“When I wrote “Countdown 1945,’ along with Mitch Weiss, I wanted to create a history thriller, giving the reader the sense of all the tension, all the doubts and unanswered questions, as President Truman, the scientists at Los Alamos, and the crew of the Enola Gay came together to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima,” Mr. Wallace replied. “I was looking for a similar story — that lent itself to the Countdown format and the dramatic narrative. The hunt for and ultimate decision to launch the raid to take down bin Laden seemed like the perfect follow-up. By this 10th anniversary of the raid, a number of key details were no longer classified. The central characters were all justifiably proud of their roles in the operation and were happy to talk about it.”
Do you consider the hunt and takedown of bin Laden to be one of the most important stories in recent history?
“Yes, I do. Remember — 9/11 was the worst attack on the US homeland in our history. Osama bin Laden was the mastermind. The trail for bin Laden had gone cold after 9 years. How the CIA was able to find a solid lead — how President Obama and his team came to launch the raid even though they still didn’t know whether bin Laden was in the compound — how Admiral McRaven put together the team of Navy SEALs and planned the operation — all of that shows what our government can do when various branches come together,” Mr. Wallace replied.
Who were the principal people you interviewed?
“Almost everyone involved in the operation — CIA director Panetta, Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Gates, Admiral William McRaven — head of Joint Special Operations Command, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, 2 members of SEAL Team 6 who participated on the raid, and more than a dozen other key players in the CIA, White House, and military,” said Mr. Wallace.
Was there anyone you didn’t interview that you would have liked to?
“Really just one person — President Obama. I made several requests. But the President had just written his memoirs, including a chapter on the bin Laden raid. His staff said he wanted to let that speak for itself. Having said that, we spoke to so many people who were in the room with the President at key moments that we felt we had a solid understanding of his thoughts and process,” replied Mr. Wallace.
Your subtitle states it is an untold story. What did you discover in your interviews and research that you didn’t know previously?
“The head of the CIA’s Pakistan-Afghanistan Department — whom we called Gary — told his story for the first time. And in hours of interviews with Panetta, McRaven, the SEALs, and others — we learned details that had never been reported before,” Mr. Wallace said. “For instance, Robert O’Neill — the man who killed bin Laden — said when he learned of the mission, he thought it was a ‘one-way ticket.’ What was that? A suicide mission? They might get bin Laden, but they weren’t coming home alive.”
Why did you include an account of Jessica Ferenczy?
“We wanted to put a human face on the tragedy of 9/11. Here was a tough New York City cop who was married to another cop who was lost that terrible day. We thought she personified the thousands of stories of people from whom bin Laden took so much,” Mr. Wallace said.
The book is suspenseful, even though we know the outcome. Was the concept of a countdown to the takedown of bin Laden meant to be suspenseful?
“Precisely, We wanted to write a history thriller. I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but I think history is often written the wrong way. The key players in these stories don’t know what’s going to happen. They have to make decisions based on incomplete information. If you can give the reader a sense of the uncertainty and tension as people are making their way through these events, there is a great deal of suspense,” Mr. Wallace said. “I can’t tell you how many people wrote me emails at 2:30 at the morning saying—I know the ending, but I was so caught up in finding out what happened next, I couldn’t put down the book until I finished. There was no better book review.”
• Paul Davis’ On Crime Column covers true crime, crime fiction and thrillers.
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Countdown Bin Laden: The Untold Story of the 247-Day Hunt To Bring Down the Mastermind of 9/11 To Justice
Chris Wallace With Mitch Weiss
Simon & Schuster, $30.00, 368 pages
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