Panetta: "Very tense moments" in Situation Room

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Please note: a classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
White House/Pete Souza

WASHINGTON - The pictures released by the White House give some indication of the tension in the White House Situation Room as the raid that led to Osama bin Laden's death played out.

And now, CIA Director Leon Panetta is offering further details, in interviews with Time and the PBS "Newshour."

Panetta and other top officials anxiously listened in as the brazen operation unfolded some 7,000 miles away.

He tells PBS that once the teams went in, "almost 20 or 25 minutes" went by in which officials in Washington "really didn't know just exactly what was going on."

"There were some very tense moments as we were waiting for information," he told PBS.

How did bin Laden resist SEALs without a gun?

Meanwhile, Panetta told CBS News anchor Katie Couric that U.S. officials had assumed "from the beginning" that bin Laden would be killed in the raid on his compound, though there were at least initial plans on how to proceed if he was captured.

Panetta: We assumed bin Laden would die in raid

"We always assume from the beginning that the likelihood was that he was gonna be killed," said Panetta. "But if perchance he were to be captured, I think the approach was to take him quickly to Bagram [Airfield, in Afghanistan], transfer him to a ship offshore, and then have the principals at the White House decide what next steps would be taken."

In the Time interview, Panetta says that when the head of Joint Special Forces Command reported that commandos had identified "Geronimo" — the code name for bin Laden — then "all the air we were holding came out."

Al Qaeda records seized during raid on compound

And he says when the helicopters left the compound 15 minutes later, the room broke into applause.