OTB Interviews George W Bush’s Homeland Security Advisor


Top-secret military operations have always fascinated the public. The idea of the existence of elite teams of soldiers, conducting operations overseas in their countries’ name, without the public ever finding out is a constant source of interest to people. Thanks to pop-culture staples such as James Bond, and more recently, Zero Dark Thirty and the Call of Duty videogames, myths and legends about these special forces units are more widespread than ever.

Attempting to give an insight into this shadowy, intriguing world, Black Ops, coming to Yesterday on February 28th, delves deep into the world of secret operations. Featuring a host of Government workers, soldiers, and military experts, Black Ops promises to reveal the facts behind some of history’s most daring and secretive battles.

The first episode, titled ‘Taking Down Bin Laden’ is all about the USA’s 2011 attack on Bin Laden’s hideout, which resulted in the death of America’s most wanted criminal of the past decade. Appearing extensively on the show is Frances Townsend, the Homeland Security Advisor to President Bush from 2004-2008, and now CNN contributor and terrorism expert. OnTheBox spoke to her, talking about the operation itself, terrorism in general, and cinema.

What’s immediately obvious when talking to her is the sheer scale of operations like this. The operation was the cumulation of effort from thousands of people, over the space of 10 years. She talks about all the holidays, Christmases, Thanksgivings that she spent in some government office pulling all-nighters to try and catch Bin Laden. When they got him, however, “it was all worth it in the moment.â€?

The programme is excellent, but actual discussion of the soldiers themselves is noticably absent, probably due to the amount of secrecy that surrounds them. Frances managed to shed some light on the matter though. “Oh yeah, I’ve spent lots of time with themâ€?. A regular visitor to Special Forces ‘live fire’ exercises, she was very familiar with the soldiers themselves, and worked closely alongside two senior Navy SEALs. She says she was “very blessedâ€? to have worked so closely with these men and their leaders, claiming that her position as a prosecutor, outside of politics, allowed her to bridge the gap between soldiers and politicians – a relationship that can understandably become strained.

Even though I was speaking to a senior member of the Bush White House and close personal friend of the man himself, I still couldn’t resist talking about Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s thriller that was ‘based on’ the raid that Frances worked so hard towards. “It was a good movieâ€?, she says, tersely. However, “the way it portrays a single female working towards her goal is very unfair to the Agencyâ€?. There were a lot of people working together on the mission, and giving all the credit to Jessica Chastain’s character was, in her opinion, an insult to all those people.

She also took the opportunity to speak about the CIA’s use of torture (or as she put it “interrogationâ€?) in the movie. “The depiction of the interrogations don’t do justice to the stringent regulations that there were in placeâ€?. Unable to talk further due to these regulations remaining classified information, she assured me that the way prisoners are tortured in the film wasn’t completely accurate. Which was reassuring, I guess.

All in all, just like the show itself, the conversation was a fascinating insight into a world that’s normally inaccessible to the public. We’ve all heard the story of the Bin Laden raid a million times by now, but Black Ops manages to shed new light on the mission. It’s an action-packed, informative show and the Bin Laden episode (and the entire series) isn’t to be missed.

Black Ops, new and exclusive to Yesterday, Thursdays at 10pm from 28th February (Sky 537/ Virgin 203/ Freeview 19)