The real life Carrie Mathison revealed: How female CIA agent discovered Bin Laden’s Pakistan lair after hunting terrorist for five years
- Former Navy SEAL wrote tell-all about the Osama bin Laden raid
- Talks about ‘feisty’ female CIA agent who spent 5 years tracking bin Laden
- Similarities exist between that woman, who he only refers to as ‘Jen’, and the lead character Carrie Mathison in Showtime’s CIA drama Homeland
- Interview and book detail final moments of bin Laden’s life – and how the SEALs shot him dead as his arms were hidden beneath his body
Author Matt Bissonnette – whose identity was revealed even though he wrote the tell-all book under the pen name of Mark Owen –only refers to the woman using the pseudonym ‘Jen’ in his book.
The similarities between her backstory and that of the lead character in the hit television series Homeland are obvious.
During an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes, the former SEAL spoke publicly for the first time about his book No Easy Day and described the role that ‘Jen’ played in the bin Laden raid.
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The man behind the book: Former Navy SEAL Mark Bissonnette, who used pseudonym Mark Owen to publish the book, spoke about a female CIA analyst who played an integral role in the operation
‘I can’t give her enough credit,’ he said during the interview. ‘I mean, she, in my opinion, she kind of teed up this whole thing.’
In his book, Bissonnette writes that he sat next to the woman during one of the long-haul flights as they headed to Pakistan for the mission, and his brief description paints a picture of a young and extremely dedicated analyst.
‘Recruited by the agency out of college, she’d been working on the Bin Laden task force for the last five years. Analysts rotated in and out of the task force, but she stayed and kept after it.
‘After the al-Kuwaiti phone call, she’d worked to put all the pieces together… she had been our go-to analyst on all intelligence questions regarding the target,’ he writes.
The biggest question facing the SEAL team as they headed into the mission was whether or not the intelligence gathered that pinpointed bin Laden to his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan was correct.
For much of the mission, they referred to the target as ‘The Pacer’ because the only time he was ever seen outside was when he went on brief strolls in the compound’s garden.
During their exchange, she told him that she was ‘one hundred per cent’ certain that bin Laden was The Pacer, which made him worried that she was overconfident.
During the raid itself, those fears were proved unfounded as he told CBS’ Scott Pelley that every fact she had given the team from her research was correct.
He went on to describe the moment when the team left the compound having killed the al Qaeda leader and brought his body back to the hangar where the military officials and the female analyst were waiting to see for themselves that the mission had been completed.
‘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,’ Bissonnette told CBS.
Even though the fact that the CIA is dominated by men is well-documented, it may be too quick to assume that the same ‘wicked smart, kind of feisty’ agent that Bissonnette wrote about was the basis for the lead character in the Golden Globe-winning series Homeland.
However, actress Claire Danes hinted at a connection during an interview about the research she did to prepare for her role as Carrie Mathison.
‘There’s a woman Carrie is loosely modeled on and she’s a CIA officer and so I met with her and she took me to Langley and introduced me to some of her colleagues,’ Danes told The Wall Street Journal.
‘I met in the hallway the man who was the head of the Pakistani division and had just returned to the U.S. (after the killing of Osama bin Laden) and it was like “Wow, this really exists”.’
In the show, Carrie’s character was recruited to the CIA directly out of college and is supposedly 32-years-old when the show began to air. In real life, Danes was the same age at the start of the show.
According to Bissonnette’s timeline, ‘Jen’ would be about 27-years-old at the time of the raid last year, so both the fictional character and her potential CIA equivalent are around the same age.
Aside from the logistical similarities, it is the nature of both Jen and Carrie that have spectators predicting that they are based off the same woman.
The Homeland protagonist is described as being stubborn, headstrong, and outspoken. The same appears true for ‘Miss 100 Percent’.
‘Jen wasn’t afraid to share her opinion with even the highest officers,’ Bissonnette wrote in the book. ‘This was her baby. Jen and her team spent give years tracking him to get us where we were now.’
‘With each second, the helicopter slipped closer toward the earth’
In his book and CBS interview detailing the mission to bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, Bissonnette describes the helicopter journey to the hideout – and how it took a frightening turn.
‘I think most of the guys on the helicopter actually caught some much-needed sleep on the ride in,’ he writes of the journey. ‘All the hype was gone and it was just another night at work for us.’
But they were soon jolted awake – as their helicopter began to plummet uncontrollably to the ground.
‘Suddenly, the helicopter kicked to the right 90 degrees and I could feel my stomach drop like riding a roller-coaster,’ he wrote. ‘The rotors above me screamed as the Black Hawk tried to claw its way back into the air. With each second, the helicopter slipped closer toward the earth.’
The helicopter crash-landed in the compound but the tail rotor hung over the wall outside – as an image below shows.
‘The angle happened to be perfect,’ Bissonnette told CBS. ‘It all came down to inches. We stopped. The main rotor blades are still turning. I don’t think you could recreate that if you tried.
‘Lucky, but 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.’
No one on the helicopter was hurt and they began their mission, along with SEALs who had landed on a second helicopter.
‘A round started coming through the door at us’
Bissonnette recounted to CBS how he jumped from the helicopter and, with another SEAL, ran to a doorway that was locked. By this point, they had already made significant noise and the element of surprise was slipping away – so they had to move fast.
When a sledgehammer failed to budge the metal door, they began setting up explosives.
‘Right as I was attaching it, a round started coming through the door at us,’ he remembered. ‘Immediately, my buddy who was standing up started returning fire. I kind of rolled away from the door, blindly returned fire back through.
‘And then it went quiet… Started hearing the metal latch on the inside of the door… Door opens up, a female holding a kid, couple kids right behind her.’
They pushed past and continued inside, securing each of the floors – without an ounce of panic.
‘This is what we do,’ he said. ‘We’re really good at it. And so it’s quiet and calm, like we’ve done it a million times before.’
‘We shot him as his arms were hidden’
Speaking on CBS, Bissonnette revealed that the SEALs then went on to shoot bin Laden instead of capturing him as his arms were hidden and he may have been holding weapons.
He said one SEAL fired after seeing a man’s head poking into a hallway.
‘If a guy sticks his head around the corner he very easily could have a gun,’ he explained. ‘You don’t wait to get that AK or the grenade thrown down the hall or the suicide vest.’
Bissonnette and another SEAL shot bin Laden ‘a handful of times’ again after finding him on his bedroom floor with a bullet in his skull but still moving.
‘In his death throes, he was still twitching and convulsing,’ he wrote in the book. ‘Another assaulter and I trained our lasers on his chest and fired several rounds. The bullets tore into him, slamming his body into the floor until he was motionless.’
In a detail not included in his book, he explained to CBS: ‘We couldn’t see his hands. So, he could’ve had something. Could’ve had a hand grenade or something underneath his chest.’
‘I had to clean off the blood so I could shoot his photo’
The man had been shot dead – yet the SEALs needed to be certain they had their target.
Bissonnette told CBS he was not immediately sure they had the right man: ‘In my mind, he looked way younger than I thought he was going to be.’
But noting the body’s height – bin Laden was 6ft 4 – and his distinctive nose, Bissonnette said he became increasingly certain.
He was tasked with photographing the body so it could be positively identified. Another SEAL took saliva and blood samples in case the helicopter was shot down as they left, taking the body with it.
‘It was strange to see such an infamous face up close,’ he wrote in the book. ‘Lying in front of me was the reason we had been fighting for the last decade.
‘It was surreal trying to clean blood off the most wanted man in the world so that I could shoot his photo. I had to focus on the mission, right now we needed some good quality photos.’
Another SEAL, who spoke Arabic, quizzed a young girl to confirm the identity and she repeatedly confirmed the body belonged to the man they had been after.
Another SEAL used a satellite phone to call Adm. William McRaven, the Navy officer overseeing the mission.
‘For God and country, I pass Geronimo,’ he said, code for telling McRaven they had killed bin Laden. ‘Geronimo E.K.I.A.’ – which stands for Enemy Killed In Action.
Speaking with CBS, Bissonnette added that when he was inside the compound, it was clear the 9/11 mastermind had extreme organisation skills.
He added that his clothes were tightly folded in his dresser and possessions in his closet were evenly spaced, as if he were at a Marine Corps bootcamp.
‘Somebody there had to have had OCD,’ he said.
‘Wow, we might have actually pulled this off’
Before they left, the SEALs grabbed computers, disks, flash drives and videotapes, shoving them into large garbage bags, Bissonnette told CBS.
They also had to blow up the crashed helicopter, aware it was loaded with secret designs.
Carrying the body in a body bag, they ran towards two further helicopters that had been standing by.
‘We got to get out of here,’ he thought, as the Black Hawk stopped for re-fueling before heading out of Pakistan. Then they received news over the radio that they had made it out.
‘[We let out a] big sigh of relief and, “Wow, we might have actually pulled this off. This is crazy”,’ he told CBS.
After landing, ‘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.’
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