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Transcript: Michael Vickers talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters" podcast

CBS NEWS - WASHINGTON BUREAU

INTELLIGENCE MATTERS - MICHAEL VICKERS

INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL VICKERS

CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL

PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS

MICHAEL MORELL:

Mike, thanks for joining us today. It is great to have you on the show.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

It's a pleasure. Congratulations on the podcast.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Thank you so much. I should start by telling people, acknowledging to people that you and I are close friends-- which grew out of us spending so much time together in the Situation Room, and grew out of you and I really seeing eye to eye on the importance of putting intense pressure on terrorist organizations that were trying to kill Americans.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Absolutely.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So people need to know that you and I are friends here. Let me start by asking a question that I think many of our listeners will have: what is defense intelligence? And how does that differ from national level intelligence or strategic intelligence?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

So many of the intelligence organizations that comprise the 17-member intelligence community are defense organizations, about half of them. So four big national agencies: National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence agency, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and National Reconnaissance Office, and then the intelligence organizations of the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corp. So they tend to focus more on defense issues, but also provide national intelligence in their respective domains. NSA and the Signals Intelligence Area and code making, code breaking; NGA in imagery interpretation and mapping.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And so when you were the undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, all of the defense intelligence entities reported to you, you were in charge of all of that?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Yeah. I exercised the secretary of defense's authority, direction, and control over the Defense Intelligence Enterprise-- which comprised all those elements, but in the national intelligence realm shared that responsibility with the DNI-- Jim Clapper.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And so some of the leaders of those organizations actually reported to both of you?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Yes. Both to the secretary of defense, through me, and then to the DNI.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Mike, I know you're in the process of writing a book about your career-- and I can't wait to read it-- and we will have you back on the show when the book gets published to talk in detail about your time in government and all the things you did. But what I'd love to do today is to concentrate on the world today, what the U.S. is doing that is working, what the U.S. is doing that's not working, what your advice would be for the government going forward on those things. But I did want to ask you a couple of career-related questions just so people get a sense of who you are and what you've done-- all without really taking anything away from your book because I know your publisher wouldn't be happy about that. (LAUGH)

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Sure.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Because I've been through this myself.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

You've been through it, yeah.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So your time as a C.I.A. operations officer was dominated by working on what is known as the Afghan Program.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Yeah.

MICHAEL MORELL:

The C.I.A. covert action that provided support to the Freedom Fighters in Afghanistan who ultimately drove the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan-- and, quite frankly, which played a significant role in the ultimate fall, in my view, of the Soviet Union. So you have that on your resume, which is really cool thing. In fact, you even have a character in the movie, Charlie Wilson's War, who plays you-- (LAUGH)

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Indeed.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--this really smart, chess-playing, C.I.A. weapons expert. So that's really cool, too. But I just have two questions about that time in your career. And the first is what role did you actually play in the program? What did you actually do?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

So I was formerly the program officer, which meant I was the principal officer within C.I.A. responsible for that program, reporting up to officers with more senior responsibility, the Chief of South Asian Operations that had not only Afghanistan and Pakistan in the director of the operations, but Iran to Bangladesh, his boss in the Northeast and South Asia division to the Deputy Director of Operations to the Director of Central Intelligence.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And how long did you do that--

MICHAEL VICKERS:

I did that--

MICHAEL MORELL:

--for?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

--for two years. '84 to '86, those were the divisive years when we decided to go for victory to drive the Soviets out. The strategy change was March of '85. And then--

MICHAEL MORELL:

What was the strategy change?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

It was to shift from a strategy of imposing costs on the Soviet Union, but really without hopes of defeating them; just making their intervention in Afghanistan expensive to actually driving them out. And this was codified in a national security decision directive, a top secret compartmented directive at the time that since has been declassified-- called NSDD 166 that I helped author.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And the change in strategy led to a significant change in what you were doing or how you were doing it and level of what you were doing?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Yes. So there were additional resources provided to C.I.A. about a fivefold increase in resources in Charlie Wilson just before that. And that triggered a strategic review, a big interagency review that I know you're familiar with. And then the new strategy led to additional resources.

So within a scope of a year, the program increased by a factor of 11 times. And the quantity and quality of weapons, training, intelligence support, everything went dramatically up-- culminating in the decision to introduce the stinger surface to air missile system in March of 1986.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Which is critically important because the Soviet helicopters were wreaking havoc.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Right. So it along with a lot of other weapons really changed the air balance pretty significantly. But a lot of other things contributed as well. And ironically, the Soviets-- you may remember, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power about the same time as our National Security directive in March of 1985, and he escalated the war; he did his own surge like our Iraq and Afghanistan surges of recent years-- but took his top general from Eastern Europe and put him in there, gave him one year to turn the situation around. So this was really a battle of surges in 1985. And we and the Afghan resistance won.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Great for the United States and for C.I.A. and--

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Well, with the tragic-- yes, it's the largest and most people say the most successful covert action program in in C.I.A.'s history -- but not without its tragic consequences eventually leading to 9/11.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah. So that's the other question I wanted to ask you. And that is did we get the aftermath of that success wrong, right? Did we not do some things that we should have done in Afghanistan-- post-that success, right? Because some of those Freedom Fighters ended up being terrorists. Are there things you think we could've done to prevent that unintended consequence?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Yeah. So it was a series of -- the short answer is yes. I mean, we should've stayed engaged there. It was complicated by the fact that our main objective--

MICHAEL MORELL:

And you don't militarily, you mean politically--

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Politically--

MICHAEL MORELL:

--and diplomatically--

MICHAEL VICKERS:

--diplomatically with aid and also an intelligence presence and some security assistance. I don't mean militarily. But a couple things complicated that. One, Pakistan was on a path to developing nuclear weapons, and there was Congressional legislation that when they crossed a certain threshold toward that goal and the president couldn't certify that they hadn't crossed that threshold, we had a lot of aid to Pakistan and it had to be suspended. That occurred in 1990 right after -- the year after the Soviets withdrew, but there was still the insurgency going on 'till 1992 in Afghanistan.

Second, you know, as you know, the Berlin Wall fell, East Europe was liberated, the U.S. government, the Bush administration became very focused on consolidating its gains in Europe-- historical gains at the end of the Cold War, and thought Afghanistan and Pakistan was more a regional problem.

Everyone knew there would be continued civil war. How long it would take the Resistance to win was a matter of some debate. But no one imagined at the time that it would become a sanctuary for a new global Jihadist terrorist organization and then with such tragic consequences for us.

And then of course the Soviet Union collapsed, and (UNINTEL) turned a lot towards Russia. Afghanistan went into a brutal civil war for some years before the Taliban emerged in 1996 and then Al Qaeda came. So we had several opportunities-- albeit difficult ones to at least stay more engaged than we were-- I think it was a lack of strategic foresight.

And then also the second phase of this as the Al Qaeda threat was developing to take more aggressive action across two administrations, just the beginning of the Bush administration, but a lot of Clinton years where we looked at options, but really didn't do much other than--

MICHAEL MORELL:

We had two embassies attacked, we had a U.S. war ship attacked, and--

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Right. And so we knew--

MICHAEL MORELL:

--very little response.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

You know, and C.I.A. was warning about this growing threat, but we essentially didn't do enough, and it's one of the big lessons of counter terrorism, as you know, not to let them build up a sanctuary for that period of time. We would-- I hope we would never make that mistake again.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Let me ask you one more question about the past before we jump to the issues of the day, Mike. You are one of the most non-partisan people that I know. I'm your friend, and I really don't know if you vote more Democrat or more Republican, I just have no idea; that's how non-partisan you are. But like me, you found yourself stepping out of that non-partisan role and endorsing Hillary Clinton. Why did you do that?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

I thought she was an effective Secretary of State in the years that we served with her with Bob Gates as Secretary of Defense and Leon Panetta at C.I.A., thought it was a very, very strong team-- the first Obama term. And I thought her foreign policy views based on that or national security views were more in line--

MICHAEL MORELL:

She was tough.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

--with my traditional views.

MICHAEL MORELL:

She was--

MICHAEL VICKERS:

She was pretty--

MICHAEL MORELL:

--tough.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

--tough. And so that really shaped my-- I, you know, I'm not an isolationist, I believe the United States has to be engaged. If a Republican had looked just like Hillary Clinton or slightly different, you know, different economic philosophy or something, then I certainly would've remained neutral in that regard. You know, as you say, my tradition is more to be non-partisan. But in this case, I thought it was--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Did you have second --thoughts about doing that?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Yeah, it was my first and only, and I have had--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Me, too.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

--second thoughts just--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Me, too.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

-- about to-- you know, as intelligence officers, we're trained to call it as we see it, but then stop there.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right, right. Okay, the world today. Mike, overall, how do you think the Trump administration is doing dealing with the national security threats and challenges that our country faces? Sort of what grade would you give the administration? And is there a difference in how you think about that grade between what the administration is actually doing and how the president talks about it? So how do you think in general about how they're doing?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Yeah. So I do think there is a difference between how the president talks about foreign policy and national security strategy and what the administration actually does. There are some fine people in the administration who are doing very commendable work. And as you know, a lot of the business of the U.S. government goes on in the intelligence community; we continue to collect and analyze intelligence-- and prepare for conflict in the Department of Defense-- and engage in operations.

So overall-- I would give them reasonably good marks on further dismantling the global Jihadist threat both Al Qaeda and ISIS. The challenge will really be the strategic challenge has always been once you take them down, can you prevent their reconstitution?

And so the jury is really out on that, and that's nested in the broader Middle East strategy and South and Central Asia strategy that I think there is some cause for concern particularly given the turbulence in the region. With Iran, the other sort of Middle Eastern threat, I think we made a mistake across two administrations by not making life more difficult for them and the Russians and Syria; I think we missed an opportunity.

And I think our hands-off, indirect approach to the conflict in Yemen has resulted in a lot of civilian casualties and it's also produced indecisive results. And therefore the Iranians, with their proxy, the Houthis, have sort of hung on. So in terms of the concerns about Iran, in terms of regional meddling-- I don't think we've fully addressed that problem. I think new sanctions won't really address that in the same way as--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah. So let's maybe take these one at a time. So let's go back to counterterrorism for a second. How do you see the threat today from the global Jihadist movement? How would you characterize the threat today? You know, ISIS has essentially lost its caliphate. But how do you think about the threat today?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Yeah. So as long as they don't have a sanctuary and time where they can plot global attacks, develop capabilities, new technologies, train operatives, that typically is a year to a few-year cycle, unless they have them handy. And so that threat, I think, has been diminished. The global Jihadist movement is either hanging on for dear life in various places or more dispersed, but they have footholds in a lot of different regions, in North Africa and Libya, they still have cells in Europe, in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, and then--

MICHAEL MORELL:

East Asia.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

--Syria, Yemen, East Asia. The threat has grown some in Southeast Asia actually, which has been generally a more dormant theater. So their ability to mount really sophisticated, catastrophic attacks is certainly down, but not the threat of more local attacks in several regions.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And would you agree that if we don't keep the pressure on them in all of these places, that the risk of them developing the capability to attack us again is a real possibility?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Yes. I think that--

MICHAEL MORELL:

That's what we learned at the end of the day--

MICHAEL VICKERS:

That's what we learned.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--right?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

That's what we learned at the end of the day. And so it's imperative to keep the pressure on, and that means leveraging our advantages in armed reconnaissance, drone warfare, essentially, but also the global network of partners that we built, and all the intelligence and security sharing with these countries that allow us to more nip threats in the bud, and that's essentially to keep the threat at manageable levels.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And is your sense that the administration is doing a pretty good job on that?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

I think in terms of keeping on the pressure on, in terms of the precision strikes and armed reconnaissance, yes, I think they're doing a pretty good job on that. In terms of-- and continuing to take some senior leaders off the battlefield, some very important ones, potentially. In terms of sustaining the global network of partners, which is sort of the other side of it, I think the jury's out a bit on that.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Because we're challenging our allies rather than embracing them in some cases?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Right, right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Okay, so back to Iran for a second. So were you a supporter of the Iran Nuclear Deal? Or did you have concerns about it? How did you think about it?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Yeah, so both. I mean, I was a supporter at the end of the day because I think it was the, in purely nuclear terms, I think it was the best option we had to retard their program for a reasonable period of time. And so in that sense I think as a narrow arms control agreement, for all its faults in that area that it's not indefinite, it did buy us some time, and in that sense it was successful.

In terms of not being part of a broader, comprehensive Iran strategy where he pressure was taken off across the board, what pressure there had been before, which probably wasn't adequate to begin with-- then I don't think it could meet its intent. And so I think that criticism is fair in terms of not doing anything to restrain their proxy activities, their unconventional warfare--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah. So there's-- so I have two questions for you. One is, I don't think any administration has pushed hard enough back on what the Iranians do in the region.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

I would agree with that.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And my question is why do you think is that the case? Why have we not done that?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Well, I think it varies by case. So, you know, if you go back to the Reagan administration where they started building Hezbollah and kidnapping and torturing our diplomats and colleagues in the C.I.A. and--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Bombing the--

MICHAEL VICKERS:

And bombing the--

MICHAEL MORELL:

--Embassy in Beirut--

MICHAEL VICKERS:

--embassies, and the Marine barracks --

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

You know, I think that was viewed as a very local conflict, that if we disengaged, the problem would go away. And to some extent, it did, but it was a victory for Iran. And then I think if you look at the Bush administration-- there were just so many other things going on almost like the first Bush administration.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--we had Iran providing sophisticated IEDs to Shia militia groups in Iraq that were killing American soldiers.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right? And not much of a pushback.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Right. So for instance, we did things against them in Iraq, but were hesitant about doing muc more than that or certainly some cross border things-- without going into details. And that puts you in the same kind of sandwich we found ourselves in in South East Asia where, you know, you draw the line in the conflict right here, and then you let the enemies on both sides treat you as a punching bag.

MICHAEL MORELL:

I think this is a good Ph.D. dissertation for anybody out there who wants to write about this because it's a really fascinating thing that we haven't sufficiently pushed back for a long, long time. But the strategy now, right, the administration strategy now is to put so much pressure on the Iranians by renewing sanctions that we're able to get a better nuclear deal, and we're able to change their behavior with regard to regional influence. What do you see as the prospects of the success of that strategy?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

You know, I think the goals are reasonable ones. I don't think the likelihood of success is all that high. Now right now the Iranians have a lot of domestic challenges, and so this is an opportune time to put more pressure on them. The challenge is whether we can rally the international community enough, particularly now that you have more great power interest in the Middle East, which hadn't really had in the past couple decades with Russia-- and Russia's not going to do a lot to help the Iranian economy, but others might in some regard.

And so I'm not confident that more sanctions of the type we're envisioning will really lead to the outcome we want. They've weathered a lot, you know, in the past, and I don't see any reason to think that they couldn't. I think it would take a combination of hitting them back harder in other places as well as pressure. And then also importantly, rallying the international community, which is much tougher today than it was, say, ten years ago.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah. You know, my thought was always let's get the nuclear deal and then let's turn the page to the regional interference and put, you know, internationally and a multi-lateral approach, put as much pressure on them on the regional issues that we put on the nuclear issue.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

And I think those should've been entwined. I mean, again, it was a different time, different adversary, much more dangerous. But with the Soviet Union, that's precisely what we did in the 1980s just because we did arms control agreements and some breathtaking ones that were very good things, we didn't take the pressure off in Afghanistan, we didn't take the pressure off globally or rallying our European allies, et cetera.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Exactly. All right, North Korea, where do you think we are?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

I think tensions are down, which is good. North Korea is primarily a nuclear threat now, and a growing one, one that's made pretty dramatic progress in the past few years, both in weapons and delivery systems. I think the real danger for us in this is that we have started a process that, diplomatically, that may get out of control for us.

We have very, very ambitious objectives that are keyed -- very rapid denuclearization -- that are keyed to this warming of relations. But it's not clear at the end that North Korea may be able to use this diplomatically to separate South Korea from us because South Korea looks like they're all in now on this warming of relations. And so if we decide, wait, you're not fulfilling your end of the bargain-- the train may have left the station at that point, and you may end up with a worse position in Northeast Asia than we have now.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So would you agree though that testing the proposition as to whether this guy is willing to negotiate a way his nuclear weapons is worth it, makes sense?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And the trick then is if he's not, how do we move forward then? That's the complicating factor here.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Right. And still retain your alliances and all your capabilities.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And what's your bet? Do you think he's actually willing to negotiate a way for a price? Or do you think his intent is to hang on to at least some part of his program, to sort of have his cake and eat it, too? What do you think?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

I think it's more cake and eat it, too, and then achieve other diplomatic objectives. To me, the price would have to be so high-- that doesn't have North Korea economically absorbed by South that it just seems implausible in regional terms or U.S. terms that we could sufficiently meet those demands. I mean, this is ultimately his insurance card.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So we may find ourselves back in a situation at some point? Maybe not next week or six months from now or a year from now, but we may find ourselves back at some point and having to make a choice between living with this program or dealing with it militarily?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Yeah. Now again, on the strategic side, this is an area where deterrence does seem to work. I mean, you really have to have a mad man theory to say that because the end result is obliteration for them. The weapons are useful to deter us from changing the regime -- they're not useful for a bolt out of a blue that then ends in the destruction of his regime.

So I think there's a lot of ways this could turn out. And it's possible there could be, you know, a partial deal of some partial denuclearization, lessening of tensions, that still let them remain a nuclear power, but with trying to achieve the goals of more economic development that still puts us better off than we were before. But that will be a pretty sophisticated diplomatic play to keep South Korea on our side-- the Russians and Chinese who haven't always been helpful. Sometimes the Chinese are helpful, sometimes not; the Russians, less so-- to pull off this diplomatic hat trick.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Okay, Russia. How should we think about Russia and the threat that they pose to the United States? And what should we do about it?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

So I think Russia actually is our most immediate threat right now and has been. I think what they did in intervening in our 2016 presidential election was brazen. They really didn't care if they got caught in a lot of ways. I think it was quite successful, and they're still at it.

And ironically, they're using American tools, American creations, the creation of an open global economy where money and things can flow freely. And then innovation, the invention of social media to attack American weaknesses, our polarization, our economic dislocation and others to heighten tensions that were already there.

So, you know, in a way it's not cer-- and it also had the benefit of the strategy surprise. This really, I think, wasn't on people's radar screens. And where they were having their biggest effect in social media, we weren't monitoring until too late. I don't think we'll make that mistake again, but at the time, I think all those things conspired to why I think it works so well.

You know, Russia's strategy is really to restore its great power status; it sees its primary aim as weakening its opponents in Europe and the United States. It knows it really can't compete head to head -- so they're engaged in the strategy attrition campaign, mostly an intelligence war with us with a lot of -- their term for covert actions is active measures -- to essentially weaken us, to attack our will and our cohesion rather than our capabilities. And that's probably the--

MICHAEL MORELL:

So what do we do about that?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

So it's a combination, I think, of offense and defense. We're in this with the Europeans. It's fundamentally a political and informational problem to rally people that you're being attacked and you shouldn't like it. You know, intelligence can play its role and law enforcement in terms of discovery and presenting evidence, it's naming and shaming in certain cases. But it's also some elements of hitting back with various tools as well; you just can't play defense.

The other side of Russian strategy is to, you know, fight wars largely on their periphery where they have time and space advantages or ethnic advantages-- but then also put in hybrid war, both unconventional and conventional, but then escalate to strategic level with a threat in cyber-attack or something else short of nuclear weapons that could bring the conflict to an end.

We don't necessarily have a good answer to that as a defense problem. That's-- it's something we need to work on, both how to defend very far forward or to achieve deterrence. But also then when they threaten to escalate because they know if the war goes on they will lose-- how do we manage that escalation to where they can't declare victory and go home?

MICHAEL MORELL:

Okay-- China. If Russia is the most immediate, maybe China is the most long-term--

MICHAEL VICKERS:

No, by far the greatest most challenging long-term threat.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--about that?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Well, ultimately it's an economic and technological competition. Unlike the Cold War, it's about who is going to be the global leader-- first with the biggest economy and out of that will come political influence. But then secondarily-- who is the most innovative economy and creating the industries of the future.

And then a related risk of that is does some of those technologies that are also creating industries of the future: biotechnology, artificial intelligence, potentially quantum technologies and others, do they have military effects that really can change the military balance.

And so that's, you know, whether we're just in essentially a peacetime competition for who's going to have more sway in the global environment, conflict still deterred by nuclear weapons or limited by nuclear weapons-- or is there some breakthrough technologies that could really alter the balance. And that's sort of the 20 to 30-year problem that we have as a nation. How do we solve that challenge?

MICHAEL MORELL:

And we're both taking very different approaches to that competition, right? We're taking a market-based free enterprise approach, and they're taking a state-directed-resource approach to this competition.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Right, and combinations of intellectual property theft and state directed and-- Xi Jinping has said they want to dominant future biotechnology and artificial intelligence. Now whether they can do that or not--

MICHAEL MORELL:

So how do you think this plays ultimately? I know that's a really tough question.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Well, it really turns-- you know, China's had an economic miracle over several decades that's almost unprecedented in economic history. And so whether they have bumps in the road or political bumps in the road that are associated with the economic downturns I think, you know, remains to be seen.

And it also, I think, is contingent on the what's the nature of power and its relation to political stability and political cohesion in the future. So, for example-- China has four times the population we do. Is that an asset or a liability? I think the jury is out depending on how capital intensive or technology intensive, future industries or military power is. And if you can't, just as we see at home, if you leave people behind, you get political consequences to that. So I don't have an answer to that, I just believe it's our most important strategic challenge over the long haul.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Mike you've been incredibly gracious with your time. Just one more question. Like I was, you were deeply involved in the raid that brought Osama bin Laden to justice. And I know you'll talk in detail about that in your book. But what I wanted to ask you is what single moment in either the planning for the raid or during the raid or after the raid most stands out for you?

MICHAEL VICKERS:

That's tough, but I I can give you a few. So when I was one of the first people inside the U.S. government to be read in on the intelligence in late summer, early fall of 2010 by you, as a matter of fact, with the vice chairman, I was really struck at the intelligence case at that point; still circumstantial, but a lot of evidence pointing that there's really something there. And so--

MICHAEL MORELL:

That was a neat moment in my office, actually. I remember that, too.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Yeah, my adrenaline really went up. And then the same thing when we were directed to start planning-- operational options at Christmas time. It's the first time really I just didn't enjoy a Christmas with my family and wanted to get back right to work and work on those options.

And then I remember our first meeting on options with President Obama where he said, "We're going to do this. We're going to do it sooner rather than later, and we're going to do it unilaterally in the White House Situation Room." And we were still, I guess, six, eight weeks away from actually doing the operation, but I thought, holy cow, we better--

MICHAEL VICKERS:

This is gonna happen.

MICHAEL MORELL:

This is gonna happen.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

And then I guess the final moment was-- you know all the things can go wrong from our experience with the Iranian and hostage rescue attempt and others, but, once we knew what had happened to that first helicopter that had landed the SEALs got out, I thought the only question remaining at that point was whether he's there or not, and we're going to know that in ten minutes. And so I felt a real sigh of relief when I saw the helicopter hadn't been shot down or-- It had a hard landing, our troops had gotten out, and then-- and now we'll know.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah. All right, Mike, thanks for being with us.

MICHAEL VICKERS:

Sure. Great pleasure.

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