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Osama bin Laden is Dead

Aired May 1, 2011 - 23:02   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Our national security contributor, Fran Townsend, is on the phone. Fran was a former security adviser to President Bush.

During the Bush administration immediately after 9/11, Fran, for years that followed, this was the goal, capture or kill bin Laden. Dead or alive in the words of the former president of the United States.

It has now happened, Fran. Bin laden is dead. It has occurred during the Obama administration. We're awaiting to hear from the president himself all the details. The details he wants to share with the American people indeed with the world. His aides probably will share more details.

But I'm sure when you heard the word, the confirmation that we got that bin Laden is dead, you must have been -- I can only imagine so thrilled given the enormous work you and the Bush administration tried to do to kill bin Laden.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR (via phone): Well, Wolf, look, it really doesn't matter during what administration. It's an enormous moment for the country.

Yes, it will be an enormous moment for this president, but really, Wolf, this goes beyond the usual politics of Washington. It's a tremendous achievement. And it's one of those things -- we'll see what the president says. We'll see what we find out about the details. But this is one of those things that takes all the time and all the people over, as you say, 10 years to get to this moment.

BLITZER: I am now told by a White House official, by the way, it's going to slip a little bit further, the president's statement, probably closer to 11:10 p.m. or even 11:15 p.m. Eastern. They're working on the final statement. They're making sure that all of the various contacts have been made.

So we're now speculating maybe another 10 or 15 minutes from now, we'll hear directly from the president in the East Room of the White House.

The network pool cameras are there. They are ready to go. The president will be ready to go shortly. He will formally make the dramatic announcement that Osama bin Laden is dead, confirmed dead. The U.S. has the body.

That's the picture from the East Room of the White House. You'll see the president announce -- we just lost that picture, but we will regain that picture. The president will walk in up to that podium and make the announcement and go into some detail, giving all of us some perspective on how this occurred, when it occurred, what it means.

John, I'm also being told that as a precaution, a prudent precaution, U.S. military, national security, intelligence officials are taking steps right now in case bin Laden or al Qaeda supporters plot or plan some sort of immediate retaliation.

JOHN KING, HOST, CNN'S JOHN KING, USA: You would expect that based on the playbook since 9/11, and you would expect that based on the significance, the monumental significance, of this announcement.

Osama bin Laden is dead. The president is moments away from delivering that address to the American people. We're told he's making phone calls. Also his senior staff is making phone calls not only to key members of the United States Congress and key members of the United States National Security apparatus, but also to key leaders around the world as well.

When the president makes that statement, yes, U.S. military installations, U.S. diplomatic installations, other global installations have been placed on an elevated state of alert just in case there is a backlash.

Wolf, we are also told -- and I'm told that Osama bin Laden was killed based on actionable U.S. intelligence by a U.S. asset. We've been unable to confirm exactly what that means.

Normally by a U.S. asset means that that's some sort of a drone or an unmanned predator operation around the world. I do not have direct confirmation of the specific military instrument yet. But I am told by two very good sources, one in the administration, one -- someone in Congress who has been briefed, that Osama bin Laden, the president will announce, has been killed.

And these sources tell us has been killed based on actionable U.S. intelligence, which Fran Townsend and others can tell you, is detailed U.S. intelligence that reaches the threshold of taking the extraordinary step of then authorizing a U.S. military strike or a CIA drone, some of that effect, a predator drone strike, against a location.

Always a risk of civilian casualties, civilian fatalities in such a case. So the actionable intelligence has to be of crystal clarity to do that.

I'm told actionable U.S. intelligence led to this strike that in the end, the president will announce just moments from now, led to the death of Osama bin Laden, and the United States will say that's confirmed that it is, indeed, Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of 9/11.

BLITZER: And our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, John, is getting more details now.

What else are you getting, Ed? ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Perfectly on what John was just saying about a U.S. asset being used there.

Can you not hear me, Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. I hear you now. Go ahead.

HENRY: Can you hear me, Wolf? OK, now.

Following on what John said about a U.S. military asset being involved here, I'm now being told by a senior U.S. official, telling CNN that Osama bin Laden was killed by a U.S. military asset, as John said, but specifically new information in a mansion -- pardon me -- outside Islamabad, Pakistan, along with other family members.

So other members of bin Laden's family were with him in this mansion outside Islamabad when he was killed. Significant, of course, because we've suspected for years there's been intelligence suggesting that bin Laden was moving from cave to cave, was in hiding.

This suggests perhaps he may have been hiding, obviously, but he was somewhere more out in the open than in a cave somewhere, number one.

Number two, following on what you were talking about, the threats, I'm told by a senior Republican official that early this morning military bases around the world, U.S. military bases, were told to go to a much higher threat level because of a viable threat.

Obviously, once the U.S. knew that bin Laden was dead, they thought that the reaction, once that spread around the Mideast, could result in attacks against U.S. military bases.

Our colleague, Barbara Starr, reporting as well that U.S. defense assets worldwide were escalated to bravo force protection, extremely high levels, to prepare for the president's announcement here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So this is significant. That bin Laden was killed in a mansion outside of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Not in some sort of tribal remote areas along the border with Afghanistan, but in -- but near Islamabad, in Pakistan.

We are told we think -- we believe bin Laden's body has now been moved to Afghanistan. But we're not 100 percent sure of that. But he was killed in a mansion outside of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

It sounds to me like a CIA operation, when they speak of assets, that doesn't necessarily mean military forces or anything like that. It could be a local CIA asset who went out and killed him. But we're going to get all those details pretty soon.

Nic Robertson is joining us from the United Kingdom right now.

Nic, you were in Afghanistan on 9/11, almost 10 years ago. And the world is now only beginning to learn that the United States, in some sort of coordinated operation, whether with the assistance of others or not, the United States has confirmed that bin Laden is dead. Go ahead and weigh in.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if it proves, as we are beginning to understand that his killing has taken place in Pakistan, that he's been hiding in Pakistan close to the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad, this is also going to have very -- is going to make our relations with Pakistan even more frayed and even more difficult.

It would not be difficult to imagine either that there will be some sort of protests and backlash on the streets there of Islamabad. But this has been exactly the concern of western officials, that bin Laden has effectively been hiding in plain sight, if you will, that he has been across the border inside Pakistan, that he has been hiding not in the remote border areas, but close to one of these major cities.

And if indeed it is true that it is -- that is Islamabad, then this is going to strain U.S./Pakistani/European relations. It's also going to put a huge strain on the government of Pakistan. This has been one of the most difficult and thorniest of issues for them to deal with the fact what happens if bin Laden is arrested or killed on their soil?

Because it's going to immediately show that he has been hiding there, that despite their claims that they have been trying their best to try to capture him, that there are holes in their intelligence operations that they have been unaware of and that he has indeed been able to sort of duck out of sight there.

The immediate implications for al Qaeda worldwide, it is unlikely to kill off al Qaeda. But it is going to have a huge psychological impact on members of the organization.

It is also very likely that we're going to hear members of the organization on the Internet saying that they don't believe this. So very likely, the United States, President Obama are going to have to go quite some distance to prove and to show to these al Qaeda adherence that they have, in fact, killed Osama bin Laden.

That's very much what I think part of what we can expect from President Obama when he does speak because, of course, al Qaeda members are going to say that this is not true, that this is part of Western propaganda, and they won't believe it until they see some evidence. And I think that's what we will be looking and hearing shortly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment. Our congressional producer Deidre Walsh is reporting now that Vice President Joe Biden has phoned the number two Republican in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, to inform him that bin Laden is dead, that bin Laden has been killed.

Ed Henry's over at the White House.

I'm getting e-mails from around the world right now and tweets, Ed. People are cheering. They're applauding. You're getting some reaction from outside the White House right now.

HENRY: -- very late on a Sunday evening. Maybe 30, 40 tourists. As you know, it's sort of the spring break season. A lot of tourists here in Washington now. Thirty seconds ago they were chanting "USA, USA." They're taking pictures outside the White House. They're chanting. You can hear a little bit of applause, et cetera.

I'll try to let that play out. But they were just chanting "USA, USA," and I've got a statement from Carrie Lemack. She is one of the very famous -- you know, unfortunately and tragically, she was so outspoken after her mother was killed on 9/11, she became one of the biggest advocates for the families of the victims.

She gave me a very quick statement saying she cannot express how this feels to my family, relief is one word. We hope we can now focus on all that mad man took, namely nearly 3,000 plus innocent victims.

You hear now, I think, "USA, USA" again behind me. Khalil Abdullah, our photojournalist, is trying to pan over there. It's very dark here, but I'm sure you can hear it.

BLITZER: Yes, we can hear it. We can hear it. Let's just listen to see if we can hear it.

HENRY: Well, I think they've stopped. They're going in and out. But in any event, this is just spontaneous. They appear to be tourists, you know, just here. They're outside the White House taking pictures. They feel very proud about this moment in American and world history, obviously -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And we're already getting reaction from family members, Ed, of those who were killed on 9/11 in New York City, at the Pentagon, in Pennsylvania. And the family reactions, obviously, are going to be an enormously important part of this story. The confirmation now that Osama bin Laden has been killed at a mansion outside of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Almost hiding in plain sight, if you will.

There had been all sorts of speculation in recent years he was in some remote tribal area of -- a mountainous area of Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan, an area hard to get to, an area that was almost impossible to find.

But if, in fact, these reports -- and we believe they are true -- that he was killed in a mansion outside the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, which is where so much of the activity -- you know, so much of the world was focusing their attention on other areas -- if fact, he was killed at a mansion outside of Islamabad -- that would just be a huge, huge part of this story.

John King is getting more information for us as well.

What else are you picking up, John?

KING: Wolf, I just want to reiterate, I'm told it was a United States asset that killed Osama bin Laden based on actionable U.S. intelligence. The president of the United States will announce that just moments from now. As you noted, the statement has been delayed several times, in part because the administration is trying to notify not only key members of the United States Congress, other key members of the national security apparatus, also trying to notify world leaders and trying to make certain that U.S. diplomatic and military operations around the world -- and this was put in place hours ago, well before we had been told of this information, it has been spread around the system, if you will -- to go on a higher state of alert just in case there is some sort of retaliatory action by either those directly involved in al Qaeda or sympathizers of Osama bin Laden.

So everything is put -- being put on a heightened state of alert. But just a couple of months shy of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, a president of the United States is going to walk into a White House announcement tonight and say Osama bin Laden is dead.

There are big questions the White House is trying to answer tonight. That is, what is the long-term effect on the operations of al Qaeda? You have cut off, if you will, the head, the organizational chief of al Qaeda.

B we do know in the last 10 years, Wolf, and we've covered this story together, al Qaeda has splintered in many ways. Somalia, Yemen, other places around the world still a bit in Afghanistan, still significantly in Pakistan. So there are counterterrorism questions that have to be answered in the days and weeks and months that follow.

But the significance of this moment is quite stunning. That the president of the United States -- that happens to be President Barack Obama, but that a president of the United States will walk in and ,say based on intelligence, the United States launched a strike that has now confirmed the killing of Osama bin Laden, the head of al Qaeda, the mastermind of 9/11, the mastermind of so many other terrorist attacks against the United States and other key Western and U.S. allies around the world over the last 10 to 15 years. It is of enormous, enormous significance.

And that it happens, Wolf, at such a volatile and for the most part -- a lot of question marks -- but for the most part, inspirational moment. When you look at the Middle East and North Africa, a region you know so well from covering it, and we've done it together over the last decade and more, that it happens at this moment that Osama bin Laden is dead, I think we would be silly not to understand the potential -- the magnification of the moment.

It is such a huge moment anyway. But that it happens now in the middle of all this dramatic change to the Middle East and North Africa throughout the Arab world, it is hard and you have more questions than answers. We have -- as we always do in such huge breaking news, more questions than answers. But wow, it is such a monumental consequential moment.

BLITZER: It's a huge, huge development, an historic development.

Gloria Borger is working her sources as well.

What else are you picking up, Gloria?

BORGER: Wolf, I have one Senate source which says -- and you've been talking about -- that this was in Pakistan and that it was a human operation, not a drone. We've been talking about the fact that we've been using drones to target high-value targets. And so my inclination was to think that this might have been a drone, but I was told a human operation.

So we'll have to learn a little bit more about how that was conceived and how that was carried out. It's very clear, then, that we had some kind of a lead and were tracking Osama bin Laden who, after all, seemed not to have been in a cave.

Another question I have, Wolf, on a more philosophical level, is that we'll be talking about what this does to America's prestige around the world. One of my sources was e-mailing me and saying, what does it now say about our ability as a country to project power now that we've gotten bin Laden and now that we know that it was a human operation?

BLITZER: And you know, what's amazing, Gloria, is you know for those of us who have been to Islamabad, which is a modern capital city of Pakistan, that bin Laden was hiding in a mansion there, not in some remote tribal area where it's hard to get to surrounded by supporters. But in Islamabad.

I know Afghani officials are already e-mailing me saying we told you he wasn't in Afghanistan. We have searched and searched in Afghanistan. Now they're sort of saying, you know what? We always suspected he was in Pakistan. Pakistani officials have always said we have no evidence he's in Pakistan. If you give us actionable intelligence, we'll help you find him in Pakistan.

We don't know at this point.

We suspect, Gloria, this was a CIA operation. We don't know if there was assistance from elements of Pakistan's intelligence service or not, who gave the U.S. the initial tips where bin Laden might be hiding out with his family. All of those details remain to be answered.

But it will have a dramatic spill-over effect on U.S. relations with Afghanistan, with Pakistan and what happens now. And especially -- these are pictures, by the way, outside the White House right now. You can see people gathering with the American flag.

Ed Henry just saying they were -- they were just chanting "USA, USA." These images that we're seeing outside the north gate -- the northwest gate of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue will be seen all over the world. Let's listen in for a moment.

And there it is. You just heard they're singing "The Star Spangled Banner." Tourists, others just gathering outside the White House here in Washington, D.C.

We're standing by to hear from the president of the United States. He's finishing up final phone calls, finishing up final remarks. Originally the White House said he would be speaking, addressing the nation and the world at 10:30 p.m. Eastern. It's now 11:20 p.m. Eastern.

We're told very soon the president will go into the East Room and speak and tell the world officially that bin Laden is dead.

Nick Paton Walsh is our correspondent in Kabul, Afghanistan right now.

What are you learning over there right now, Nick?

And Nick Paton Walsh in Kabul, can you hear me?


BLITZER: Go ahead and tell us what you're learning in Kabul. It's now early morning in Kabul.

WALSH: Absolutely. I've just spoken to a senior Pakistani intelligence official who was saying very little, but one key thing, he is concerned with the death of bin Laden. He is saying it is the result of a highly sensitive, quote, "intelligence operation" that led to bin Laden's death. And very importantly, he's also saying that Pakistani intelligence officers were involved in this operation.

Now you obviously can bear in mind that accusations of collusion that will come out now it's emerged that Osama bin Laden was -- and if that turns out to be the case. By the Pakistanis releasing this information and confirming the death they're obviously wanting to show that they're an ally to the United States in the war on terror. And I think clearly also try and I think preempt any accusations of collusion -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Indeed. If the Pakistani intelligence, if the government of Pakistan were directly involved in helping the United States kill bin Laden, that would certainly, at least in the short term, dramatically improve U.S./Pakistani relations because if, in fact, Pakistan was not involved in this, and yet he was hiding in a mansion outside the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, that, on the other hand, would dramatically disrupt -- further disrupt -- relations between the U.S. and Pakistan.

We don't know all the specific details, what role Pakistan, Pakistan's intelligence, Pakistan's military may have played in helping the United States find bin Laden, find where he was located at this mansion outside of Islamabad. But if, in fact, Pakistani intelligence was directly involved in helping the U.S., that would certainly strengthen the U.S./Pakistani relationship in the short term.

And let's not forget this significant point. It's not just since 9/1 that the U.S. and others have been going after bin Laden. It's -- many years earlier, in the early '90s, the first attack on the World Trade Center back in 1993, there has been a concerted effort to find bin Laden, to arrest bin Laden, to kill him, if necessary.

And we do know that after 9/11, then President George W. Bush signed -- signed specific executive orders authorizing the United States to go ahead and assassinate bin Laden, if possible. He always said -- if all of our viewers remember correctly, and they do -- that bin Laden was wanted dead or alive.

He approved orders to go ahead, to the CIA and other members of the U.S. government, if they find bin Laden, it's OK to kill him, if necessary. And that apparently has been what has happened just now.

Chris Lawrence is our Pentagon correspondent.

Chris, what are you picking up?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I just got done speaking with a Defense official who said right now there has been no change to the security procedures at the bases there in Afghanistan.

It was a point that you brought up earlier with John King about the fact that obviously there could be a counterpunch by al Qaeda and its allies and its sympathizers to what has happened here now and what is about to be announced in that they may try to strike back in retaliation for the death of Osama bin Laden.

So again, right now no changes in the security procedures in the bases in Afghanistan. And I think now, in just some of the conversations I had with Defense officials, a lot of the attention has already started to turn and will be turning even more now to the man caught, Anwar al- Awlaki.

You know he is a U.S.-born radical cleric. He speaks English. He uses the Internet. He uses social media to try to reach out and convert new followers. He's sort of the new breed, 10 years later, post-bin Laden. He's using a lot of the current technology to recruit followers and inspire attacks. More of the attention than ever may now focus on him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, he is the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula based in Yemen, an American-born cleric who obviously has a following out there.

I'm also very curious, as I'm sure you are, Chris, about the number- two al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian physician who's been with bin Laden all of these years. There was always widespread speculation as Ayman al-Zawahiri, hiding out together with bin Laden, or are they separated, moved in directions.

We don't know the fate of Ayman al-Zawahiri right now, but presumably we'll get more information on that from the president of the United States.

He was supposed to address the nation almost an hour ago, 10:30 p.m. Eastern. It's now getting closer and closer to 11:30 p.m. Eastern. He's going to be going into the East Room of the White House fairly soon and speaking to all of us and telling us what's going on.

He'll make it all official. He'll give us the perspective as only a president of the United States can give that perspective. He'll also look ahead, what does this mean for the United States right now. What does this mean for U.S. citizens. What does it mean for U.S. allies, U.S. friends throughout the world.

Al Qaeda has been a terrorist organization not only attacking U.S. targets, but targets all over the world whether in Europe, Africa, Asia, in the Middle East. Certainly we've seen the death that's been rigged by al Qaeda over the years.

John King is watching all of this.

John, as I say, it's almost an hour since the president was supposed to speak. But as you and I know, having both covered the White House, the final draft of a critically important statement like this that will go down in history, probably one of the most important statements this president will make as president of the United States. They want to fine-tune it to make sure it is precisely what they want to say. No room for error whatsoever.

KING: And Wolf, so often we use the term "historic." And let's admit tonight we use it too often. Tonight, let's use it with a capital H.

The president of the United States is going to walk into the White -- the East Room of the White House and announce to the American people and announce to the world that the United States has confirmed the killing and the death, and he is convinced of Osama bin Laden, who has become the face of global terrorism, who has become the face, enemy number one, if you will, of the United States of America.

Known most of all as the nefarious figure who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, the singular most deadly attack against the United States of America. Everybody who was alive on that day remembers where they were when the Twin Towers fell, when the Pentagon was attacked, when there was a fear that the White House or that the United States' capitol would be under attack. When the plane hit the field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

And as we reflect on that moment and as every American remembers their anger -- their anger, their outrage at that moment, it's also worth remembering, that is not the only scars Osama bin Laden has inflicted on the people of the United States and others around the world.

It was November 1998, he was indicted, indicted in 1998 on 224 counts of murder for embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. It was in 1999 he appeared for the first time on the FBI's most wanted list. 1999. Well before September 11th, 2001.

In 2000, of course -- in 2000 he was linked to the attack and bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 sailors and injured 39.

So Osama bin laden has singularly been the face of al Qaeda, the face of the terrorism movement against the United States of America, Wolf.

And you remember full well George W. Bush said dead or alive. George W. Bush said that getting bin Laden, bringing him to justice was a singular focus of his administration, that the next president, his successor, and throw parties aside, doesn't matter Democrat, doesn't matter Republican. That a president of the United States could walk into the East Room of the White House tonight and tell the American people and tell a global audience that Osama bin Laden is dead, that the United States has confirmed it has his body is a signature, signature moment for the country, for the country, for this president and for the world.

And yes, there are many, many questions as to what comes next. Can al Qaeda regroup? Will it regroup? What will happen in the next 72, 100, 300 hours? Will there be attempts to lash out at U.S. or Western installations around the world by al Qaeda supporters and sympathizers?

That is a huge concern for the United States and for the global intelligence agencies tonight. It is one reason the president is taking his time delivering this speech. They want to make sure that everybody around the world is on alert.

But remember, Wolf, the significance of this moment, as the president prepares to tell this not only to the people of the United States, but for a global -- global audience, Osama bin Laden is dead.

BLITZER: And it's now, John, approaching 11:30 p.m. here on the East Coast. The president getting ready to go into the East Room of the White House and make this dramatic statement, an historic statement, to the nation, indeed to the world. That -- and there you see a live picture coming from the East Room. The president will be announced. He will walk there up to the podium and make his statement.

It was supposed to be made an hour or so ago, but they're fine-tuning it. They're making sure that all the phone calls are made not only to key members of Congress, but to key world leaders, informing them in advance what precisely has happened.

Our Jeanne Meserve, our homeland security correspondent, by the way, has just received a formal statement from Susan Collins, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Susan Collins saying this. Let me read it to our viewers.

"The director of the National Counterterrorism Center informed me tonight that Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. operation. This welcome news is a credit to our intelligence efforts and brings to justice the architect of the attacks on our country that killed nearly 3,000 people on September 11th, 2001."

On the other part of the screen, you're seeing crowds that are gathering outside the north -- the north lawn of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. They are bringing American flags. And we heard them singing "The Star Spangled Banner" just a little while ago.

Let's listen in to see if we can hear the chanting, the screaming, the excitement that's going on.

You can see this is being not -- this is not only taking place here in Washington outside the White House, but I'm told by Twitter followers and others around the world, people are gathering to celebrate, to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden, the architect of 9/11, who was killed at a mansion we're told outside of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

And we're told also this was done with the cooperation, the assistance of Pakistani officials. We're not exactly sure whether there are military officials, intelligence officials, but Pakistan -- some elements of the Pakistani government were helpful in killing bin Laden.

We don't know, as I say, we don't know. We don't know if Ayman al- Zawahiri, the number two al Qaeda leader, was killed in this operation, if he were -- if he was at that mansion at the same time.

We'll get some more details. That's coming up.

Now not far from where you saw those crowds gathering at the White House outside the north lawn of the White House, inside in the East Room, they're gearing up for the president of the United States.

The network television pool cameras have been in place now for more than an hour ready to go and to broadcast the president's statement to all the American people indeed to the world.

It's now past 11:30 p.m. on the East Coast late Sunday night. And you know -- we know this occurred many hours ago. But they wanted to make sure this was, in fact, bin Laden. They wanted to do all the vetting, DNA evidence, if necessary, to make sure that the person who they thought was bin Laden was, in fact, bin Laden.

And you see the crowds outside the White House and elsewhere. They're very, very excited.

Ed Henry is our senior White House correspondent. This is tape that we had just a little while ago over at the White House. Actually, these are live pictures. We now have a live camera outside the White House. You can see the north portico of the White House right behind them.

Ed, what else are you learning?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, so dramatic. And when we first reported this -- CNN was first to report this about a half hour ago, there were maybe 40 tourists out there.

Right now there are dozens of people from all directions. I can see them through the White House gates literally running. People are running to the White House gates. You hear the chants of "USA, USA." That crowd that started about 40 people has now grown to hundreds.

Pretty soon I bet it's going to be thousands as they see these pictures. More and more people want to join. And also the social media is spreading the word. And I can tell you Secret Service officers a few moments ago were literally running up the driveway behind me because they are now trying to make sure that they have this crowd in control.

It's obviously a positive crowd, a happy crowd. But they were not expecting this late on a Sunday night. So they are now making sure that that fence at the White House is secure. No one hops over the fence, anything like that.

Interesting as well, our producer, Shawna Shepherd, was just over there. And she said people were telling her, this is the best day ever in American history. There are lots of American flags. People cheering President Obama.

One man was holding up a t-shirt that said, "Thank you, President Bush." I fact, I'm told by a Republican official who served in the Bush administration, they had a very elaborate plan about what to do on a night like this. They never got to do it. It's now going to be done under President Obama -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the president is going to be announced within a moment, within a few seconds, we're told now. He will go up to the podium at the White House.

Take a look at this picture. Here's the East Room of the White House. The president is going to be announced. He will come in. He has a carefully prepared statement. The statement has been worked on now, we're told, for the last several hours. They've known about this for a long time over at the White House, but they've been waiting patiently to make sure that everything was ready to go.

They've alerted members of Congress. They've alerted world leaders. And now the president will tell us officially bin Laden is dead.


Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory. Hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky. The Twin Towers collapsing to the ground. Black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon. The wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.

And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child's embrace.

Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.

On September 11th, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other and our love of community and country.

On that day, no matter where we came from, what god we prayed to or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family. We were also united in our resolve, to protect our nation and to -- to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice.

We quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda, an organization headed by Osama bin Laden, which had openly declared war on the United States and was committed to killing innocents in our country and around the globe. And so we went to war against al Qaeda, to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies.

Over the last 10 years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals, we've made great strides in that effort. We've disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland defense.

In Afghanistan, we removed the Taliban government which had given bin Laden and al Qaeda safe haven and support. And around the globe, we worked with our friends and allies to capture or kill scores of al Qaeda terrorists including several who were a part of the 9/11 plot.

Yet, Osama bin Laden avoided capture and escaped across the Afghan border into Pakistan. Meanwhile, al Qaeda continued to operate from along that border and operate through its affiliates across the world.

And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda. Even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle and defeat his network.

Then last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain. And it took many months to run this thread to ground.

I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside Pakistan.

And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abad Abad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties.

After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda's leader and symbol and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies.

The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al Qaeda. And his death does not mark the end of our effort. There's no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad. As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. I've made clear just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11 that our war is not against Islam. Bin laden was not a Muslim leader. He was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries including our own.

So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity. Over the years, I've repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we've done.

But it's important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.

Tonight I called President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.

The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens. After nearly 10 years of service, struggle and sacrifice, we know well the costs of war.

These efforts weigh on me every time I, as commander in chief, have to sign a letter to a family that has lost a loved one or look into the eyes of a service member who's been gravely wounded.

So Americans understand the costs of war. Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the values that make us who we are.

And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda's terror, justice has been done.

Tonight we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who've worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work nor know their names, but tonight they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice.

We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country. And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day.

Finally, let me say to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11, that we have never forgotten your loss, nor wavered in our commitment to see that we do whatever it takes to prevent another attack on our shores. And tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. I know that it has, at times, frayed. Yet today's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.

The cause of securing our country is not complete, but tonight we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history. Whether it's the pursuit of prosperity for our people or the struggle for equality for all our citizens, our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.

Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are, one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.

BLITZER: The president of the United States making the dramatic, historic announcement. It's all official now. Bin laden is dead.

The president describing in some detail, not all of the detail, but in some detail how the U.S. intelligence community got wind that bin Laden was hiding somewhere in Pakistan and that a team was assembled to go -- capture or kill him, in this particular case, they killed them.

The president saying they had cooperation from the Pakistani government. He thanked President Zardari of Pakistan for the assistance in this effort.

They had the body. They retrieved the body. And they confirmed, in fact, it was bin Laden.

I assume they had DNA evidence in addition to other obvious visual sightings of bin Laden. They wanted to make sure they had the right individual.

Ed Henry is over at the White House, our senior White House correspondent.

The president, he was -- he was to the point. And he understood fully what this announcement means, the cheering. I can even hear it now around the world. Certainly where you are at the White House.

HENRY: Wolf, this crowd behind me at the White House gate, it was building literally as the president spoke.

The president laid out some new details. First, he confirmed what we reported here first, which is that Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, not in Afghanistan. He said deep inside Pakistan, and gave us some new details, that it was last week that he authorized the U.S. operation, and that it was today that U.S. -- a U.S. team, he call it had a small U.S. team, launched the operation today in Pakistan. He said that there was a firefight, that Osama bin Laden was killed. The U.S. took custody of his body. And in the words of the president dramatically said, quote, "justice has been done."

I think it was also very interesting that the president sort of called on the nation to come together. He said, quote, "Let us think back to the unity after 9/11." He said, "I know it's been frayed sometimes, but now is a moment to come together."

And I can tell you, Wolf, there are a lot of people -- it started with 30 or 40 people. There are 30 to 40 people, now it's hundreds of them since we first reported it here from the lawn, hundreds out there now who are coming together to celebrate this moment in American history.

It's been lighting up on social media, many of them students from George Washington University. As you know, just a few blocks away. There's also, I can see, a lot of tourists out there. It's dark out here. It's getting very late.

But Wolf, this crowd is so excited. There are American flags being waved. They're chanting "USA, USA." Others have been chanting, "hey, hey good-bye" to bin Laden, very angry at him, obviously, these many years later. But mostly very positive in chanting "USA, USA," and chanting -- singing as well the national anthem -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're getting statements, Ed, from former presidents. Former President George W. Bush. Let me read it to our viewers as we look at pictures outside of the north gate -- the northwest gate of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue.

"Earlier this evening, President Obama called to inform me that American forces killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al Qaeda network, that attacked America on September 11th, 2001. I congratulated him and the men and women of our military and intelligence community who devoted their lives to this commission. They have our everlasting gratitude."

President Bush continuing, "This momentous achievement marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11th, 2001. The fight against terror goes on, but tonight, America has sent an unmistakable message, no matter how long it takes, justice will be done."

More statements coming in from former President Bill Clinton and others.

Let me bring in John King who's watching all of this unfold.

John, as we continue to watch the crowds gathering outside the White House and indeed elsewhere around the country and indeed around the world, let's reflect a little bit on President Obama's words, precisely the extent of this operation that killed bin Laden.

JOHN KING, HOST, CNN'S JOHN KING, USA: Wolf, you see the crowds celebrating across from the White House, in that park on 9/11. It was filled with White House staffers who were told to flee from the White House. That plane that landed in the field in Shanksville, many thought, was directed at the White House or the United States capitol.

I was there when the Secret Service told everybody to run and get out of the building.

You see a celebration tonight. The president spoke the words, "justice has been done." For all the president said tonight, those four words, "justice has been done," I think will echo around the country and around the world tonight.

As Ed Henry noted, very significant, the president said there was an operation inside of Pakistan conducted by a U.S. team that involved a firefight. There will no doubt be questions about the coordination, the sensitivities, how did they pull this off within Pakistan. How closely was it coordinated? Were the Pakistanis fully involved, or did the United States decide to do this and essentially bring the Pakistanis in after?

That will play out in the days and weeks ahead because of the sensitivities of that relationship of which you are so well aware and often the frustration and the tensions in that relationship. But tonight the president of the United States saying almost 10 years after 9/11, justice has been done. Osama bin Laden is dead.

That is why you see that happening right there in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House. It is happening, no doubt, in homes and in public places across America tonight because Osama bin Laden was the singular face of global terrorism against the United States.

There are a lot of questions. What comes next for al Qaeda? What is left? Will it try to retaliate? Whether it's al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, whether it's al Qaeda affiliates in Somalia or somewhere else in the world. Will they try to retaliate? But tonight, Wolf, that celebration in Lafayette Park speaks volumes.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure there will be celebrations in New York City, in Pennsylvania, around the country, and indeed around the world. The word is only beginning to get out right now.

The president spoke for just under 10 minutes or so. And he explained why this is so, so significant. And it comes almost on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

David Gergen have worked for four American presidents. He's watching all of this unfold.

David, give me your thoughts.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, this is a momentous evening, a rare moment when Americans -- all Americans can celebrate. I thought the president captured that well tonight, this moment of unity.

Not since Adolf Hitler can I remember a single person who has been so hated by Americans as Osama bin Laden. The architect of an attack out of the blue on us. And Wolf, also, I think part of this elation tonight comes because we've had 10 long frustrating years since we were attacked. You know we've been drawn into two wars. Our way of life has changed here at home. We have to go through all this craziness in our airports.

And we haven't had a victory until now. This is the first clear-cut victory, a night we can all celebrate and thank those troops, thank those intelligence officers. And yes, thank President Obama and thank President Bush.

I think we -- the leadership of this country delivered on this one, and there is reason -- so often when we see crowds that gather outside those White House gates it's not in victory. It's usually in sadness or some scandal or something. Tonight it's a victory for the United States, and this is a good moment to celebrate, all of us.

BLITZER: Yes. It's true that intelligence failures are always highly publicized. Intelligence successes, not necessarily always publicized because intelligence officials don't necessarily run out to alert the world that they did this or that. But in this particular case, a huge intelligence success for the Central Intelligence Agency, for Leon Panetta, the outgoing director of the CIA, and others who were involved in this operation.

Fran Townsend, our homeland security contributor, worked for President Bush as the homeland security adviser.

You're getting more information on some of the details. We're going to be fully briefed in the course of the next few hours on all the specific details of what happened, Fran. But what are you learning?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, when the president says that there was a firefight and then U.S. operatives were involved in this firefight and none were hurt, what he's telling you is that special operations forces obviously crossed the border from Afghanistan to Pakistan to conduct this operation.

Very dangerous, Wolf. Would have had -- would have required a tremendous amount of planning including if any of those American operatives had been hurt to get them out. And so this is -- it will be a very interesting story when they're able to tell us the additional details of just how this thing went down.

BLITZER: And you know, it sort of reminds me of the operation that was not successful to get the American hostages out of Iran. You remember those helicopters going down. That didn't work out. That was a blunder. That was a -- that was a failure. This is a huge, huge success. And I assume we'll get those details.

Fran, a coordinated operation like this with the government of Pakistan, with President Zardari of Pakistan, that is very, very significant because, as you know, and many of our viewers know, there was a lot of U.S. suspicion that the Pakistanis or at least elements of the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service, were not necessarily helping the U.S. in the hunt for bin Laden. TOWNSEND: That's right, Wolf. But it'll have to be -- it will be very interesting to understand when did President Zardari actually know this? Did he know -- was it coordinated with him before the operations happened?

I'll tell you, Wolf, given the history of our -- this relationship and the distrust that you talk about. It may in fact be that President Zardari and the Pakistan government were not informed until the operation was either under way or immediately after it was under -- finished.

BLITZER: Fran, hold on for a second because Kenny Specht is joining us right now. A New York City firefighter.

This must be, Kenny, for you, for your fellow firefighters, an enormously powerful moment.

Tell us how you're feeling.

KENNETH SPECHT, 9/11 FIRST RESPONDER (via phone): Good evening, Wolf. As a New York City firefighter, first and foremost, I think I speak for all New York City firefighters when I give a heartfelt thanks to members of the United States military who took on this very, very dangerous task.

I think the most important news we've heard tonight, much more important than even the death of Osama bin Laden, is the fact that we lost -- Americans in this very, very dangerous situation that they put themselves in, harm's way, to go and do the business of this country.

I think that we're a blessed country tonight, Wolf. As a New York City firefighter who survived both September 11th and illness diagnosed from my time on September 11th, I'm proud to be an American tonight. I'm proud of our men and women in the service. I'm proud of the special operations.

And I know that I speak for every member of the New York City Fire Department when I say that I hope to God he rots in hell.

BLITZER: I know how -- that's how you feel. Kenny Specht is New York City firefighter.

Tell us where you were, Kenny, on 9/11.

SPECHT: Wolf, I got to the site of the Trade Center after both World Trade center towers had collapsed but before Seven World Trade Center had collapsed. So I actually witnessed the collapse of Seven World Trade Center, and I remained at the site until about 3:00 in the afternoon on September 12th.

And I spent -- I spent up until the end of November down at the site. And I was diagnosed with cancer in 2007. And I was retired, disability retired in 2008. And our fight -- our fight has never ended, Wolf.

And I know the fight of this country has never ended. And I hope that every -- I hope that every person, every person in this country, I hope that tonight we start to put the past 10 years behind us.

I hope tonight we start to -- start to again feel exactly what we felt 10 years ago, the bond of being an American. I hope that it comes back again. I hope that it's not forgotten. I know that our military is first and foremost in our minds. Tonight they are first and foremost in our mind.

If I could, I'll tell each and every one of them, I'm so proud of the work that they've done, and they have really brought close to a horrible chapter in this country's history.

BLITZER: Did you ever give up hope, Kenny, that the U.S. would kill bin Laden?

SPECHT: No, but I'd be lying to you, Wolf, I'd be lying to you if I -- if I thought about it every night. No, I didn't -- I didn't give up hope. That's all we had. That's all we had. It's like anything else, though. It's just sometimes we think that when it's not spoken about anymore, we wonder really what's being done.

I mean, we're in a quagmire, for lack of a better term, in Afghanistan. I hope to God that tonight is one large step to maybe wrapping up operations in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Kenny, I'm going to interrupt because I think I've lost contact with you. But I want you to -- I want you to stand by, Kenny, if you can. Stand by for a moment because Peter Bergen is joining us now, our national security contributor.

Peter, you've actually sat down and interviewed Osama bin Laden back in the 1980s, if I'm correct. Tell us what you think. The president of the United States saying they found bin Laden. They had actionable intelligence. They sent a team in. They found him. There was a firefight, and they killed him. They got the body. They confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt this was bin Laden.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, obviously, this is one of the great intelligence successes the United States has ever engaged in. I met bin Laden, Wolf, as you know in 1997. He celebrated his 54th birthday on February 15th. He was not an old man. The hunt had gone very cold.

People I talked to in the U.S. intelligence agencies for years used phrases like, you know, the trail has gone cold. We have hypothesis but not actionable intelligence on bin Laden's location.

Clearly that changed rather rapidly in the last several weeks. It's interesting to me that he was found in Abbottabad, which after all is not an insignificant Pakistani city.

BLITZER: How far from Islamabad is that?

BERGEN: It's not far at all.

BLITZER: Are we talking like a suburb almost?

BERGEN: Not a suburb, but it's in the -- you know, it's relatively nearby. This is not in the Pakistani tribal region.

BLITZER: It's not in a remote jungle mountainous area. It's an area that's relatively close to the capital of Pakistan.

Let's get a map up there and show our viewers what we're talking about because the president specifically said bin Laden was found in this city. But go ahead.

Have you been to this -- Abbottabad?

BERGEN: I haven't been to Abbottabad. Let's look at the map here. And -- so --

BLITZER: So you see Islamabad there in the middle. There's Abbottabad right there.

BERGEN: Right. Yes. So you know the kind of informed hypothesis for a long time was that he was in the Pakistani tribal regions which is in this area is not. That he was in and around there. But interestingly, Wolf, you go back, you look at the capture or kill, there's a lot of other senior members of al Qaeda over time, many of them were in Rawalpindi. It was where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the operational commander --

BLITZER: Or Karachi for that matter.

BERGEN: Karachi was well around --

BLITZER: These are major urban areas. They were hiding in -- not in some remote area but in the city.