Decorated Adm. Olson remains humbly silent on details of bin Laden raid

Retired Adm. Eric T. Olson speaks about global security during a Tampa Jewish Federation event Sunday in Tampa.
Retired Adm. Eric T. Olson speaks about global security during a Tampa Jewish Federation event Sunday in Tampa.
Published Jan. 30, 2012

TAMPA — No one knows who fired the fatal shot that felled Osama bin Laden.

And Adm. Eric. T. Olson, who was deeply involved in planning the May mission, said Sunday that he hopes no one ever will.

Until retiring last year, Olson was the eighth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, based at MacDill Air Force Base, and served a principal role in planning the raid on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.

While awareness of his involvement with the historical raid to get the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks may have drawn many to hear Olson speak Sunday night at the Tampa Jewish Federation's Ninth Annual President's Dinner, the about 650 attendees left without knowing much more.

Olson credits the success of the mission to the dedication of those involved to reveal absolutely nothing to anyone in advance — or ever.

"It's important to keep secrets secret," Olson said. "If we want to retain this capability, we've got to not talk about it now."

The individual members involved have not received, nor do they want, any individual credit for achieving the highly complex, multi-agency feat, Olson said.

And he warned against believing any triumphant tales heard through the grapevine.

"The people who want to talk about the mission are not the people who were on it," he said.

The agency that Olson formerly led, SoComm, ensures the readiness of joint special operations forces and conducts operations worldwide.

Olson conceptualized his speech's theme, "The World at Night: Global Security in the 21st Century," from a NASA photograph he saw of the world that illuminated areas more densely concentrated with wealth and power.

While the United States, Europe and Asia shone brightly, the Middle East remained dark.

"Just because a place is dark at night doesn't mean it's not connected," Olson said.

He advanced that theme throughout his speech by touching on security issues and goals such as "moving ahead of the sound of guns."

Forces shouldn't react to a crisis by thinking what to do once it occurs, he explained, but what could have been done 10 years ago to prevent it, he said.

Olson was a political-military affairs specialist with emphasis on the Middle East, and has served operationally in and commanded an underwater demolition team, SEAL team and Naval special warfare group, among other accomplishments.

As a former Navy SEAL and special operations officer, Olson worked in hot spots around the world during 37 years of service.

His overseas assignments include service as a United Nations military observer in Israel and Egypt, and a Navy programs officer in Tunisia.

Among Olson's numerous accolades are the Distinguished Service Medal and a Silver Star.