His voice and face disguised and using the pseudonym Mark Owen, one of the Navy SEALs who participated in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden gives an exclusive interview to Scott Pelley. Owen, now retired, says the SEALs trained for the mission using a full-size replica of the bin Laden compound, and that a dress rehearsal was held for military top brass. And Owen refutes charges that he's trying to make a political statement with his book, "No Easy Day."
The following is a script of "Killing Bin Laden" which aired on Sept. 9, 2012. Scott Pelley is the correspondent. Henry Schuster, producer.
You are about to meet one of the men who shot Osama bin Laden. Mark Owen recently left the Navy's elite counterterrorism unit, SEAL Team 6. Mark Owen is not his real name. It is the name that he used to write a new book about the assault on bin Laden's compound called "No Easy Day." Owen was on the helicopter that crashed into the compound. He was the second man in bin Laden's bedroom. And he took the pictures of the body that the world has never seen.
Owen received a Silver Star for valor and a Purple Heart for a wound suffered in the raid. But, despite all that, Owen told us, in his only interview, that "No Easy Day" is not about him. He says it's a tribute to the hundreds of Americans who gathered intelligence, planned and trained in the 10-year pursuit of the world's most wanted man. SEAL Team 6, he told us, just took care of the last 40 minutes.
Scott Pelley: Was this a mission...was the plan to kill Osama bin Laden or capture him before you went in?
Mark Owen: This was absolutely not a kill-only mission. It was made very clear to us throughout our training for this that, "Hey, if given the opportunity, this is not an assassination. You will capture him alive, if feasible."
Scott Pelley: That was the preferred thing?
Mark Owen: Yes.
Scott Pelley: To take him alive, if you could?
Mark Owen: Yeah, yeah. I mean, we're not there to assassinate somebody. We weren't sent in to murder him. This was, "Hey, kill or capture."
We've never heard the story from someone who was there. The raid, May 1st, 2011, had been years in the making. But, in the moment, the best laid plans failed leaving a small team of Americans to improvise victory from near disaster.
Mark Owen: This operation was one of the most significant operations in U.S. history. And it's something that I believe deserves to be told right and deserves to go in a book and stand for itself.
Scott Pelley: You're in disguise as we do this interview today and I wonder why.
Mark Owen: The focus shouldn't be on me. The focus should be on the book. I'm not trying to be special or a hero or anything. I'm just trying to tell the bigger story.
Scott Pelley: But you're in disguise also for your own security?
Mark Owen: Yeah, absolutely.
Scott Pelley: Tell me about that. What concerns you?
Mark Owen: You know, the enemy has a long memory.
And so we spent a long time perfecting a new look for Owen. Before each interview, the best artists spent four hours thoroughly changing his appearance. We've used shadows to enhance the effect and we've altered his voice.
Chief Petty Officer Owen was in the Navy 14 years. He had read about the SEALs in junior high school and set his sights.
Scott Pelley: How many times have you been to war since 9/11?
Mark Owen: I've done 13 combat deployments.
Scott Pelley: Afghanistan?
Mark Owen: Afghanistan, Iraq, all over.
There are several SEAL teams but Owen rose to the very top, a unit called the Naval Special Warfare Development Group -- SEAL Team 6.
Scott Pelley: SEAL Team 6 is made up of a number of squadrons. And I wonder why was your squadron chosen for this particular mission? Was there something special about you?
Mark Owen: Nope, nope. Certainly nothing special about me, nothing special about the 24 guys that were chosen. Nothing special about the-- our squadron. It really could have been any number of guys.
Scott Pelley: You just happened to be available for training?
Mark Owen: Yes.
In April 2011, they had just returned from Afghanistan when they were told to report to North Carolina for an exercise.
Owen walked into a top-secret briefing room, saw a model of a compound, and heard this from his buddies:
Scott Pelley: What did they say?
Mark Owen: Said, "Hey, we found bin Laden," or, "We think we found bin Laden, and they want us to come up, you know, rehearse and come up with a plan. If there's gonna be a ground option approved, they want us to rehearse for one."
Scott Pelley: What did you think?
Mark Owen: Awesome.
The mission was "Operation Neptune Spear" under the authority of the CIA. The agency had tracked a bin Laden courier to a curious compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. They'd been watching the compound with satellites. The house seemed too big for the neighborhood. There was no telephone connection. The people there burned their trash. There was a wall, 12 feet high and a walled-in balcony. Who lived up there?
Mark Owen: They briefed us on the individual they were calling the Pacer.
Scott Pelley: The Pacer?
Mark Owen: The Pacer. So he would come out of the house and kind of walk around the yard. What was assessed to just be getting exercise.
Scott Pelley: Where did the Pacer pace?
Mark Owen: Over here [points to model].
Scott Pelley: In this courtyard back here?
Mark Owen: Right. So, he'd just kind of walk out in here. And a lot of the vegetation out here was probably purposely planted so surveillance couldn't see down on 'em.
Scott Pelley: And he would just go round and round and round?
Mark Owen: Yup, he'd walk around the yard. Sometimes he'd walk with what they assessed to be a female but, they just walked around the yard. They never stopped to help anybody do any work. If there was other people in the yard working, he never seemed to do any of that. Almost above it.
Scott Pelley: Above doing the manual labor. He was the boss, whoever he was?
Mark Owen: Right.
The Pacer had been in Abbottabad about five years. It's a well-to-do city of one million people. The compound was about a mile from the Pakistani Military Academy.
Scott Pelley: In terms of the inside of the house, how much did you know?
Mark Owen: Zero. Zero.
Scott Pelley: So once you went through the door, you didn't know what you were gonna be facing?
Mark Owen: Right. But, again, it goes back to that years of experience. I mean we've done this a million times.
Raids like this were common many nights in Afghanistan and Iraq. And, looking at the model, the SEALs didn't think of this as particularly challenging. The tricky part was getting there. The U.S. wasn't telling Pakistan. So, the helicopters could be shot down by Pakistan's modern air defenses. The pilots were from the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Two modified Black Hawks, call signs "Chalk One" and "Chalk Two," would drop 24 SEALs and a Belgian Malinois combat dog named Cairo.
Mark Owen: Chalk One, which is the one I was on, was going to hover over the compound here. We would drop the two fast ropes, slide down the ropes into the courtyard here, and then go about our business while Chalk Two would land out here. Just over here by the road. Drop the external containment team off. They would provide security external. We'd have two men and our combat assault dog would do a quick patrol of the perimeter down to the south and around to make sure that there was no tunnels underneath the walls if somebody did hear us come in and had time to escape. After dropping those guys off, the second helo was going to come up, hover over the third floor, drop off the remaining guys. They would then hop right down into the balcony, assaulting from the top down and our guys would assault from the bottom up.
A few days after getting the mission, they had their plan and so began weeks of rehearsals on a full-size version of the compound built in North Carolina.
Scott Pelley: How many times did you assault it? How many times did you train on it?
Mark Owen: A lot. Between when we got the mission and when we left for Afghanistan we probably, you know, get-- probably get 100 times.
Scott Pelley: So how unusual was this kind of training?
Mark Owen: It's, yeah, very unusual. I've never had all the mock ups. I've never rehearsed for something for three weeks.
One rehearsal had an audience; the nation's highest ranking officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the head of Special Operations Admiral Eric Olson, and observers from the White House.
Mark Owen: One of the things that I like after the fact was-- I remember Admiral Mullen coming by and talking to each one of us, and then Admiral Olsen as well. And I thought that was cool that, you know, they walked by, shook each of our hands, and said, "Hey, are you guys ready? Can you guys pull this off?" And I'm pretty sure to a man we all said, "Yes, absolutely."
The team got several days off at home around Easter. Then, in late April, about a month after they got the mission, they loaded on a plane bound for a U.S. base in Afghanistan. The president wasn't convinced yet. No one confirmed that bin Laden was the Pacer, so SEAL Team 6 was on standby. One of the passengers on their plane was a CIA analyst who had spent five years on bin Laden's trail.
Mark Owen: I can't give her enough credit. I mean, she, in my opinion, she kind of teed up this whole thing. And is just, you know, wicked smart, kind of feisty. And she was, you know, we'd always talk back and forth, "Hey, what do you think the odds of this are? What do you think the odds of that are?" You know? "Hey, you know, what you do think? Think he's there?" She's like, "One hundred percent. One hundred percent he's there."
Scott Pelley: And you thought what?
Mark Owen: Well, we'll see.
Three days later on April 30th, the president was telling jokes at the annual White House Correspondent's Dinner. CIA Director Leon Panetta's belly laugh was heard all across the room. Reporters in ball gowns and tuxedos had no idea that, just a few hours before, President Obama had ordered Panetta to launch the raid. Mr. Obama kept to his schedule thinking that, on this night, it was better to have reporters drinking and laughing than asking questions.
Scott Pelley: When did you first hear that the president had approved your mission?
Mark Owen: The commanding officer of our command walked in and said, "Hey, just got off the phone. The mission's approved."
Scott Pelley: What did you think?
Mark Owen: This is big. This is cool. I'm glad I'm a part of it.
The raid was supposed to be April 30th but the weather was bad. The next night Vice Admiral William McRaven saw the men off. He was a SEAL and he had planned the mission as head of the Joint Special Operations Command. Just before midnight the Black Hawks started the sprint from the U.S. base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, to Abbottabad, about 150 miles away. The helicopters were blacked out against a clear, moonless night. The Army pilots, guided by night vision goggles, flew high speed, tree-top level, under Pakistani radar.
Mark Owen: It was roughly an hour and a half. I remember you know, we took off, shut the doors, and the radio call I heard was you know, "Hey, we're over the border. We're crossing the border into Pakistan." And I remember thinking, "Wow, this is-- OK, this is happening." And I swear, I glance around the helicopter and half the guys are sitting there asleep on the ride in. It was an hour and a half ride. Guys gotta catch a few Zs on the way in.
Scott Pelley: Wait a minute. Your team is flying in to Osama bin Laden's compound, and they're asleep?
Mark Owen: Yeah, no, it's your time to just kind of shut your eyes, relax, you know? Mentally walk through whatever you need to walk through.
It was about one o'clock in the morning, 66 degrees, 65 percent humidity with calm winds.
Mark Owen: At one minute, we open the door and I just kind of swung my legs out and I'm sitting there looking down. I'm thinking, wow, you know, this is a beautiful spot, houses with pools in the backyard, well-lit, manicured yards. Like, wow, this is definitely not, you know, the mud huts of Afghanistan.
Somehow, there was a blackout in the neighborhood. No one will say whether that was luck or design. But it meant ideal darkness for the SEALs with their night vision goggles.
Scott Pelley: You could see the compound coming?
Mark Owen: Uh-huh (affirm).
Scott Pelley: You had the door to the Black Hawk open?
Mark Owen: Uh-huh (affirm).
Scott Pelley: And your legs were swung outside?
Mark Owen: Right. Just make a little more room, be faster to, you know, quicker for everybody to get out and fast rope out of the helicopter. So everybody's getting ready to fast rope. And then, all of a sudden, we banked hard 90 degrees, once we went hard 90, it was very apparent that something was wrong.
Owen doesn't know what went wrong but pilots say that a chopper can lose lift when it drops into the turbulence of its own downdraft. And the turbulence would have been much worse because the downdraft was being magnified and reflected by the compound's walls.
Mark Owen [at model]: These pilots are the best in the world. You don't get better than these guys. And typically they just, boom, my move right in and they stick it. It was like parking a car for these guys. And it was a rough-- it was a rough ride. We were pretty low, tail rotor and everything happened to miss this wall here and then we were just kind of sliding and falling out of the sky this way.
Mark Owen: I was now in the front of the helicopter although I was sitting on the left side, I was now the front. My buddy right behind me he-- pretty much should have fallen out. If weren't for him hanging on to me there is a good chance I would have been thrown from the helicopter.
Scott Pelley: As the helicopter is going down what were you thinking?
Mark Owen: "This is going to suck," you know. "Hey, wow."
The carefully rehearsed plan was out the window before the first boot hit the ground. With one helicopter and half the SEALs crashing, the second helicopter abandoned the roof assault as too risky and the SEALs began to improvise. One thing was sure now. The people in the house knew they were coming.
The raid on bin Laden's house was supposed to be straightforward. Two helicopters, call signs Chalk One and Chalk Two, carried 24 members of SEAL Team 6. Each man hauling 60 pounds of gear. One group planned to slide down ropes onto the roof of the house. Mark Owen's group planned to rope down into the courtyard. But Owen's helicopter crashed and now everything was changing for the most important counterterrorism assault in U.S. history.
Scott Pelley: Tell me about the crash.
Mark Owen: The pilot mentioned, you know, I remember him mentioning in the rehearsals, like, "You know, if I have to ditch this thing, I'm gonna try and put it down in this courtyard." So that's exactly what he did. You can tell-- you could hear the helicopter winding up.
Scott Pelley: He was putting all the power on it he could, but it wasn't helping?
Mark Owen: No, nothing. Came in and impacted. Boom! Had the angle been more, the rotors would've hit the ground, snapped off, and caused us to roll. Had the tail rotor hit, obviously, it would've broke and caused us to break and roll. The load bearing section of the tail, landed precisely on the wall.
Scott Pelley: The strongest part of the tail just happened to land on the wall?
Mark Owen: Yep. And the angle happened to be perfect. It all came down to inches. Really, inches either way. We stopped. The main rotor blades are still turning. I don't think you could recreate that if you tried.
Scott Pelley: Lucky.
Mark Owen: Lucky, but again, huge props to these pilots. I mean, everybody wants to meet the guy who shot Bin Laden. I want to meet the pilot. I mean, I wouldn't be here if it weren't for him.
Scott Pelley: If the pilot had not brought your helicopter down intact, would the mission have failed?
Mark Owen: No, I don't think so 'cause Chalk Two was on the ground. And as soon as they saw us crash land that Chalk Two helicopter pilot saw that happen, decided not to push the position to go to the roof. And that's one thing that Admiral McRaven said in one of our very last rehearsals, briefs, dry runs, right there in Afghanistan before we launched. He stood up and said, "Hey listen, don't try any fancy stuff. Just get the guys on the ground and they'll figure it out.
Scott Pelley: You mention in the book that one of the Army pilots that was flying your team looked to you to be about 50 years old?
Mark Owen: He was definitely a little older.
Scott Pelley: But I guess in this line of work, it's experience that matters.
Mark Owen: Yeah. Yeah. He's probably been flying longer than I've been alive. So there's nothing wrong with that.
They had planned to be on the ground 30 minutes, but now they were running late. Owen's team landed in this courtyard walled off from the house.
Scott Pelley: So, your team does what?
Mark Owen: I ran out here. I turn around and look. And I see the guys on the left side of the helicopter. They're sitting right at-- staring at the front door. So, they simply hop out and go right to the front door like nothing happened.
Scott Pelley: Go right to this door here?
Mark Owen: Yep.
The other helicopter landed outside the perimeter wall, dropped all of its SEALs and took off.
Scott Pelley: Now, what's your objective? What's your team supposed to do right now?
Mark Owen: We were clearing and securing the southern compound.
Scott Pelley: You expect to find people in this building? And you want to clear that building so the rest of the team can do what they need to do in here?
Mark Owen: Exactly. I think what SEALs are good at is what I consider pickup basketball. We all know how to play the game. You know, our-- you hear the saying in the team says can you shoot, move, and communicate? So we all know how to shoot. We all know how to move efficiently and tactically. And we can communicate clearly. So when something goes sideways, we're able to play the pickup basketball and just kind of read off each other.
Now the SEALs were in several groups. One group was outside the perimeter wall to make sure no one escaped. The group that was supposed to rope to the roof was outside the wall looking for a way in. Owen led his team to the outer building where they expected to find one of bin Laden's couriers.
Mark Owen: We got to the door. Obviously, we made tons of noise at this point. It had taken a little longer to get there. So, you know, the element of surprise is slipping away quickly. And we got to the double doors. I tried it once real quick. It was locked. My buddy was with me. He's carrying a sledgehammer. Pulls it out, gives it a couple good swings, nothing. Door's not going anywhere, kind of solid metal. So I'm like, "OK, we're going explosive." They all carry explosive charges. I pulled one off, got on my knee, and started setting it. And right as I was attaching it, a round started coming through the door at us.
Scott Pelley: Somebody started shooting at you from inside the house? And the bullets were coming through the door?
Mark Owen: Yep. Immediately, my buddy who was standing up started returning fire. I could-- yeah, I kind of rolled away from the door, blindly returned fire back through. You couldn't see what was on the other side. And then it went quiet. Thankfully, the SEAL that was there with me, that initially returned fire with me spoke Arabic. So he immediately started calling out to the people inside. Started hearing the metal latch on the inside of the door. Are they gonna come out with a suicide vest? Are they gonna throw a hand grenade out? Are they gonna, you know, spray their AK? Door opens up, a female holding a kid, couple kids right behind her.
Scott Pelley: You got your finger on your trigger and you're looking at a woman with her children?
Mark Owen: Yeah, yeah. Split second. I mean, we had just received fire. My buddy's speaking Arabic. And he's asking her, you know, "Hey, where's your husband? What's going on?" She-- and-- and she replies back to him, "He's dead. You shot him."
Owen didn't notice until later, but he was bleeding, a shoulder wound, from a fragment of something in the firefight.
Mark Owen: Yeah, I just got a little piece of frag in my shoulder from some of the rounds that came through. It really wasn't a major wound at all. But, I carry a set of bolt cutters to cut locks with. When I got back, you know, I was checking my gear, seeing if there's any holes or anything, and I pull out the bolt cutters, and I've got the bullet stuck in the handle. So, the bullet just missed me by a little bit, and the handles stick up either side of my head.
Scott Pelley: Right by your neck. But you don't consider that to be a big deal?
Mark Owen: No, plenty of other guys have suffered much, much worse so it's not a big deal.
Within five minutes, Owen's team cleared the outer house. More SEALs entered the compound and converged on the first floor of the main building. Inside they found another courier with an assault rifle.
Scott Pelley: Those SEALs were in the process of shooting the second gunman?
Mark Owen: Right.
Scott Pelley: And his wife jumped in front of him?
Mark Owen: All the women on target were very hostile. It's something very different than what we see in Afghanistan or Iraq. You typically don't see the women that are this aggressive and hostile. Even though the females had come out of this building and talked to us, they were still very combative and aggressive and we saw that throughout the entire compound, even all the way up on the third floor.
They secured the ground floor and then the second floor. The team continued to head up these stairs, single file. The first SEAL in line is called the "point man." Owen at this point was right behind him, number two, going up to the third floor. The SEALs had been told they could expect one of Osama bin Laden's sons.
Mark Owen: Guys start making their way up the stairs. And it's quiet. It's pitch black in the house. No lights. All night vision. Get to the second floor. Intel had said, "Hey, we think that Khalid, his son, lives on the second floor."
Scott Pelley: This is Osama bin Laden's son?
Mark Owen: Yeah. The guy in front of me who is point man, he sees the head pop out and disappear really quick around the corner. He's like, "OK, you know, what-- who is it? What do you think?" "Yeah, I don't know." He literally whispers, not amped up, not yelling, not anything. He whispers, "Hey, Khalid. Khalid." He whispers Khalid's name. Doesn't know if it's Khalid or not. Khalid literally looks back around the edge of the hall. And he shoots him. What was Khalid thinking at that time? Look around the corner. Curiosity killed the cat. I guess Khalid too.
It had been 15 minutes since the crash. It was now about 1:15 a.m.
Scott Pelley: Give me a sense of what this scene is like in there? I mean, are these guys yelling and charging up the stairs? Is there a lot of action? How is it unfolding?
Mark Owen: You know, it's not like the movies. Movies make it out to be, you know, loud and crazy and everybody's yelling. It's-- this is what we do. We're really good at it. And so it's quiet and calm, like we've done it a million times before. We have a saying, you know, "Don't run to your death." So nice and slow and we head up the stairs.
Scott Pelley: Khalid is dead on this landing. The point man is stepping past Khalid. And now, you're number two in the stack. You're right behind the point man?
Mark Owen: Yep. I'm kinda trying to look around him. Hear him take a couple shots. Kind of see a head-- somebody disappear back into the room.
Scott Pelley: The point man had seen someone stick his head out a door and shot him just the way he'd shot Khalid.
Mark Owen: Yup.
Scott Pelley: What did you do then?
Mark Owen: Inside the room, I could see a body laying on the ground. Over him was two females, real close to the door. They looked up and saw the point man. He steps into the room, literally rushes the two women, grabs one under each arm, and pushes them back against the far wall. So if they did have a suicide vest on, and they did blow themselves up, that they wouldn't-- that wouldn't affect the rest of the guys.
Scott Pelley: But it would have killed him?
Mark Owen: Yeah.
Scott Pelley: You stepped into the room and saw the man lying on the floor? What did you do?
Mark Owen: Myself and the next assaulter in, we both engaged him several more times and then rolled off and then continued clearing the room.
Scott Pelley: When you say you engaged him, what do you mean?
Mark Owen: Fired.
Scott Pelley: You shot him?
Mark Owen: Yeah.
Scott Pelley: He's still moving?
Mark Owen: A little bit. But you couldn't see his arms. Couldn't see his hands. So, he could've had something. Could've had a hand grenade or something underneath his chest.
Scott Pelley: So, after Osama bin Laden is wounded, he's still moving. You shot him twice?
Mark Owen: A handful of times.
Scott Pelley: A handful of times, and the SEAL in the stack behind you also shot Osama bin Laden. And at that point, his body was still?
Mark Owen: Yes.
Scott Pelley: Did you recognize him?
Mark Owen: Nope. You know, everybody thinks it was, like, you know it's him. No. To us, at that time, it could have been anybody. Maybe this was another brother. Maybe this is a bodyguard. Maybe, it doesn't matter. The point is to just continue clearing.
By now, 20 minutes had passed. Every single thing the woman with the CIA had told them on the plane had been right. But time was running out, throughout the raid, the remaining helicopter was in the air. It only had enough gas to stay for 30 minutes or so. Pakistani neighbors had discovered the SEALs posted outside the compound wall. And it couldn't be long before the Pakistani military would know they were there. One SEAL was charged with keeping an eye on his wristwatch and calling out the dwindling time on the radio, "20 minutes, 15, 10..." We'll be right back.
As time was slipping away, Mark Owen and a couple of other members of SEAL Team 6 kneeled around a mangled body on the third floor of the house in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Everything the CIA analyst told them about the raid on Osama bin Laden's house had checked out exactly as she said. But was this bin Laden?
Mark Owen: In my mind, he looked way younger than I thought he was going to be. His beard wasn't gray at all. You know, I'd studied lots of photos of him. And, you know, they were always gray. His beard was dark black. Identifiably, he was very tall. So, OK, you know, you can kind of chalk that up as something.
Scott Pelley: Bin Laden was about 6-foot-4.
Mark Owen: Right. His nose to me was something that I could kind of identify. So, you know, kind of looking at the profile shots and everything, I was like, "OK," I was pretty sure that was him. But, you know, I'm not willing to make that call. Certainly not at that point.
Not willing because Owen says they suspected the president was listening at the White House. And he was right. The helicopter crash had been reported up the chain of command. Owen says the SEALs wanted proof before anyone said anything on the radio about killing Osama bin Laden. They turned to one of the SEALs in the room who spoke Arabic.
Mark Owen: So he moved out to where the women and kids were, grabs one of the younger kids. Says, "Hey, who is that inside?" She says, "Osama." "Osama who?" "Osama bin Laden."
Scott Pelley: The child?
Mark Owen: The child.
Scott Pelley: Identified him?
Mark Owen: Yep. Grabbed one of the females, again asked her, "Hey, who is that?" She said, "Osama bin Laden."
Scott Pelley: Does a cheer go up among the SEALs? You start shaking hands? Patting each other on the back?
Mark Owen: Not-- nothing. It's all business. We're on the clock here. So, we call up the commanding officer. He comes upstairs. Looks at the body. We give him what we have so far of-- hey, here's what he looks like, take a look. He's tall. Woman and kid confirm it. He took one look. He said, "OK, I think that's him."
The commander used the code word for bin Laden, Geronimo, as he passed the message to Admiral McRaven. "For God and country," he said. "I pass Geronimo. Geronimo EKIA," which stands for "Enemy Killed In Action." Twenty minutes had passed. Ten minutes left on the schedule.
Mark Owen: We wanted to collect DNA samples. We wanted to take photographs of him. And then we wanted duplicate copies of that. So obviously we're taking the body out. But if a helicopter got shot down on the way out and it had the body, we wanted the other helicopter to have DNA and photos so they'd have some sort of evidence that said, "Hey, we do have him and here it is."
Scott Pelley: You wanted duplicates of everything?
Mark Owen: Yeah, just in case.
Scott Pelley: You thought of everything.
Mark Owen: We tried.
One SEAL took blood and saliva samples. Owen took the pictures.
Mark Owen: I figured these were the-- probably some of the most important photos I'd ever take in my life. So you know, make sure I do it right, get good angles, and all this other stuff. But, you know, you gotta clean off the face, so you-- there's-- identifiable as possible. So one of my buddies had a Camelbak with some water in it. Got some, you know, spread some water on him, took a sheet off the bed, kind of wiped the blood off and then took photos.
Scott Pelley: Wiping the blood off of Osama bin Laden's face? Camelbak is one of those backpacks that has a water bladder in it. And you use it to drink water out of. But you used it to wash his face? And you shot pictures of his face in a profile. Can you describe what they look like?
Mark Owen: They're pretty gruesome.
Scott Pelley: Well, when you say gruesome what are we talking about?
Mark Owen: He had bullet wound in the head so that gruesome.
Two SEALs took the body downstairs and zipped bin Laden into a bag. In the bedroom Owen found an assault rifle and a pistol on a shelf.
Mark Owen: And some people would argue that, you know, why did that point man take those shots? Well, immediately, the first door we went to, my team was engaged by enemy fire through the door. So automatically, we know we're going into an enemy compound, shots being fired back at us immediately. AK found next to Khalid on the stairs. All those boxes have been checked that if a guy sticks his head around the corner, he very easily could have a gun. You don't wait to get that AK or the grenade thrown down the hall or the suicide vest. So in the split second, that's when he engaged.
Scott Pelley: He did have a gun. But he didn't use it. And I wonder what you make of that?
Mark Owen: I think in the end, he taught a lot of people to do-- you know, martyr themselves and he masterminded the 9/11 attacks. But in the end, he wasn't even willing to roger up himself with a gun and put up a fight. So I think that speaks for itself.
Back on the second floor the SEALs were grabbing computers, disks, flash drives, videotapes, more priceless intelligence than they could carry.
Mark Owen: There was so much stuff in this house
Scott Pelley: The guys are just stuffing this stuff in garbage bags?
Mark Owen: We had carried bags with us. But we filled all these bags up. So you just find some-- you know, an old gym bag on target, dump out whatever's in it, and use that. You know, as we were running out, I look over at my buddy. He's got a bag of stuff in one hand, like, you know, Santa Claus running out of there. A bagful of goodies in one hand that he had collected and a computer terminal in the other.
The plan had been to be on the ground for 30 minutes. But now they were a few minutes late. It was after 1:30 a.m.
Mark Owen: Now things are starting to pick up outside. People have obviously woken up at this point. They're coming over to investigate what's going on.
They were the neighbors and they had a lot of questions for the SEALs standing guard outside the wall.
Mark Owen: So that's where things could get real dynamic for that team outside. Everybody wants to know what was going on inside. That team had way more responsibility than just about anybody else. 'Cause they were dealing with all the what-ifs outside.
What if the police showed up or the military?
Mark Owen: We were running out of time, we got to get going. There's neighbors approaching. The interpreter that was out here said, "Hey, there's a police operation going on here, go back to your homes." And they'd simply go back away.
Among the unfinished business was the crashed helicopter. It was a secret design, loaded with secret gear. They had to blow it up. A message was passed to their explosives expert -- called the E.O.D. man - "prep it to blow," they said. But the "it" in the message was a little vague.
Mark Owen: Well, the E.O.D. guy thinks he means prep the house to blow. So there we are in the middle of this. And he's like, "OK, roger that, prep it to blow." So he's running around the first floor of the house, setting his charges, getting ready to blow up the house. And somebody looks over at him is like, "Dude, dude, what are you doing?" He's like, "Ah, I'm prepping it to blow." He's like, "Not the house, the helicopter." Well, he hadn't got the word that there was a helicopter even down. He's like, "What helicopter?" He's like, "The one in the courtyard. Go take a look." So he runs outside, sees the helicopter, and then they proceed to rig it to blow.
It was past time to go. Two large helicopters called CH-47s, filled with reinforcements and fuel, had been standing by during the raid. The remaining Black Hawk would return for half the SEALs, a CH-47 would pick up the rest.
Mark Owen: The Black Hawk that's picking us up lands first. We run through the field, carrying the body in the body bag. Load the remaining Black Hawk, and then we slowly lift off and move away. While they're waiting for the 47 to come in the timer on the charges is ticking down.
Scott Pelley: The explosion on this helicopter is coming. How much time have they got?
Mark Owen: Not much left.
Scott Pelley: Minutes?
Mark Owen: They're under 30 seconds. They're running down. The team leader in charge of the demo team, gets a hold of the commanding officer, gets him on the radio talking to the 47. Tells the 47 to do a go around. As he's doing the go around to the south, boom, the charge goes. Our Black Hawk's already gone. This explodes. Big, huge explosion. The 47 comes right back around. Lands. The guys load on, and now they're airborne. And we're done. We're clean from the target.
That glow at the compound was the helicopter on fire. The SEALs were on the ground 38 minutes, which meant their Black Hawk had been in the air, waiting, a little longer than planned.
Mark Owen: Sure enough. I'm sitting in the helicopter. And I turn around and look in the cockpit. I see flashing red lights. Well, I'm not a pilot, but anything flashing red in a vehicle is typically not good. It was gas gauges. We're about to run out of fuel.
During their escape the SEALs were forced to land in Pakistan. One of the CH-47s was waiting on the ground and refueled their Black Hawk.
Scott Pelley: The Pakistanis didn't get you on the way in, but you're concerned they're gonna get you on the way out?
Mark Owen: Sure. We got to get out of here.
Scott Pelley: When did you know that you were out of Pakistan?
Mark Owen: They radioed over. Came on over the radio said, "Hey, we're back in Afghanistan."
Scott Pelley: And you thought what?
Mark Owen: Big sigh of relief and, "Wow, we might have actually pulled this off. This is crazy."
Scott Pelley: Was there ever a point, Mark, in which you shook hands with each other, slapped each other on the back?
Mark Owen: Yeah, once we landed. Everybody kind of hugged and high-fived and took a couple photos. And, you know, it was our five minutes, "Hey, cool, we pulled this off. Good job." And then it was back to work.
In his book, Owen describes how they loaded the body onto a pickup truck and brought it to a hangar where Vice Admiral McRaven, head of Joint Special Operations Command was waiting. They unzipped the bag. Standing nearby was that CIA analyst who had spent years on bin Laden's trail.
Scott Pelley: Miss 100 percent, the woman who told you that she was 100 percent certain that they had Osama bin Laden?
Mark Owen: Right. So we're all in the hangar, immediately, we saw her. And, you know, she started crying. And it was a pretty significant event in her life, I'm sure.
Six hours later the president announced it to the world.
[President Barack Obama: Tonight, I can report to the American people and the world that the United States has conducted an operation that has killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda.]
Mark Owen: Yeah, we watched it live. It was-- they had some TVs set up in the hangar that we were at. And, literally still in your camouflage uniform, our gear kind of set to the side, and we heard it was coming on. We went and gathered around and watched the address.
Scott Pelley: What did you think?
Mark Owen: Now the world knows that we've got him.
Scott Pelley: When you landed back in the United States, what did you think of all the media coverage?
Mark Owen: It was all surreal because, you know, this had all been so hush-hush leading up to it. We went and did it. And now it was the biggest news story ever. We got on a bus. They drove us back to work. I didn't even go in. They told us we had a couple days off. And I grabbed my keys, went and got in my truck and, you know, I put it in the book. But, you know, I hit Taco Bell on the way home, hit the drive-thru, a couple tacos. And, you know, ate it in my car right there and then drove home.
Scott Pelley: You were part of the team that killed Osama bin Laden and the first thing you do when you get back to the United States is go to Taco Bell?
Mark Owen: Two tacos and a bean burrito. It's routine.
Life has been anything but routine for Mark Owen since the publication of his book was announced. We'll have that when we come back.
Days after returning from the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Mark Owen's squadron boarded an ancient C-130 transport plane for one more mission. The men wondered why the plane was so old. Then they found out the plane had been used in 1980 in the failed attempt to rescue the American hostages in Iran. Somebody thought it was a fitting piece of American history to carry the men to their secret meeting with the president of the United States.
[President Barack Obama: The terrorist leader who struck our nation on 9/11 will never threaten America again.]
President Obama was making a speech at Fort Campbell, Ky., and he met with the bin Laden team privately. All of the men would receive a Silver Star for valor.
Scott Pelley: Did the president ask you guys which ones of you had shot Osama bin Laden?
Mark Owen: Yeah. He asked who was the one. And we told him we wouldn't tell.
Scott Pelley: You wouldn't tell him? Why not?
Mark Owen: Pulling a trigger's easy. You know, a couple pounds of pressure on your trigger finger, and I've done it millions of times, and it's not that hard. You know, so it's not about who that one person was. It's about the team, or the helicopter pilots, or the intel folks that teed this whole thing up. Who cares who the one person is? Doesn't matter.
Scott Pelley: I wonder in writing this book whether you're worried the some of your fellow SEALs will be angry with you?
Mark Owen: I've had nothing but an outpouring of support from the guys who know me. To quote one of my friends, he said, "Hey, if anybody can tell this story and do it right, it's you." And I'm not taking that and trying to toot my own horn. They know I'm doing it right.
Scott Pelley: You say in the preface to the book that if a reader is looking for secrets, this isn't their book.
Mark Owen: Absolutely not. I'm not talking secrets, I'm not talking tactics. I don't even get into any of that stuff. But I really try and give the reader a sense of what it's like to be there.
Publically, the Pentagon is not happy about "No Easy Day." They have a differing account of bin Laden's final minutes, saying he that he was first shot when the SEALs were inside his bedroom. Spokesman George Little said last week that Owen signed a secrecy agreement as a SEAL and should've submitted his book for editing by the government.
[George Little (Pentagon briefing): The author is in material breach of his secrecy agreements with the United States government. We believe that sensitive and classified information is contained in the book. I don't think I could be any clearer than that.]
But Owen insists there's nothing in the book that compromises the secrets of the United States or the safety of the SEALs. And there was one more thing he wanted to say, the release was timed to the anniversary of 9/11.
Mark Owen: My worry from the beginning is it's a political season. This book is not political whatsoever. It doesn't bad mouth either party, and we specifically chose September 11th to keep it out of the politics. You know, if these crazies on either side of the aisle want to make it political, shame on them.
The bin Laden raid was Mark Owen's last. A few months later he went to New York and saw ground zero for the first time.
Mark Owen: Our team played a small little piece. Some people would argue bigger. But, you know, to us, it's very-- we were just doing our jobs. Not a big deal. We were just lucky to be at the right place at the right time. But then, going to New York and where the World Trade Center stood at one point, and it was-- it's just very, very emotional.
Scott Pelley: Nearly 3,000 people were killed right there alone.
Mark Owen: It was emotional. It was like, you know what, I'm just ready to move on. Full circle.
Scott Pelley: Your team had avenged those deaths.
Mark Owen: Absolutely.
When word of the book, "No Easy Day" came out last month, a cable news channel learned Mark Owen's real name and reported it. Since then, others have reported his name. We will not. Owen intends to donate most of the profits from the book to charities that support families of fallen troops. He wanted us to know that he thinks of what he's written as a public service -- to get the history straight -- and as a tribute to every Navy SEAL, wherever they may be serving tonight.