The tip on bin Laden's whereabouts came in back in 2010. You have to assume the house was under surveillance. If they thought they "bagged him" they would be watching closely and choosing the right time to deep six the target (I actually wrote this lead paragraph sentence before reading this "Breaking News" from the Washington Post: "CIA had secret outpost in Abbottabad").
"The CIA maintained a safe house in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad for a small team of spies who conducted extensive surveillance over a period of months on the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed by US special operations forces this week (US officials)," the newspaper reported.
Both Afghan agents and Pakistani intelligence now say they told the US about the house as early as 2009.
So, they knew he was there. That was a reason drones weren't used.
The CIA wanted a more controlled high profile and dramatic intervention for public consumption, for what, in the end, was a marketing campaign -- marketing the centrality of the agency's role in a war whose main audience is not on the battlefield, but in the homeland.
They needed a heroic narrative to revive support for a war they have been losing, and a scalp to sell to a conflict-weary and disillusioned population. It is no surprise that the Seals labeled OBL "Geronimo," reviving memories of fighting guerrilla-style Indian wars. Muslim renegades are apparently our new "savages."
The Native Americans took their enemy's head and hair -- Donald Trump, beware; we shoot out their eyes and waterboard their brains.
The target was not "the terror mastermind" but the American people. It was an exercise in political mobilization and perception management. It was the ultimate media operation, relying on many of the tactics used in Iraq that I document in my film "WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception."
We are as conscious about what we say as what we do, we always fashion a propaganda storyline demonizing the enemy who is often compared to Hitler. Bin Laden lived in a "million dollar mansion" (it cost $48,000 to buy six years ago). He was heavily armed (he wasn't). He hid behind female human shields (he didn't). Who cares about facts ... this was a TV orchestrated event. The Daily Mail in London complained that their raising questions led to being derided as "cheese eating surrender monkeys."
They could have captured him, but that would lead to the hassle of putting him on trial. Besides, what if he revealed his long connection with the CIA and US officials? Can't have that. So the kill order was given, along with a quick disposal of the body, mafia-style (as in "sleeping with the fishes").
The legal justification was self-defense, an argument that any government can use to dispatch its enemies.
Timing is everything
Why was it done, and why now?
It was certainly not because al-Qaeda is ascendant. Our experts believe only 100 of them remain in Afghanistan, where their capacity has been diminished. Remember: al-Qaeda is not a centralized top-down machine but a decentralized and sophisticated network.
We can only surmise all the factors, but the larger context here has fallen away with the focus on the narrowness of the dirty details, many calculated to inspire enthusiasm for the bravery and heroism of the death squad, but not any reflection of the strategy and larger context of the events.