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THE SITUATION ROOM
Al Qaeda: Bin in Laden Won't Die in Vain; Videotapes Seized from bin Laden's Compound; President Says No Gloating; Raid Exposes Secret Forces & Weapons; A Non-Covert Covert Operation; Jobs and Unemployment Both Up; Afghanistan War Dead Remembered; 'Strategy Session'; Hunting Osama bin Laden's Heir Apparent
Aired May 6, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thank you very much.
Happening now, almost a week after the raid on Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda confirms its leader is dead and warns the terror network will keep plotting to kill Americans. This hour, new word of videotapes -- yes, videotapes -- found in bin Laden's compound.
Also, we're told the United States is hot on the trail of bin Laden's heir apparent.
Is Pakistan helping or getting in the way?
We're tracking the hunt for Ayman Al-Zawahiri and the danger if he takes helm of Al Qaeda.
And President Obama thanks U.S. troops in Kentucky, including a behind-the-scenes meeting with those Navy SEALs who brought down bin Laden. We'll explain how the White House is going to great lengths to avoid gloating.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Al Qaeda is warning that Osama bin Laden's blood will be a curse on America. The terror network releasing a statement today confirming the death of its leader and vowing to carry on his deadly work.
We begin in Pakistan, where bin Laden was gunned down by U.S. forces earlier in the week.
Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is standing by -- Nic, this new Al Qaeda statement not only confirmed bin Laden's death, but it went further.
What else did it say?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Vowing revenge, saying that bin Laden's blood is too important to be spilled with -- in vain, saying that the United States and its allies will be chased not only in their own country, but around the world. And they also called on the Pakistanis to throw Americans out of their country. It says that there's a stain on Pakistan, that the traitors here led to the death of Osama bin Laden and that Pakistanis should rise up, clean those traitors out of the country and throw the United States out, as well.
This is calling for revenge. And it's trying to sort of -- is trying to sort of build support for Al Qaeda off the back of Osama bin Laden's death, trying to sort of reenergize -- reenergize the group, get them to mount more attacks -- Wolf.
BLITZER: There are now reports, Nic, that the head of Pakistan's intelligence service may resign as a result of all of this, what happened in Abbottabad, where you are, less than a week ago.
What your learning about that?
ROBERTSON: Wolf, the intelligence sources that we are talking to are saying point blank to us, look, that's news to us. We don't know anything about it.
What is clear, there is a lot of embarrassment here. And certainly, those same intelligent sources said a few days ago that they were embarrassed that they had missed bin Laden. They said that this didn't mean that they weren't trying or they were -- they were simply inept, they were just embarrassed that they'd overlooked it.
Pakistan's military here, as well also, embarrassed, because its airspace has been violated. U.S. aircraft flew in here, hovered around for 40 minutes and flew out and they did nothing. So there's a lot of top level military embarrassment. The army here is highly respected. That image got tarnished during General Musharraf's reign as president here a few years back. They cleaned it up and moved out of politics. But now it's tarn -- now it looks like it's tarnishing again.
So it may be that a head will roll to make everything all right, if you will. But that's far from certain. This is just speculation and conjecture. But it does point to this embarrassment that the security services here feel about this -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The fallout is only just beginning.
Later, we'll speak with Karl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He's got some strong views on this U.S.- Pakistani relationship.
Nic, thank you.
We also learned today about videotapes seized from bin Laden's compound. This could be another key discovery, after the United States found evidence of a terror plot targeting trains, railroads, metro systems in this country.
Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is following this for us.
What's the latest -- Jeanne?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: A couple of things, Wolf.
One, on the rail plot, we've now been told that this was a handwritten document that was found in that compound over in Pakistan. And a U.S. official tells us there is reason to believe that this came from the writings of Osama bin Laden himself. So that would explain why when, they found this information, they were eager to impart it to partners around the US.
But again today, U.S. officials saying no indication that anything was imminent, no indication that any active plotting was underway. These were ideas on paper.
In addition, as you mentioned, Wolf, they have found videotapes at the bin Laden compound. No word yet on what is on there.
I am told they are being aggressively analyzed at this point. We had learned previously that there was audio and video equipment found at the compound. Whether these were tapes that were made there or made elsewhere, we don't know yet.
Third, the role of Osama bin Laden -- new window onto that. It had been thought that bin Laden, to some degree, because he was in hiding, had been taken out of the day to day activities of Al Qaeda. An official tells me today, no, that isn't the case, that the information they're looking at suggests that Osama bin Laden did not just have a strategic role, but also worked at the operational and even tactical levels. The official says he was clearly issuing directions at all of those levels -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And give us some context, because -- and you broke this story yesterday. You reported it here in THE SITUATION ROOM, that there -- there's some evidence, as we -- as we say, to go after trains, railroads, subway systems in the United States. But also, apparently, there were four cities that were mentioned for something presumably spectacular around the anniversary of 9/11 in September -- New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles.
What do we know about that?
MESERVE: Well, the rail information, as I'm told, did not mention any specific city. But there was other material found. And in that other material, there are indications that Al Qaeda still wanted to hit one of those big cities that you mentioned -- those big four and, in addition, that they were interested in hitting on -- on highly symbolic dates. Some of the things that were mentioned to me are the 9/11 anniversary, which was mentioned in the rail plot. But in addition, July 4th, Christmas and, also, the opening day of the United -- United Nations General Assembly. That, as you know, is when a lot of world leaders would be gathered in New York.
So, clearly, they were thinking of these things in an effort to make an even more spectacular strike if and when they were able to launch one.
BLITZER: Yes. The other one -- the other date that I had heard -- I don't know if you've heard this -- was that they even mentioned something like when the president had a State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress, hit the U.S. on that day to sort of rub it in.
Have you heard that?
MESERVE: I haven't heard that specifically. But you know very well that on those big, significant dates and at those big significant events, security is always ramped up, because they're worried about exactly that kind of thing.
BLITZER: Yes. Al Qaeda may be weakened, but it has not disappeared yet.
MESERVE: Absolutely not.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
Another carefully choreographed event today for the president to mark the death of bin Laden and a sense of justice for 9/11 victims. The president met with troops at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. You saw it live here on CNN. He privately thanked the Special Operations forces directly involved with killing the Al Qaeda leader.
Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.
He's at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.
It just wrapped up a little while ago -- Dan, for viewers who are just tuning in, tell us what happened.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president, just after landing here, went and had that private meeting with those Navy SEALs, but also with the larger assault group. The president getting a chance, according to a White House official, to sit down and get briefed on what happened during that assault on the compound that finally, ultimately, resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.
The president handing out presidential citations. He said that was an important reason for coming here, but why he came to speak some 2,300 troops there was to simply say thank you.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): It might feel like it, but the White House isn't calling this visit to Fort Campbell, Kentucky a victory lap. No gloating, no spiking the football, say aides, just a salute to the 101st Airborne Division and a commitment to fight terrorism.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're making progress in our major goal, our central goal in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And that is disrupting and dismantling. And we are going to ultimately defeat Al Qaeda. We have cut off their head.
LOTHIAN: Behind-the-scenes, after Osama bin Laden was killed, this White House video shows more candid moments.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good job, national security team. (INAUDIBLE).
LOTHIAN: As the president and vice president informed members of Congress that the most wanted terrorist is no longer on the run.
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We killed -- we killed him.
LOTHIAN: The White House was quick to tout the success of U.S. forces. But the identities of the Navy SEALs and other special operators who got bin Laden are classified, so the team was kept out of sight at an undisclosed location at Fort Campbell. President Obama split from the press and was driven off to meet with them privately.
A week that featured a stunning address to the nation.
OBAMA: So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.
LOTHIAN: And visit to Ground Zero was partly overshadowed by missteps -- details about the operation --
JOHN BRENNAN, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He was engaged in a firefight.
LOTHIAN: -- had to be corrected.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He was not armed.
LOTHIAN: The White House blamed the fog of war.
But former FBI agent and CNN contributor Tom Fuentes says too many details were put out too quickly.
TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: I think that they should have taken a little more time to get the information from the team that was on the ground and did the assault, to try to be more accurate in the beginning.
LOTHIAN: Conspiracy theorists have focused on the mistakes. But Fuentes says this communications glitch is more a product of proving the mission's success.
FUENTES: Basically to show the credibility that the operation had occurred and that, in fact, they had killed bin Laden. So I think it was in the interest of trying to convince the public that this was a fact.
LOTHIAN: At Fort Campbell, troops are focused on the end result, not the details that they admit can get muddled on the battlefield.
SPECIALIST NICHOLAS MOORE, U.S. ARMY: It was a great in this. It was a victory for the US. You know, we achieved a lot. And it will prevent future problems.
(END VIDEO TAPE) LOTHIAN: Now, most of those here recent -- recently returned from Afghanistan. One told us that he signed up for the military just after 9/11 and sees today as a major victory for the U.S. and says that the capture -- or, rather, the killing of Osama bin Laden will be a big boost for the troops -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
Dan Lothian with the U.S. troops at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.
The president says the world is better off now that bin Laden is dead.
But did the raid on his compound expose some of America's military secrets to the world?
And a new snapshot of the U.S. jobs market. The issue, though, still threatening American workers and President Obama even after bin Laden is gone.
And the father of a U.S. soldier held captive by the Taliban speaks out for the first time about his son's disappearance two years ago and appeals directly to Pakistan for help.
BLITZER: We're getting a lot of pictures of Air Force One. It just took off from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on its way back to Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, DC.
The president of the United States was at Fort Campbell thanking U.S. military personnel for all of their efforts and also specifically thanking members of that Navy SEAL team that went into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden.
The president on his way back to Washington right now.
The White House is calling the raid on bin Laden one of the most classified U.S. operations in many years. But the mission may be having somewhat of a down side, as well.
Is the world right now learning too much about America's secret weapons and some of the special operations forces?
Let's bring in Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
Barbara, you've been speaking with military personnel. What are they saying to you?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have to tell you, Wolf, this entire week, in speaking to military troops, to officers, to enlisted, there's a lot of surprise out there about how much has come out in public. This may be one of the most non-covert covert operations the military's ever had. It seems like everybody's out there talking about it. So when we started to hear this, we went back and took a look. What have we really learned this week about the tactics and techniques of special forces? And we have learned a lot. Let's start with that stealth helicopter, never supposed to be seen by the world, but it went down. And so the world has seen pictures of a stealth helicopter and learned that the U.S. special forces can fly deep into another country with stealth, low-flying helicopters and evade radar and get in to conduct a mission. That's just one thing.
We've learned that these commandos stay on the ground for about 30 minutes. That's their goal. They want to get in and out as fast as possible. So we know now that that's kind of the framework of how fast they move and how long they stay on the ground behind enemy lines, if you will.
They were able to determine very quickly what they wanted to take. After they killed bin Laden -- pardon me -- they moved very fast. These guys are highly trained. They know what to look for in computers, in hard drives, in thumb drives, in documents. They scooped up everything as fast as they could. They're all about gathering intelligence, very important to understand that that's a big part of their job.
We really learned something very interesting. There's no real firefight. Only one of the couriers in the complex got off any shots against the SEALs. The SEALs are so good, they will kill you before you can even raise your weapon against them.
But perhaps the most interesting thing that we've learned is even the fact that the world is talking about SEAL Team Six, about Joint Special Operations Command, JSOC, about Delta Force. At least inside the military, these are names that are very closely held. They still don't talk about them very much. They consider these very covert. You know we're not going to learn the identity of the people involved. There's a lot of people inside the military that think maybe they shouldn't have even talked what units were involved -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Always a lot of sensitivity, understandably so, on these issues. In a related development, in a different part of the world, though, Yemen we're talking about, we now know there was a U.S. drone strike against a target in Yemen. I've been told that Anwar al Awlaki, the American-born cleric who is the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, at least one of the leaders -- he may have been the target. But he apparently got away or for whatever reason, he wasn't there. What your hearing from your sources about this drone attack by U.S. forces in Yemen?
STARR: Well, you know, Wolf, what we have been able to confirm is, in the last 48 hours, the U.S. military, not the CIA, we are told, did launch a drone strike against a target in southern Yemen, which is a stronghold, a place where al Qaeda in Yemen hangs out, if you will. We are told that they believe they killed two al Qaeda operatives in southern Yemen. No indication at this point that Anwar al Awlaki was killed. And of course, for many, he is now target number one. Al Qaeda in Yemen is very strong and very worrisome to the U.S. intelligence community. There's no question. Bin Laden may be gone. They still want this guy, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, they certainly do. They want Anwar al Awlaki. They want the others in Pakistan, as well. They're intensifying the effort. Ayman al Zawahiri, the number two al Qaeda leader -- he's on the run right now, presumably moving from different location to different location. And Mullah Mohammed Omar, the former leader of the Taliban, who's hiding some place we believe in Pakistan, as well. This U.S. hunt is only getting started, we're told. We'll see what happens in the next few days and weeks.
Barbara, thank you. Did you want to make another point?
STARR: No. I was just going to say, you know, I think one of the places they're looking in Pakistan is the cities. I think that from what people are telling us, they're coming to the conclusion, they -- you know, they've had a lot of arrests in cities. I don't think they're so convinced anymore that the guys they really want are hiding in caves. Karachi, Pakistan, is a city, we are told, in the U.S. crosshairs. They are looking to see who may be hiding there next, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, Karachi and Quetta, some other places, as well. You're right. Thanks, Barbara. Thanks very much.
Now that bin Laden is dead, there's likely no one the U.S. is pursuing harder. Just ahead, we're digging deeper on the al Qaeda's heir apparent, Ayman al Zawahiri. Stand by. New information coming in on him.
And parts of the Mississippi River now officially closed for business in the wake of massive flooding. Just how long could this last? Other news, as well.
BLITZER: The U.S. mission that killed Osama bin Laden is earning President Obama international kudos. But what if -- what if the economy does not improve here in the United States? CNN's Mary Snow is monitoring this part of the story -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we know from past presidents that big foreign policy successes don't equal reelection if the economy is dragging. And today's jobs report shows the recovery picked up speed in April but has a long way to go.
(voice-over): Just days after announcing the United States captured and killed the world's most wanted terrorist, President Obama had positive news on the domestic front. More jobs were created than expected, 244,000, in April. But it caused the unemployment rate to edge higher to 9 percent. Economists explain this because discouraged job-seekers who had given up their search for work are now looking once again.
MARK ZANDI, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: Now that the job market is improving, job openings are appearing, it looks like it might be a good time to look for work. People are starting to come back in. They're not employed right away. They're counted as unemployed. So at least temporarily, it's going to lift the unemployment rate. But I don't view this as a sign of weakness, I view it as more a sign of strength.
SNOW: Speaking to factory workers in Indiana, the president said there are still headwinds, such as high gasoline prices.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And there will undoubtedly be some more challenges ahead, but the fact is that we are still making progress.
SNOW: But to hear Americans tell it, they're not celebrating. A CNN Opinion Research poll finds that 82 percent of Americans say the economy is in poor shape. Who's to blame? Fifty-five percent of those questioned say former president George W. Bush. Thirty percent blame President Obama.
Former "New York Times" columnist Bob Herbert, who's written extensively about the unemployed, says there are millions of Americans still suffering in a sluggish economy. But politically, job gains are now helping President Obama.
BOB HERBERT, FORMER "NEW YORK TIMES" COLUMNIST: Of course, if the economy weakens, then that's difficult for a president going into reelection. I remember the first President Bush, his ratings were sky-high after the first gulf war, I mean, ratings like almost you'd never seen for a president. And then by the time it came time for reelection, because we were in a recession, because the folks were struggling economically, he was not able to be reelected.
SNOW: Wolf, even though the economy may be improving, economist Mark Zandi says it is possible that the jobless rate will continue to rise above 9 percent for a few months as more people who had given up job searches now look for work -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary Snow, thanks for that report.
Just days after the death of bin Laden, a new appeal to Pakistan to help free a U.S. soldier held captive by the Taliban. Will a father's new video make a difference?
And the widow of a U.S. serviceman killed in Afghanistan shares her emotional response to bin Laden's death.
BLITZER: Just days after the killing of Osama bin Laden, new pressure on the Pakistani government involving a U.S. soldier held captive by the Taliban, the soldier's father making his first-ever public statement on his son's disappearance and offering a plea for help.
Let's get the information from CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's been following the story of the soldier. What do we know now, Ed?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what is fascinating by these statements made by the father of Army Specialist Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured almost two years ago by the Afghanistan Taliban, is that he makes a direct appeal to the Pakistani government and also the head of the military there and also they head of the intelligence agency. Listen to him now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT BERGDAHL, BOWE BERGDAHL'S FATHER: We know our son is a prisoner and at the same time a guest in your home. We understand the rationale the Islamic Emirate has made through its videos. No family in the United States understands the detainee issue like ours. Our son's safe return will only heighten public awareness of this.
That said, our son is being exploited. It's past time for Bowe and the others to come home.
To the nation of Pakistan, our family would wish to convey our compassionate respect. We have watched the violence of war, earthquake, epic floods, and crop failures devastate your lives, all while our son has been in captivity. We have watched your suffering through the presence of our son in your midst. We have wept that God may show his magnificence, his mercy and that his peace may come upon the people of Pakistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: Wolf, you heard Bowe Bergdahl's father there mention Mullah Sangeen and the Haqqani. Those are groups that are affiliated with the Afghan Taliban. So, clearly, the families, it seems to presume that they believe Bowe Bergdahl might be in Pakistan right now.
These are all organizations that in weird ways, have worked together and that sort of thing. Others, a belief that perhaps Bowe Bergdahl has been passed between these groups and ended up in Pakistan, and that's why Bowe Bergdahl's father making that appeal to the Pakistani government.
Bowe Bergdahl is considered to be the only U.S. military service member that is held in custody right now. His family lives in Idaho, and you can imagine the angst that they have been going through these almost last two years. His family has not spoken publicly, as you mentioned, Wolf, since his capture, and that's why today's statement is such a big deal -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A very, very powerful statement. Our heart goes out to that family.
Thanks very much for that story, Ed Lavandera.
We wish the family good luck. A sad procession in Michigan today, the body of a 19-year-old Marine returning to his hometown for the last time. He was killed Saturday while serving in Afghanistan.
Military families have certainly paid a steep price for the decade-long war against terror in Afghanistan. Has the killing of Osama bin Laden though eased any of their pain?
Let's bring in Lisa Sylvester, who has been talking to a war widow, someone who has suffered as a result of this fighting in Afghanistan.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. She's a remarkable woman.
Her name is Nicki Bunting, and her husband, Captain Brian Bunting, was known to his friends and family as "Bubba." He went to a prestigious private school in Potomac, Maryland. He was a West Point graduate. His dad, grandfather, and brothers, all military men. And he did not hesitate when it came time to serve in Afghanistan.
NICKI BUNTING, HUSBAND KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN: He loved his country so much and he loved serving so much, that that was something he was willing to risk.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): Nicki Bunting lost her husband, Captain Brian "Bubba" Bunting, in February, 2009. An IED exploded near his vehicle in Afghanistan, killing him and three other soldiers. He was just 29.
Nicki now is raising her children alone while missing her husband.
BUNTING: I would say just watching him play with our son. He was so proud. I think that's what I miss most, him smiling and them just playing and laughing.
SYLVESTER: She traces it all back to 9/11, the day the war on terror began. Had it not been for Osama bin Laden, her husband wouldn't have been deployed to Afghanistan.
BUNTING: It's just amazing how many lives are impacted by all this, and it's just a ripple effect that has affected so many people.
SYLVESTER: When she heard the news that bin Laden had been killed, she broke into tears and had to try to explain to it their 3- year-old son.
BUNTING: On Monday morning he woke up, and I was crying. And he said, "Why your crying?" I said, "Well, because last night a really, really, really bad man was killed, and the good guys got the bad guy," because that's what he understands.
And he said, "So why are you crying?" And I said -- I teach him that sometimes mommy cries because she's so filled with pride, that it comes out as tears. And so then he just gave me a hug. He said, "I'm so proud of the good guys." It was so sweet.
SYLVESTER: Killing bin Laden, she says, doesn't give her closure, but it does give her a sense of relief, of peace. And the sadness of losing her husband has been tempered by the birth of their second son, conceived when Bubba was home on R&R the month before he died. The same week the Army notified Nicki of her husband's death she was found out she was pregnant.
BUNTING: The baby looks -- oh, my gosh. He's a spitting image of my husband. It's just ridiculous how much she looks like him. So that's really nice.
He just came out -- as a newborn, he just came out looking like my husband. It was great. I was like, this is the best gift ever. You know? So I get to see, you know, his face in my son's face every day.
SYLVESTER: Now, Nicki Bunting says military families, they are happy, relieved, glad that Osama bin Laden is gone. But they are also very worried about possible retaliation on the troops abroad, and Nicki is keeping the troops in her prayers -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That's a good worry. You saw the statement from al Qaeda today threatening retaliation and saying America's happiness will turn into sorrow very soon.
Excellent report. Our heart goes out to that wonderful woman. Thank you.
On this day of prayer in the Muslim world, a new outpouring of anger about the killing of Osama bin Laden. Yes, a lot of folks are angry he's dead.
And while President Obama marks the death of the al Qaeda leader, his would-be Republican opponents aren't too eager to praise him.
BLITZER: The U.S. mission that killed Osama bin Laden, one topic of conversation at last night's first Republican presidential debate, where potential presidential candidates weren't so quick to heap too much praise on President Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM PAWLENTY (R), FMR. MINNESOTA GOVERNOR: I do congratulate President Obama for the fine job that he did in taking some tough decisions and being decisive as it related to finding and killing Osama bin Laden. He did a good job, and I tip my cap to him in that moment. But that moment is not the sum total of America's foreign policy. He's made a number of other decisions relating to our security here and around the world that I don't agree with.
The decision he made with Osama bin Laden was a tactical decision. It wasn't a strategic decision. A strategic decision was made already by President Bush to go after him. What President Obama has done on his watch, the issues that have come up while he's been president, he's gotten it wrong strategically every single time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And let's go to our "Strategy Session."
Joining us now, the Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, Paul Begala. He's also a senior strategist for two Democratic fund-raising groups, Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action. And CNN.com contributor David Frum, he's also an editor of FrumForum.com, a former speechwriter for President Bush.
David Frum, first to you, those grudging comments from these Republican presidential candidates, appropriate or not so much?
DAVID FRUM, CNN.COM CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I didn't think Tim Pawlenty's comment was grudging. I thought it was appropriate.
President Obama made a very bold decision. He was receiving advice that this mission could be done less satisfyingly but more safely from the air.
He put his presidency on the line. Had it gone wrong, it would have been his blame. He took the hard decision to send men in, and that decision worked out extremely well to everybody's satisfaction. He gets the credit for it.
On the other hand, that doesn't mean that all differences with him have miraculously vanished. We also are now in a war in Libya, where Republicans have a lot of I think very important considerations to raise. So, credit where credit is due, but politics continues.
BLITZER: What do you think, Paul?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think David is exactly right. I don't think that's where former Senator Rick Santorum was.
I was struck listening to that sound bite though from Santorum, how similar it was to this quote from David Koch, the right-wing billionaire polluter who has been financing these rabidly anti-Obama organizations. He was quoted two days ago, on May 5th, saying -- I mean, that was yesterday -- sorry -- saying -- this is a quote from David Koch, this billionaire anti-Obama activist -- "All that Obama did was say yea or nay, we're not going to take him out. I don't think he contributed much at all."
Now, when I hear Republican presidential candidates parroting the line of the billionaire polluter who is putting up all the money for the anti-Obama groups, it tells me something about where at least some Republicans are. Frankly, Senator Santorum and Mr. Koch have it completely wrong.
President Bush had gone off on a strategy of ignoring bin Laden. In 2006, in fact, he told "The Weekly Standard" as much, that bin Laden was no longer the priority. President Obama, when he was a senator, campaigned for office saying, I will change the strategy. I will put Afghanistan and I will put bin Laden at the forefront of our anti-terror policies, and he said, "I will kill bin Laden," and he has. And he deserves the credit for it.
BLITZER: And David, you're right about the difference between Pawlenty and Santorum. Santorum was obviously in a different category than Tim Pawlenty.
FRUM: But Tim Pawlenty is much more likely to be the Republican presidential nominee. And I think at some point in covering these races, you're going to have to separate out that there is one tier that consists of people like Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Governor Huckabee, normal American political figures who behave in other ways, and then other people like Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann, who are in politics for very different kinds of reasons.
And there comes a point where you have to stop pretending that they are the same kind of candidate. There are people who are likely to be -- who have a chance of being Republican presidential nominees and people who just don't.
BLITZER: It's clear the intelligence community, Paul, played a very significant role in getting this information, working on it. A columnist in "The Wall Street Journal," Daniel Henninger, writing this: calling an article "Eric Holder's bin Laden Moment." "It is time for the Holder CIA investigation to end. The death of bin Laden, 10 years after 9/11, makes the Holder investigation of the CIA interrogators politically, emotionally and morally moot." This investigation into some of the techniques that these CIA interrogators used.
Do you agree with Daniel Henninger?
BEGALA: Well, the truth is neither Daniel Henninger nor I know where that legal case stands. We do know that the attorney general has been very deliberate, very careful, very cautious. He has not prosecuted anyone that I know of, and I checked this afternoon after reading Daniel's column. So, I think the attorney general has been very, very judicious here and very careful.
What I can speak to more confidently is the political verdict. The political verdict is clear.
Under Barack Obama, the United States of America does not torture and we will not. And under Barack Obama, the United States of America killed Osama bin Laden. Now, if you want to go back to that chapter in history and look at history's judgment, I suggest Jane Mayer's book, "The Dark Side," a remarkable account of how America plunged into the practice of torturing. And thank God we've gotten out of that.
BLITZER: David, is it time for the CIA interrogators to be allowed to walk away from this investigation?
FRUM: It is so beyond time. Look, where Paul is wrong is charges haven't been filed, but in these kind of investigations the process is the punishment, being investigated is what puts people's lives on hold, plunges them into legal bills.
This is just outrageous. These are people who served the country to the best of their ability. If somebody has got a complaint, then let's take it up in a political way. That's what this is about. It's about politics.
Don't subject people to legal risk. It's just terribly wrong.
And the death of bin Laden does give a moment -- in one of your previous segments you talked about closure -- to draw a brush over some of the controversies of the past decade. Individual service personnel should not be at legal risk. And the same time, we can say that some of the past decisions have to be revisited. OK. And this gives us a chance to rethink the Afghanistan commitment in a new way.
BLITZER: Thank you, David.
Thank you, Paul.
BLITZER: Potential new clues about bin Laden's life revealed in a gas bill, of all things. Stand by.
BLITZER: Pakistanis chanting, "America go!" today in the city where Osama bin Laden was killed. About 600 people turned out for the protest called by the country's most influential Islamic party.
We saw a number of other protests today by Muslims around the world. Demonstrators condemned the killing of bin Laden and offered prayers for the al Qaeda leader in the Philippines, the Kashmir region of India, Indonesia and even in London.
The future of al Qaeda may now rest in the hands of bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and there's some dispute as to whether that will help preserve the terrorist network or destroy it.
Let's bring back our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve. She's got more on this part of the story -- Jeanne.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Congressman Mike Rogers told you last evening that the U.S. was "hot on the trail" of Ayman al-Zawahiri. With bin Laden dead, there was probably no one U.S. authorities would rather find.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MESERVE (voice-over): The ideology of Ayman al-Zawahiri is the underpinning of al Qaeda. He is its strategist, its propagandist. And with Osama bin Laden's death, he may now become its leader.
BRUCE HOFFMAN, CENTER FOR PEACE AND SECURITY STUDIES: But one would think that in the aftermath of bin Laden's killing, that al Qaeda's highest priority will be to unite them so they can get back in business again and demonstrate their relevance and vitality.
MESERVE: Zawahiri is a physician and an Egyptian who, in the '70s, conspired to overthrow his government. After the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, Zawahiri was jailed and tortured for three years. He went to Pakistan, where he treated Mujahideen fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
It was there that he met a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden. Together, they forged al Qaeda, declaring and waging war on America.
Though he has been number two in the al Qaeda hierarchy, Zawahiri has often been its face and voice -- combative, taunting. He once used Malcolm X's derogatory term "house negro" to describe President Barack Obama.
AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI, AL QAEDA (through translator): You were born to a Muslim father, but you chose to stand in the ranks of the enemies of the Muslims.
MESERVE: The uprisings of this Arab Spring have raised serious questions about al Qaeda's relevance. Zawahiri has tried to mute them.
Some are worried about the prospect of Zawahiri leading al Qaeda.
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FMR. CIA DEPUTY DIRECTOR: Zawahiri's coming to power would put emphasis on the thing that we all fear the most, which is the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. He has always been interested to a degree greater than anyone else in the movement in acquiring such weapons.
MESERVE: But other experts point out that he is often described with the words "disliked" and "divisive."
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: So, if Ayman al-Zawahiri took over, he would probably drive what remains of the organization into the ground. It would actually be quite a good outcome from the point of view of the United States and its allies.
MESERVE: A U.S. official says that al Qaeda's succession plan does designate Zawahiri as bin Laden's successor, but it is unclear if that plan will be followed or if others like the U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, will make a bid for leadership. Meanwhile, the official says the "relentless pursuit of Zawahiri" continues -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jeanne. Thanks very much. Let's turn now to our homeland security contributor, Fran Townsend. She's a member of the external advisory boards of the Homeland Security Department, as well as the CIA.
Fran, I'm told by U.S. sources, intelligence sources, national security sources, they are really moving aggressively in trying to find him right now, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. It's one of the top priorities after you look for the immediate threats, looking through the documents, the computers seized, for any information that may give them an indication of where he could be found.
The other thing, Wolf, is, as embarrassed as the Pakistanis are, this is an opportunity for them to work with the U.S. to actually redeem themselves and help us capture Zawahiri.
BLITZER: Yes. I think they're going to try, some elements in Pakistan, to do something to try to redeem themselves. It could be helping find Ayman al-Zawahiri, or, more likely, I'm told, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the former leader of the Taliban, who they can hand over. I know the Afghani government of President Karzai would like to get him. The U.S. would like to get him as well.
Will any heads roll though in Pakistan now? You've worked with the Pakistanis over the years. What do you think?
TOWNSEND: You know what? It's hard to imagine that you would see it at the upper echelons of government, the heads of service, the army chief of staff, or the head of the ISI. But what you could see is, you know, they have regional commanders for both the ISI and the military in Pakistan. And you could imagine if they were looking to assign blame or show the U.S. they were taking their -- the embarrassment seriously, then relieving of command or retiring both the head of the ISI and the military commander in that region of Abbottabad.
BLITZER: How important are those who were picked up at the compound in terms of investigation for future terrorist plots? The wives, the children, the others who were picked up there?
TOWNSEND: Well, the people who might have been of value were killed. I mean, the courier, his brother and bin Laden's son, who may have had some operational information, aren't with us anymore. So you take them out of the picture.
The vast majority of the people who were there, you know, probably about 10 or so were children. Not very useful.
And then you're left with the wives, the women in the compound. Given bin Laden's view of the role of women in society, very much consistent with the Taliban -- they shouldn't be educated, they are not really -- they don't have a voice in society, it would be unlikely that bin Laden would have shared with the women any operational information that would have been of value. Even if they saw people coming into the compound, Wolf, they probably only knew them, if by any name at all, by an alias, what they call a nom de guerre, a war name, but not by true name. So I don't think that they would have been very useful.
BLITZER: All right, Fran. Thanks.
But sometimes a little nugget of information could lead to something very, very significant. You think it's not that useful. I've spoken to intelligence, counterterrorism types, and they say, you know, we didn't think it was important, but upon investigation, it was critically important --
TOWNSEND: Right. Absolutely.
BLITZER: -- like the nickname of that courier.
TOWNSEND: Absolutely. That led to something else.
BLITZER: All of a sudden, that turned things around. So you never know.
BLITZER: Thanks, Fran.
New information about how the CIA was able to spy on Osama bin Laden's compound. Just ahead, the secret safe house and what went on inside.
And the Coast Guard now forced to take some drastic action because of massive flooding.
BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots."
In Afghanistan, girls hide behind a wall in Kabul's old city.
In Rome, students demonstrate against the country's economic situation.
Over at the Vatican, new Swiss Guards are sworn in, in a ceremony.
And in Germany, an Asian elephant plays in the water at the zoo.
"Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world.
There is that elephant right there.
We'll get back to our coverage of bin Laden's death in a moment.
First, Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What else is going on, Lisa?
SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.
Well, the Coast Guard is closing part of the Mississippi River to all commercial traffic as mass flooding prompts more evacuations. Officials are concerned waves caused by passing barges could worsen conditions. The river is expected to crest about 14 feet above flood stage on Wednesday in Memphis. The closure could last up to eight days.
Public schools are open here in Washington, D.C., today, despite receiving several new suspicious letters containing a powdery substance in the mail. Dozens of similar letters turned up at area schools yesterday. Federal officials are investigating, but say so far no hazardous materials have been detected.
And CNN is being told more than 20 civilians were killed in new protests erupting across Syria today. This comes as a prominent opposition member was arrested near Damascus. U.N. officials say a humanitarian assessment team will arrive in the country in the next few days.
CNN has been denied access into Syria and is unable to independently verify any witness accounts -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.