Leslie Woodhead’s documentary, which was originally presented on the Smithsonian Channel, details the extensive and expensive efforts by the U.S. government to locate and assassinate Osama Bin Laden. For many years, Bin Laden’s operations were unknown to American intelligence – the film states that the founding of al-Qaeda in the mid-1980s occurred without generating any notice by the C.I.A. By 1993, al-Qaeda’s involvement in a pair of audacious attacks – the bombing of the World Trade Center and the Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia – clearly demonstrated Bin Laden’s power as the most dangerous foe to American interests in the post-Cold War world.
Yet the U.S. government constantly bumbled in its handling of the matter – an inadequate American spy network could not coordinate Bin Laden’s apprehension, while the C.I.A.’s refusal to share information with the F.B.I. enabled al-Qaeda operatives to begin American-based operations that culminated in the 9/11 attacks. When the Bush Administration began its war in Iraq, the White House vainly attempted to downplay the importance of capturing Bin Laden.
The film provides a sketchy account of how the elusive terrorist was finally located (there’s only a vague mention of information gained from a Guantanamo captive) and the production offers no explanation on Pakistan’s role in Bin Laden’s ability to evade his pursuers (he escaped across the Afghan border in December 2001 and lived securely in the country until his assassination in May 2011).
The film estimates that the hunt for Bin Laden ultimately cost $1 trillion – a figure that was tragically bloated by remarkably bad planning and incompetent intelligence gathering.