U.S. Considered Delaying bin Laden Announcement, Pakistan Pushed to ‘Go Public Right Away’

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Farooq Naeem / AFP / Getty Images

A CIA task force is scrambling to exploit intelligence from the computers, thumb drives and other electronic media taken at Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on Sunday, racing against the clock as what remains of al-Qaeda’s loose network presumably goes to ground. The first priority, an official tells TIME, is to determine if there are any “imminent threats” to the U.S.

A key decision in the wake of the raid affected the timing of that race.

PICTURES: Osama bin Laden’s Lair

Following the operation, officials across U.S. government agencies told their Pakistani counterparts what had happened. As they did, the U.S. government was considering not immediately announcing that they had killed bin Laden, a U.S. official tells TIME.

But the Pakistanis, uncomfortable with having the information leak out slowly, “encouraged the United States to go public right away,” according to the U.S. official.

Another factor in making the announcement immediately, the official says, is that the remnants of the malfunctioning helicopter that the Navy Seal team had partially destroyed as they left bin Laden’s compound would soon be traced to the U.S. Aviation experts examining photographs of the tail rotor, which survived the destruction, say it contained advanced stealth elements not known to the general public.  (See photos of President Obama’s visit to Ground Zero.)

It is not clear how much time might have been gained by holding the information. Prior to the raid, the U.S. decided not to work with the Pakistani security services on the operation for fear they might “alert the target,” CIA chief Leon Panetta told TIME earlier this week. Pakistani leaders and news outlets have erroneously reported Osama bin Laden’s death in the past, and have limited credibility.

In a conversation with his U.S. contact, Pakistani Army Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Kayani congratulated the U.S. on the successful raid, the U.S. official said. (See inside the Situation Room: “Visual on Geronimo.”)

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