9/11 Memorial in NYC announce exhibition, Revealed: The Hunt For bin Laden

Oct 24, 2019

Mark Kelton was the CIA station chief in Pakistan during the bin Laden compound raid, known as Operation Neptune Spear.
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

Revealed: The Hunt For bin Laden is the latest exhibition from the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.  For the first time, previously sealed evidence and artifacts will be displayed to the public.

“We made choices of specific things that were very much tied to a particular moment in the hunt for bin Laden,” said Clifford Chanin, Deputy Director of Programs at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.  “For example, the backpack that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had when he was taken into custody.  That’s shown in the exhibition.  But also, more generic things like a cassette tape.  A large binder that has bomb making instructions in it.  Things that could have been taken in dozens of places but were taken from one place as an example of the training these people were going through.”

Chanin says the exhibition artifacts are accompanied by interviews with intelligence officials closely connected to the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.

“You will see in the exhibition in silhouette because some of them are still working, some of the key analysts that actually had to break down this intelligence, explaining what it is they were looking for and how they put the pieces together,” he said.  “We spoke to six of the seal operators who were on the raid from their perspective, what it looked like, what they were doing, and how this was carried it out.”

Mary Galligan was with the FBI during the hunt for bin Laden, where she was Special Agent in charge of Cyber and Special Operations for the New York Office.

A trunk taken in as evidence to be displayed at 9/11 Memorial & Museums Revealed: The Hunt For bin Laden
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

“Every time you thought you had a piece of information that was the piece of information, there was disappointment,” she said.  “Looking back, it’s much easier to see that every piece of information became important.  You just didn’t know it at the time.”

“I always get the question when I talk about this, and I don’t talk about it very much. Why didn’t we find bin Laden?  The simple answer is he was hiding,” said Mark Kelton, a retired chief of the CIA’s Counterintelligence Center.  “He was hiding in some very remote areas.  It is hard to find a single individual in the world when they are truly trying to hide.”

Kelton remembers the various strategies discussed before raiding bin Laden’s Pakistan compound.

“They included of course ground assault.  Working with locals, the option of bombing.  And finally, a raid.  There were a lot of reasons we didn’t settle for the first three.  But the principle reason was we needed to have a body, we needed to have proof,” Kelton said.  “Aero bombardment, we may have not gotten DNA or sufficient proof.  There would have been conspiracy theories afterwards that bin Laden was still alive.  We didn’t want that.  Ultimately, we decided to go with a raid.”

Kelton was the CIA station chief in Pakistan during the compound raid, known as Operation Neptune Spear.

“This was what is called a compartmented operation,” he said.  “Many people in the station didn’t know about it.  Only those who were directly involved in supporting the operation.  They had heard about it and I had the opportunity and the honor to tell people that were working in a very difficult environment that we had delivered justice to a murderer.  And, it’s a proud moment, and it still brings emotion.”

The compound raid leading to the death of Osama bin Laden was the culmination of a 10-plus year search. And for the first time that story is being brought to life through an exhibition, Revealed: The Hunt For bin Laden at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City.  

The exhibition opens November 15th.  For more information visit 911memorial.org/revealed