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Transcript: William McRaven talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters"

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In this episode of Intelligence Matters, host Michael Morell speaks with retired U.S. Navy Admiral William "Bill" McRaven, who served as commander of U.S. Special Operations Command from 2011 and 2014. The former Navy SEAL and four-star admiral discusses his family's military history and his own experiences during some of the most well-known missions of his nearly 40-year career – including the Osama bin Laden Raid and the capture of Saddam Hussein. Morell and McRaven also discuss leadership, service and McRaven's latest book, "Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations."

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INTELLIGENCE MATTERS - ADM. BILL MCRAVEN

CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL

PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS, JAMIE BENSON

MICHAEL MORELL:

Bill, welcome to Intelligence Matters. It is great to see you. And it is great to have you with us.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Thanks, great to be here.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So you have a new book, Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations. It is absolutely terrific--

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Well, thank you.

MICHAEL MORELL:

People should go buy it. And I want to ask you all sorts of questions about it. Maybe the place to start is why did you write it?

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Yeah, you know, I actually started writing the stories years ago, for my kids. I've got two boys, my daughter. And, you know, they kinda grew up with me as a SEAL. But I didn't talk a lot about what I did. And so as they got older, at certain points in times they said, "Dad, you know, we really don't know what you did."

And I said, "Well, I'll start putting some things down in writing." And so, you know, on the weekends, every once in awhile, I'd write a little story here or there. And then when Make Your Bed became kinda commercially successful, one of the other small books I did, the publisher came back to me and said, "Well, you got anything else?" (LAUGH) I said, "Well, you know, I've got this kind of stories of my life, if you will. And I'm happy to put those forward." So that's kinda how it all started.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Was it a bit of a different decision to do this, given the ethos of the special forces, just like the ethos of the intelligence community, which is you don't talk about what you do?

 ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Yeah, it wasn't. Because, you know, my position has always been, for all those guys that are writing books, I said, "Look, I have no problem with people writing books. I have no problems with the movies, as long as you do a couple things. One, you take it through the process." And, as you know, when you do a book like this, and it took me almost five months to get through the security review process.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Took me four.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Yeah, so you have to go through the process. But also my hope and my expectations is you're gonna talk about things about, you know, the heroism and the bravery and the sacrifice. All of us that probably went into our respective businesses, at some point in time, read a book that inspired us.

So, you know, I mean, I remember seeing the movie The Green Beret with John Wayne, when I was young. And I thought, "Well, I wanna be a special forces guy." And then I read books about commando operations in World War II. And so books and movies are important to, again, inspire young men and women to come into the military. So I don't really have a problem with them. Again, on the security side, as long as, you know, what you're laying out is cleared through the Pentagon--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right. Right. I think there's another issue too. So I agree 100%. I wrote my book with the idea of encouraging young men and young women to think about the intelligence community. But there's also another things that I think is really important. And that is that America's the only country in the world where former senior officials write books. And it's a really important piece of history.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

It is--

MICHAEL MORELL:

And it's an--

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

--absolutely.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--and it's an input into history, right? And I don't think we think enough about that.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

No, that's a great perspective.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Bill, the book starts in 1960, in France. Tell us about that.

 ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

You know, people call it a memoir. And I guess it is a memoir. Because I talk about, you know, the bin Laden raid and the rescue of Captain Phillips and the capture of Saddam Hussein. But really what I hope people take away from the book is that it really is about these great soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and civilians that I had a chance to work with in my 37-year career.

But it does begin in 1960. So I'm a young boy. My father is stationed in Fountainbleau, France. He's part of the supreme headquarters allied powers, Europe. And as a young kid, my parents, every Friday they'd go to the ostrich club. And of course this is where that generation, that kind of greatest generation-- certainly my dad had all these fighter pilot buddies.

And as they would go to the ostrich club, you know, I would kinda sit at their knee and listen to these stories. And they were stories of World War II. And they were stories that were, again, uplifting. They were inspiring. They were poignant. Sometimes a little unbelievable.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Uh-huh (AFFIRM). A little added color.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

(LAUGH) Yeah, that's right. But they were great stories. And I think this generation, this greatest generation as we call 'em, that grew up as children of World War I, went through the Great Depression, and all the men went off to World War II, I think they used these stories to kinda deal with the challenges of life. And at one point in time, many, many years later, my father said to me, "Bill, life is all how you remember it." And so the stories in this book are kinda how I remember it.

MICHAEL MORELL:

That's great. So was it your father who motivated you to join the military?

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

It was. I think it was my father, my father's friends, my mother. You know, I grew up in a military family. So Dad, obviously a World War II fighter pilot, a little bit of time in Korea. He retired in 1967. But all of his retired friends were also military.

So almost all my career I was kinda part and parcel to this. And I liked the camaraderie. I loved living on bases. You know, I liked spending time around men and women that were dedicated to something that they felt was noble and honorable. And so, frankly, it was an easy decision for me to go into the military when I graduated from high school, and then went off to ROTC, Naval ROTC at the University of Texas, and never regretted a second of it.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Did you wanna make a career from the very beginning? Or did that only come later?

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Yeah, I think it only came later. You know, initially when I graduated from ROTC, I wanted to go to basic SEAL training. And a lot of this was just to test myself. I mean, I was always a pretty good athlete. And I knew the SEAL training was some of the toughest military training. And I think like, you know, any young man of my age, I wanted to challenge myself, to see if I could make it through.

And I graduated in 1977. Back then, you know, the Navy SEALs had no career path really. So there were only two Navy captains, kinda colonel equivalents. One on the east coast, one on the west coast. So a good career as a Navy SEAL back starting in 1977 was if you became a SEAL platoon commander as a lieutenant.

And you really didn't think much beyond that. If you ever became a commanding officer, well, my goodness, you had had a great career. But of course, as times changed, 9/11 happens, the community changed. It morphed. It grew. And I was fortunate enough to grow along with it.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So the SEAL training that we were just talking about, you obviously made it through. What was that like for you?

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Well, it lived up through its marquee, about being exceedingly tough training. You know, SEAL training, broken down, it's six months long, out in Coronado, California. Broken down into three phases. But it really is I think more mental than physical.

Now, again, your day is long. You start at the crack of down. You do about two hours of calisthenics. You have a short break. And then you go for a four-mile soft sand run. Then you come back. You have a short break. Then you go for a two or three mile open ocean swim. Then you run to chow. Then you come-- so--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Sounds pretty physical to me--

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Yeah. (LAUGH) But each evolution or each individual evolution as we call it, every event is not terribly difficult in and of itself. The hard part of course is you put them all together. And you are constantly being harassed by the instructors.

You're constantly cold, wet and miserable throughout the course of the day and the weeks and the months. That is really I think what tries on guys. And then of course we have a special (we called) hell week, about the eighth or ninth week of the first phase of training, where it's six days of no sleep, constantly being kept cold, wet and miserable, to see if you're, you know, physically and mentally tough enough to be a SEAL.

MICHAEL MORELL:

The washout rate's high.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

The washout rate is high. It's about 75% for enlisted guys. About 50% for officers.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And what's the difference between those who make it and those who don't?

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Yeah, it's actually pretty simple. You just don't quit. When I tell folks that, particularly the young kids that are getting ready to go through, and I've had a lot of young fellows come to me. And they wanna know, "Well, do I need to run more? You know, do I need to swim more? Do I need to be able to do more pull-ups?"

And generally the answer is, "No, no and no." And then I tell 'em, "Look, there's only one thing you have to do to get through SEAL training. Don't quit." I remember this kid saying, "I know, Sir. I get that." I said, "No, I'm not sure you do. There's gonna be a hundred opportunities in the course of a day to quit. You're gonna get tired. You're gonna get frustrated. You're gonna be freezin'. And you're gonna wanna quit. Those that make it through just don't quit."

And that becomes a mantra, frankly, for the rest of your career. Because there will be a lot of opportunities in your career to quit. There will be times in your career when things are physically tough. But there will be times when, "You mean I'm moving my family again? And again? And again?"

Or you're working with a boss you don't like or things go bad in combat. So while you learn to get through the physical toughness of SEAL training, I think the "don't quit" mantra, the "never ring the bell," as we say, is really more about life in general, and certainly a career on the teams.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Bill, you rose through the ranks, all the way to be the commander of the special operations command. To what do you attribute your success as a military officer?

 ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Yeah, I think any officer that gets to the rank of general-- I used to tell folks that you only become a general or an admiral if the troops want you to be a general or an admiral. You have to earn the respect of the troops. You have to earn the respect of the troops and of your peers, frankly.

Because if you don't, then as you begin to climb the ladder, so to speak, if you haven't earned their respect, if they don't trust you and they don't feel like they can rely on you, then you're just not gonna be successful. So very early on you realize that, you know, you've gotta be able to, you know, work hard.

You set high standards for the troops. You hold the troops accountable. You do things that are moral, legal and ethical. You build a certain trust. And you build a reputation with the troops. And that really I think carries you through the ranks.

Now I was also very, very fortunate. And if you read the book, you will see that there were a number of times where things in my career did not go well. And I was fortunate to have, you know, great senior officers who also looked at me. And they saw something in me and said, "You know, you made a mistake here. Mistakes happen. But we're gonna kinda keep you on the path. Because we think you've got something to offer." But I would also contend that that something to offer was a result of all my time that I spent with the troops and that they recognized that there was, you know, maybe something that was worthwhile to continue to advance forward.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Bill, you're known inside the military and outside the military as a great leader. Really two questions. Do you have a leadership philosophy that you talk about? And do you think it's applicable outside the military?

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Yeah, I do. I mean, it's always about being a servant leader. And that's a term that we throw around a little bit in the military. But you have to really kinda think through it. I mean, a servant leader means that my responsibility is, again, to the mission and it's to the troops.

And sometimes those can be at odds with each other. But if you think about taking care of the troops, I learned early on, you know, this is not about, you know, giving them extra liberty and pattin' 'em on the back every time. It really is, in elite organization, about saying, "Look, we are going to be an elite organization. That means we are going to have exceptionally high standards.

"And I'm going to hold you accountable to meet those high standards. Now I'm going to give you the resources to do that. I'm gonna give you the training to do that. I'm gonna give you the support. I'm gonna give you all the things to be successful.

"But you are going to have to push yourself hard. And I will push myself as hard, if not harder, to help you do that." Because if it ever becomes about you, then you're probably not the leader the troops need. And I did find that learning to be a servant leader in the military certainly helped me when I retired and I transitioned to be the chancellor of the University of Texas system.

It's the same thing. You know, it's not about the chancellor. It's not about the president of the universities. It's about the students and the faculty. And, you know, give them the opportunity to succeed and you'll be successful along with them.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Bill, who was the best leader or leaders that you ever served under?

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Well, I was fortunate to have a lot of 'em. You know, in my early days I had some very interesting SEAL commanders. There was Captain Ted Grabowsky. Again, a SEAL, Vietnam vet, Captain Bob Mayberry (PH), Captain Tim Holden. So I had a lot of great SEAL mentors early.

Yeah, after 9/11 we became joint. And I was fortunate of course to work with General Dell Dailey very early on, when I was a flag officer. Of course Stan McChrystal, one of the great generals of our time. Dave Petraeus, Ray Odierno, Martin Demsey. I mean, the list goes on and on and on. And Admiral Mike Mullen, as you well know. And Admiral Eric Olson, one of my real heroes, to be honest with you.

And Admiral Joe Maguire and I were very close, along with Joe Kernan. So I was really blessed in my career to have some remarkable leaders that I kinda patterned my leadership after. You know, the Army, Navy and the Air Force, again, I'd go on in the Air Force, the Marine Corps as well. So this is the great thing about the military is you don't have to look very far to find somebody that is worth emulating.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And so let's jump back to the book. And let me ask you about some of the stories in the book. And the first is the capture of Saddam Hussein. So walk us through that and walk us through your role. Walk us through the role of your soldiers.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Yeah, so this was December of '03. I had gotten to Iraq in October of '03. And of course we were looking for Saddam. And, you know, we were working with the agency and had our own military intelligence folks out there. And we were always having leads, you know, on Saddam Hussein. He's here. He's there.

And of course the leads rarely panned out. And it was a little bit like he was a ghost. Well, as I tell in the story, I think the story starts off. And I've actually gotten on a plane, heading down from Baghdad to Qatar. I've got a meeting with Joel Amazade (PH).

And I had been briefed the night before, I think it was, but a young noncommissioned officer from our Army Special Operations unit. And he'd kinda given me some sense that, "Hey, you know, if we can get to this guy, then maybe we will find Saddam."

Now I'd heard that story a lot of times before. But for some reason this young NCO was adamant that, you know, if you connected these dots, all this would happen. Well, I get on the plane. And I'm heading to Qatar from Baghdad. And all the sudden it was one of these kind of, you know, a little bit of an epiphany, like, "Oh my goodness, I think this kid's right."

So I go to my aide and I said, "We gotta turn the plane around. We're gonna get Saddam tonight." And the aide looks at me like, "I'm sorry, Sir, what? Did somebody call you? What's going (LAUGH) on?" I said, "No, but I think tonight's the night." Well, we can't 'cause we're in Iraqi airspace.

We actually have to go to Qatar. He strong-arms some (LAUGH) Air Force captain. And we get on another plane and come right back to Baghdad. We get back into Baghdad. And the Army Special Operations unit, led by Lieutenant Colonel Bill Coltrop (PH), is out hunting.

And they have found a lead. And as we're watching it on the overhead surveillance, I realize that they are calling in from another location. We have to swing the ISR to another location. And I hear over the radio, "Jackpot," which, of course, as you know is the code word for, "We got him."

Now I didn't know whether jackpot meant we got the source we were looking for or we got Saddam. So I get on the radio with Bill Coltrop. And I said, "Okay, Bill, is this little jackpot or big jackpot?" There was a pause. And he goes, "Sir, it's big jackpot."

I said, "Okay." So, again, we're all kinda fairly calm. Because, again, we'd had jackpots before, so to speak. But they get 'em back to Tikrit. And then, you know, an hour or so later he comes into Baghdad. And sure enough, it was Saddam Hussein. But, you know, one of the things I tell folks about spending time with Saddam-- and I held onto him for about the next 30 days.

And every day I would go in, to make sure that we were taking good care of him. Because it really was my responsibility to make sure we did that. And never talked to him, but would check on him. And an interesting thing happened. You know, when we first captured him, he was arrogant. He was pompous.

I remember the first day, when Ambassador Bremer and Rich Sanchez came over. And they brought some of the Iraqi officials, I mean, Saddam was still in charge. And he was dismissive of folks. Well, as we made sure that none of those people were around again, and that he didn't have his generals and he didn't have his handmaidens and he didn't have his palaces, he really just became a pathetic old man.

And I tell folks. I'm not sure I tell it in the story. But I said, "You know, you contrast that with a Nelson Mandela, who spent almost 30 years incarcerated. And because Nelson Mandela had this remarkable strength of character, this remarkable integrity, he kinda came out from 30 years as strong, if not stronger. Saddam Hussein, within a matter of ten days or so, was just a shell of himself. Because (LAUGH) he had no integrity. He was a pathetic old man on the inside. But it was good to be part of that.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Bill, the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So I don't think most people know who Richard Phillips is. Maybe the place to start is who was he? And what happened to him? And how was he rescued?

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

So Rich Phillips was the captain of the Maersk Alabama, an American flag cargo vessel, that was making its way off the coast of Somalia when Somali pirates came and boarded the ship. And of course they later made a movie out of it, starring Tom Hanks.

But I am in Afghanistan at the time. And we get the call from the Pentagon that this American vessel has been taken. And they have moved Captain Phillips from the vessel onto this lifeboat. And they're taking the lifeboat back to Somalia.

Well, we knew quickly that if we got back to Somalia, to the mainland of Somalia, it was gonna be very difficult to rescue him. So immediately we do, as we always did, as you recall, we held a video teleconference with the White House, with the joint staff and with CENTCOM and the agency and the state department.

And the president made a very quick decision to go ahead and send in the SEALs, to link up with some Navy ships that came their way. So we did a long-range flight from Virginia Beach, came, SEALs parachuted into the waters off Somalia. In the meantime, we had surrounded the small lifeboat.

And we're having a dialogue with the pirates, trying to convince 'em that, "Look, the best thing to do would be just to let Captain Phillips go. Kinda no harm, no foul. And oh, by the way, you're not getting to Somalia. We're not gonna let that happen."

Well, as the couple of days went by, there were some tense moments at the time. But of course they ran out of gas. We're getting to the point where they were running out of gas in the lifeboat. So, you know, I reached out. There was Captain Scott Moore, who was the SEAL that came in to run it from the on scene.

So Scott and I are conversing every day. And I think what's interesting for people today to realize is the distance. I mean, I'm thousands of miles away in Afghanistan. But my situational awareness of what's going on was really pretty good.

Because you've got a ScanEagle that is a drone coming off the ship. I've got high definition television coming from the ship back to my command center. So I can see everything that's happening. And then of course I'm coordinating with Scott Moore, on board the Bainbridge and the Boxer, which was one of the bigger ships.

Make a long story short, we managed to kinda hook the lifeboat up behind the Bainbridge and slowly pull the pirates in. One of the pirates had gotten off the vessel at some point in time. And as the days went on, we finally kinda brought them in a little bit closer.

And of course the young lieutenant commander and the snipers on the deck of the Bainbridge, they had always had authority that, if they sensed that Captain Phillips was in danger, and they had a good shot, they could take that. And at a certain point in time, we felt that the pirates were threatening Captain Phillips. They were threatening Captain Phillips.

And the SEAL snipers had a good shot and took kinda three simultaneous shots. Some very challenging shots through, you know, a small vessel, bouncing around in the water, through the portholes. Managed to take out the pirates and rescue Captain Phillips.

Again, a dramatic rescue. But this goes back, Michael, to the point about the troops. What I hope people take away from this is these remarkable, in this case, you know, SEALs and actually sailors on board the Bainbridge and the Boxer and some great leadership from kind of around the inter-agency, they really pulled together to rescue an American captain taken by pirates. And it is remarkable, the way all these folks pull together when the time is needed.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So the bin Laden raid. Let me ask you some specific questions maybe about some particular moments. And, Bill, the first was the initial meeting in my office in late 2010. So we brought you there because the president wanted you briefed on what we knew, what we thought. And he wanted your help in thinking about possible courses of action.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

I had my team there from the counterterrorism center. Mike Vickers was there, the then Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. We walked you through the whole story. What were you sitting there thinking at that moment, when we were telling you, "We think we know (LAUGH) where he is"?

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

I was thinking a couple things. You know, I don't think I've ever been asked that question. A couple things were going through my mind. Interestingly enough, the first thing going through my mind was, "I'm not gonna make this about JSOC. I'm not gonna make this about, you know, this is the most important mission and we're here to do it and we can do it better than anybody."

Because that wasn't gonna be the right answer. You know, what we wanted to do was let's figure out the right way to get this guy. If it's not our special operations guys, maybe it is a bombing mission. Maybe it is something else. But the last thing I wanted to leave you or anybody else in that room with the impression of is that, you know, we wanted this mission and we were the right guys--

MICHAEL MORELL:

We'll take it--

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

--to do it.

MICHAEL MORELL:

--now.

 ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

We'll take it now.

MICHAEL MORELL:

We'll take it now. Thanks very much.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Not gonna do that. Because it just wasn't the right thing to do. So that was really kinda my first thought, was, "Look, I'm happy to provide you all the advice and counsel you need. But if there are better guys to do this, let the better guys do it." And, you know, I knew you guys had some incredibly talented folks that certain had the ability to do some of this.

The other one, however, was, you know, we'd seen a lot of leads, as you know, on bin Laden over the years. So it's not that I was dismissive. But I didn't get overly pumped up. Because, as you know, we were still grappling with, "Is it really him? Is the pacer bin Laden?" I know that--

MICHAEL MORELL:

We--

 ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

--you know--

MICHAEL MORELL:

We grappled with it right to the end.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Of course. Right to the very end. So I would say there were two things. First was, "Let's make sure we get the best options on the table. And if I'm not the best option, I'm okay with that." But then the part two of that was, "Well, this looks good. But, you know, we'll have to see how this whole thing unfolds." So I don't think I was overly hyped out, comin' out of the office. Because I thought, "Yeah, I've seen things like this before. We'll just have to see where it goes from here."

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah. You'll remember that Director Panetta, later Secretary Panetta, and me, we had exactly the same attitude.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Yeah. (LAUGH)

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right? This isn't about CIA. This isn't about CIA getting him. This is about let's do the thing that has the best chance of getting him, if it's him--

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

You know, if I can interject there, Michael. Because, you know, you bring up this remarkable point. And I hope I bring it out in the book, is the thing that made this team so remarkable, this being the CIA and special operations team, the military team, was that everybody wanted to do what was right for the country.

And to your point, you and Leon Panetta, there was no ego here. This was not about, "Hey, let's make this a CIA only." And I didn't wanna make it, you know, a special operations only mission. We all wanted to do whatever the right thing was. You know, in light of where we thought this mission was going, I think American oughta be proud of the fact that the organizations were more concerned, you know, not about our own legacy, but about, "Let's get this done right for America."

MICHAEL MORELL:

So the second moment I wanna ask you about, which increased my already deep respect for you, was you'll remember that, fairly late in the process, when the president was leaning heavily toward the raid, that he asked you in the situation room, "Can you do this?"

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And I think 99.9% of the people who would have been asked that question woulda said, "Absolutely, Sir. We'll get this done."

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

You said, "I don't know. I don't know until I exercise it."

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

What was going through your mind when you answered the question that way?

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

You know, actually the same thing that was going through my mind on the first day we met on this, was I was not gonna tell the president of the United States something that I wasn't certain of. And if it turns out I wasn't the best option, then I didn't want us going forward.

And, you know, as you recall, Michael, at that point in time we hadn't brought the SEALs in yet. We hadn't brought the helicopter pilots in yet. So we hadn't had a chance to, again, rehearse the plan that I had laid out for the president.

So when the president said, "Can you do this?," I mean, I had to be honest. "I don't know. (LAUGH) You know, let me call the SEALs in. Let me get the helo pilots in. Let's go rehearse this thing. And then I'll come back and tell you whether or not we can do it."

And I think the next question the president asked was, "How long will it take?" I said, "I think it'll take about three weeks." And he said, "Okay, you got three weeks. Come back and talk to me after three weeks." And after three weeks, when we had pulled everybody together, when we had rehearsed it, then I was pretty confident we could do the mission.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And I think it's a remarkable lesson for any military officer talking to the commander-in-chief, any intelligence officer talking to the president and, quite frankly, anybody talking to their boss. Right? Don't spin things. Don't make promises you can't keep. Tell 'em what you think.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Well, while we're on that, I'm not sure I mentioned it in the book, but I have told other people this. Because I think it is a reflection on you and your personal and professional courage. At one point in time, in the discussions, as everybody was leaning towards wanting this to be bin Laden, you stood up in one of the meetings and kinda stopped the conversation and said, "Mr. President, if I can, you know, I remember when we were lookin' at WMD in Iraq.

"And we saw what we wanted to see. We all have to be very careful about thinking this is bin Laden, wanting this to be bin Laden, and seeing what we wanna see." And I remember, Michael, thinking, "That was an incredibly courageous moment." Because your boss, Leon Panetta, (LAUGH) and others sittin' around the room were probably going, "Hey, this is not the time to bring that up." But it was exactly the time to bring that up. And--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah, I was not--

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

--I appreciated that.

MICHAEL MORELL:

I was not particularly popular for saying (LAUGH) that. But it was the right thing to do.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

It was absolutely the right thing to do.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Bill, let me ask you a couple questions about the issues of the day. It's probably what you get asked most about when you go out to talk about your book. We've had soldiers in Afghanistan for 18 years now.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

We have in Iraq. We have them in Syria. We have them in many places on the planet. And we're at this moment considering a range of options with regard to what to do about what appears to be an Iranian attack on Saudi oil facilities. And I don't wanna ask you what we should do in each of those cases. What I wanna ask you is what is your standard for putting men and women in uniform in harm's way? What conditions have to be met in your mind to do that?

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Yeah, great question. You know, I teach class as the LBJ school, public affairs, at the University of Texas in Austin. And we actually do National Security Council simulations. And I throw a lot of tough questions and tough problems at the students.

And I start off, the first thing I teach them in the decision process is we have to ask ourselves, both personally and certainly as a nation, who are we. I mean, who are we? If you don't know who you are, then every part of the decision process after that I think can be wrong, can be misplaced.

But if you start off and you say, "Look, as a nation, we are a nation of laws. We have certain values that we take very, very seriously. I mean, we have, you know, sacrificed our lives to fight for our values. I mean, we sacrificed our lives against, you know, Nazism and communism and, you know, all of the terrorism, all of the "isms" out there. Because we value our values more than we value our lives. So who are we?"

And then as you kinda go down this, and you look at the risk to the mission, and you look at the risk to the force, there's another piece of this that says, "If we take this action, will we be better off? Will we be strategically in a better place?"

So when we look at something like, you know, what do we do with, you know, possibly Iran's attack on the Saudi oil fields? I think we have to ask ourselves first and foremost, you know, "Who are we as a nation? Do our values matter? And how do our values play out in this context? And what are our priorities?"

But then, if we take action, if we decide we are gonna conduct a strike against Iran, what does that do for strategically? Does that then escalate the fight that puts us in a position to now have to put more young men and women in harm's way?

I don't think that serves anyone well. The reason we went to Afghanistan in the first place, after 9/11, was because we were attacked. And we felt we had an obligation to go get Al Qaeda's safe havens. That's a pretty good reason to go. But if we're gonna go after Iran, or we're gonna go after any other country, we're gonna put young men and women in harm's way, we better understand exactly what we're doing, why we're asking men and women in uniform, and out of uniform, that are in the intelligence community and law enforcement and others, to sacrifice their lives, we better understand, you know, what it is, in terms of supporting our values, and whether we will be better of strategically at the end of whatever decision we make. I think those are the general things we have to look at--

MICHAEL MORELL:

And do you think we've gotten that mostly right? Do you think we've had some misses? How well do you think we've done as a nation in living up to what you just outlined?

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Yeah, I think we've absolutely had some misses. But I think if you have that framework, you're gonna have the answer come out more positive than negative in the long run. If you have no values, if you have no framework for leadership, if you don't have priorities that matter, if you're not worried about the young men and women, if you're not worried about whether or not we're gonna be strategically better off, then I think you have, again, a lot more misses than makes.

The other thing I'd offer is, as you well know, process is important. And one of the other things I teach in my class is we talk about the police coordination committees. So for your audience, when a challenging issue comes up, there's a process within the national kind of security coordination process where you start at kind of a one star level, where you have great foreign service officers and Intel community officers and department of defense folks.

And they take a look at the issue. They frame it. They move it up to a deputy's committee meeting, where you were always in these deputy committees meetings. And then they move it to a principal's committee meeting. And then they finally bring it to the National Security Council.

Well, then you have had the opportunity to engage with people that know the issues, that have been living the issues for most of their career, who speak the language, who know the culture, who understand the personalities. And they then provide options to the president who-- I don't care who the president is.

They're never gonna be the smartest man or woman in the room, with respect to a particular issue. But at least you're going to provide them advice and counsel that starts from a place of deep experience. I'm afraid, if you don't have that process, and if you think as an president that you are probably smart enough to figure out these things on your own, you are gonna have a lot more misses than you are makes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So I couldn't agree with you more on the process issue. And the misses I've seen, both at the national and strategic level, and the misses that I saw at CIA was almost always because we didn't have everybody in the room who needed to be there.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And we didn't have a piece of critical information that would've taken us in a different direction.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Right.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And process is everything. Bill, I wanna ask you two other questions, maybe three other questions. When you look out at the world, what do you worry most about, in terms of our national security?

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Yeah, it's interesting. When I was the chancellor of the University of Texas, I was asked this question a lot in kind of public forums. And I think, you know, people would say, "You know, what's your number one national security concern?"

I think they always thought I'd say something like, you know, North Korea, Iran. And my answer was always the same, K through 12 education. And the wasn't because I was an educator. It is because if we are not teaching the young men and women in, you know, our elementary school, junior high schools, high schools, and then of course in higher education-- if we're not teaching them, you know, different ideas, if we're not teaching them how to think critically, if we're not really instilling in them an understanding of the Constitution and what our values are, then we won't have people that know how to deal with the national security issues when we need them the most.

So I really believe we need to invest in education. And if we invest in the young men and women in this nation, then we will find that the national security issues, I mean, will be better served by people that are smart, that have, again, traveled around the world, that have seen different ideas, been exposed to different ideas and different cultures and have the experience to make the right decision in national security.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Bill, second question. What would you like America to know about the soldiers in uniform in general, and special forces in particular?

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Yeah, you know, I often talk about the special operations soldiers. And I say, "Look, what you need to know is, as much as I love, you know, the folks that are the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that are special operations folks, we in SOF are no more courageous, no more heroic, no more patriotic than our conventional soldier counterparts or the folks in the Intel community."

We are trained differently. We have, you know, different missions to do. But the young men and women that I serve with in the military, from all branches, special operations, conventional, the young men and women that I served with in the intelligence community, those that came over from law enforcement, you know, this is a remarkable generation of people. I think it surprises people. I am the biggest fan of the millennials you'll ever meet. People seem surprised by that. Because, you know, think of the millennials as these, you know, entitled soft--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right--

 ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

--kinda snowflakes--

MICHAEL MORELL:

--right, "This is about me," right?

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

And I'll tell ya, as you well know, I'm quick to point out, "Well, then you've never seen 'em in a firefight in Afghanistan. Or you've never seen them, you know, serving in Baghdad. You've never seen them serving in Kabul. You've never watched them going to school at the University of Texas at El Paso or Rio Grande, to make a better life for 'em."

This is a great generation of young men and women. And when you join the military, when you join the Intel community or law enforcement, and you're doing something that is noble, that is honorable, that is something bigger than yourself, I mean, that's why they join. And we are thankful and honored to have them in our ranks.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Last question, which you're not gonna like, but I have to ask. There's a lot of people who would like to see you in political office, (LAUGH) even running for president. Have you ruled that out forever? Any chance of that down the road? How do you think about that?

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Yeah, you know, I don't like politics. But I do like policy. And I've told folks, "Look, you know, if the right administration comes along, and I'm asked to help out in a policy capacity, that I would be happy to do that." And I never say never on things. But I can tell you right now, I have no plans for politics. I actually admire those people that get into it. It's--

MICHAEL MORELL:

It's a tough business.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

It is a very, very tough business. And, again, if I can help out folks to continue to move America in the right direction, I'm always happy to do that.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Bill, thank you for joining us.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

My pleasure, Michael. Thank you.

MICHAEL MORELL:

The book is Sea Stories. And the author is Bill McRaven.

ADMIRAL BILL MCRAVEN:

Thank you.

              * * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *

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