U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta still believes someone in authority in Pakistan knew where Osama bin Laden was hiding before U.S. forces went in to find him, he said in a TV interview to air Sunday.
Intelligence reports found Pakistani military helicopters had passed over the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan where U.S. Navy SEALs discovered and killed bin Laden last year, according to excerpts of an interview Panetta gave to CBS News.
“I personally have always felt that somebody must have had some sense of what was happening at this compound. Don’t forget, this compound had 18-foot walls... It was the largest compound in the area.
“So you would have thought that somebody would have asked the question, ‘What the hell’s going on there?’“ Panetta told CBS.
The Pentagon chief said that concern played a significant factor in Washington not warning Pakistan officials of the impending raid: “it concerned us that, if we, in fact, brought (Pakistan) into it, that-- they might...give bin Laden a heads up,” he said.
Panetta acknowledged he did not have “hard evidence” Pakistan knew of the al-Qaeda leader’s whereabouts.
Panetta also admitted publicly for the first time that a Pakistani doctor provided key information to the U.S. in advance of the successful Navy SEAL assault on bin Laden’s compound.
According to Panetta Dr. Shakil Afridi ran a vaccination program for the CIA to collect DNA and verify bin Laden’s presence in the compound. He has since been charged by Pakistan with treason. Panetta said he is “very concerned” for the doctor.
The Pakistani government had hoped to resolve the Afridi matter quietly, once media attention died down, perhaps releasing him to U.S. custody, according to two Pakistani officials. They requested anonymity because the investigation into charges the doctor behaved treasonously was ongoing.
U.S. Navy SEALs killed Bin Laden on May 2 in a raid on a compound in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad, north of the capital Islamabad, and later buried the 9/11 mastermind at sea.