today,” he said. “They give their best to our country, and we owe them an incredible debt of gratitude.”

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Obama thanked Navy SEAL McRaven for overseeing the bin Laden raid by gifting him a tape measure

In this May 6, 2011, file photo President Barack Obama talks with U.S. Navy Vice Admiral William H. McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), at Campbell Army Airfield in Fort Campbell, Ky., just days after McRaven led operational control of Navy SEAL Team Six's successful mission to get Osama bin Laden
President Barack Obama with Navy Vice Adm. William McRaven.

  • Former President Barack Obama thanked Adm. William McRaven, the Navy SEAL who oversaw the bin Laden raid, with the gift of a tape measure, according to Obama’s 2020 book, “A Promised Land.”
  • The gift was an inside joke from the mission and perhaps the first light-hearted moment in a very tense period for everyone involved.
  • McRaven also wrote a little about the situation in his book “Sea Stories,” which was published in 2019.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

As president, Barack Obama thanked Adm. William McRaven, the Navy SEAL who oversaw the raid that took down Osama bin Laden, by giving the military leader a tape measure.

While the unusual gift was reported in 2011 a few days after the May mission, both the former president and the retired admiral recounted the inside joke in more detail in their respective memoirs.

The bin Laden raid was executed by members of SEAL Team Six, who, after a great deal of planning and preparation, slipped into Pakistan early on May 2 (local time) and eliminated the man behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

When the SEALs returned to Jalalabad, Afghanistan, with bin Laden’s body after the early-morning raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, McRaven, who was then the head of Joint Special Operations Command, contacted Obama via video teleconference.

“McRaven explained that he was looking at the body as we spoke, and that in his judgement it was definitely bin Laden,” Obama wrote in his 2020 book, “A Promised Land.” “To further confirm, McRaven had a six-foot-two member of his team lie next to the body to compare his height to bin Laden’s purported six-foot-four frame.”

“Seriously, Bill?” Obama recalled himself joking to the admiral. “All that planning and you couldn’t bring a tape measure?” He wrote that it was the first light-hearted thing he’d said all day.

McRaven wrote in his book “Sea Stories” that when he and some fellow SEALs pulled bin Laden’s body out of the bag in Afghanistan after the Operation Neptune Spear raid, he took a look at the remains, noting to himself that the dead man was tall, just as bin Laden was said to be.

He turned to one of the special operators nearby, a tall sniper, and asked, “Son, how tall are you?” He caught the SEAL off guard and had to repeat the question, to which the SEAL replied, “Six foot two.”

“Good,” McRaven said. “Lie down next to the body.”

Apparently confused, the operator asked, “You want me to lie down next to the body?” The admiral repeated it, and the SEAL did as told. It was visibly clear the dead man was roughly 2 inches taller.

Talking to Obama over video afterward, he told the president: “Sir, I can’t be 100 percent sure until we do the DNA tests, but it certainly looks like him, and all the physical features match.”

He added: “While his face was contorted from the impact of the rounds, I did have a SEAL, who was over six foot two, lie down beside the body, and the remains were at least six foot four.”

He said there was a noticeably long pause after he made his remarks.

“So let me get this straight, Bill,” McRaven recalled Obama saying at the time. “We could afford a sixty-million-dollar helo, but we couldn’t afford a tape measure.”

“I had no comeback and I didn’t need one,” McRaven wrote. “The smile on the President’s face said it all. It had been a good night, and just for a moment we could laugh about it.”

After returning to the US, the admiral visited the Oval Office, where Obama, according to his book, offered him not only a “heartfelt thanks for his extraordinary leadership” but also a tape measure that the president had mounted to a plaque.

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