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'Small group' knew about Bin Laden compound, ex-official says

Former national security advisor James L. Jones recounts being told about the 'potential target' in Abbottabad, Pakistan, during a briefing last year.

May 17, 2011|By Peter Nicholas, Los Angeles Times
  • Earlier this month, a Pakistan army soldier secures a street close to the house, background, used by Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Earlier this month, a Pakistan army soldier secures a street close to the… (Anjum Naveed / Associated…)

Reporting from Washington — James L. Jones, former national security advisor to President Obama, was long gone from the White House when U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2. But Jones well remembers when he first heard about a promising lead on Bin Laden's whereabouts.

The retired Marine Corps general, speaking at the National Press Club on Monday, told reporters that a "small group" of White House officials was briefed last year about the compound where Bin Laden was later found.

"I remember the day that [CIA Director] Leon Panetta came in with this particular potential target," said Jones, who stepped down as national security advisor in October. "It certainly looked as though it would be worth exploiting, and that's what we did."

Jones also called for a "Marshall Plan"-style aid package to help emerging democracies in the Middle East and North Africa. Other countries that want to see democratic governments take root might be asked to kick in, he said.

His remarks came three days before Obama is to deliver a major speech on the political uprisings that have rocked the region. Obama is expected to push for increased aid to fledgling democracies in Tunisia and Egypt, though the scale of that commitment is unclear.

Debt forgiveness could help build trust with the generation of leaders coming to power in the Arab world, Jones said.

"I don't think we can go it alone," said Jones, who has started an international consulting business. "But I think it's a good idea from the standpoint of reintroducing ourselves to this next generation of young Arab leaders."

Jones portrayed the Bin Laden killing as a major moment in the war against Al Qaeda. He hinted at the government's frustration over the failure to find Bin Laden for so many years.

"The first real breakthrough came last year," he said. "We made the decision — the president made the decision — to exploit and develop this potential target, which turned out to be the last of the dry holes. This wasn't a dry hole; this is where he was."

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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