King recalls hearing of bin Laden's death

May 3, 2011 Issues: Killing of Osama bin Laden

By REID J. EPSTEIN
Newsday
May 3, 2011
 

Rep. Peter King missed the call alerting him to the news he thought he'd never receive -- that Osama bin Laden was dead.

King first noticed at 10:05 p.m. on Sunday that he had a message on his cellphone. On the voice mail was a message from Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

"I didn't hear it [ring]," King (R-Seaford) said of the call. "I had the phone on vibrate because I was at the kickboxing match at the Glo nightclub in Westbury."
Leitner "said to call the White House," King recalled Monday. "He said to make sure you watch the president. It'll be very meaningful to you and your constituents."

The call was the first indication to King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, that an attack on bin Laden was in the works. King called back, and Leiter informed him that the man responsible for planning the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington had been killed.

"It took me about three seconds to realize what it meant," King said. "Being on Homeland Security, I know about all the dry leads and dead ends we've had. It wasn't on my radar screen that bin Laden was going to be captured."

King said his intelligence sources told him the initial tip about bin Laden's courier, which eventually led to his Pakistan compound, came from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after he was waterboarded in Europe by American personnel in 2003.

The White House began informing congressional leadership of bin Laden's death after the 9:45 p.m. announcement that President Barack Obama would speak later Sunday night. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he was watching TV at home with his wife and daughter when the news broke that Obama would speak.

"I said, 'I'll bet we've got bin Laden,' " Schumer said he told his family. "I knew that they wouldn't break into a major broadcast unless it was something big."

Schumer later spoke with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who had received word of Obama's death directly from the White House.