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About (Late) Last Night: How Brian Williams learned about the death of Osama bin Laden [Video]

May 3, 2011 |  7:42 am


Brian Williams has had a very busy few days. On Wednesday evening, he boarded a plane for London to cover the royal wedding; three hours after landing he was on his way back to the U.S. to cover the devastating tornadoes that had ravaged the South. Then came the biggest bombshell of all: the death of Osama bin Laden which, as it did most Americans, caught "Bri-Wi" totally unawares. 

"We were doing what old people do, catching up on the TiVo," Williams told David Letterman on Monday night's "Late Show. "During a commercial break, I checked my Blackberry and there was an email from a senior official at the White House. At that moment, the home phone rang. I was told explicitly what it was. They said, 'You might want to get in the chair as soon as possible.' They said, 'We've got OBL. And this is 'close-hold' -- White House parlance for top secret. And the last words this official said were: 'Tell no one.' "

So much for a cozy night at home with the missus. Williams was, once again, on his way back to New York.

"My wife had started my car and it was aimed out the driveway. She wanted to make sure it had gas. She put a bottle of water in the beverage holder. I'm married to a fantastic woman for 25 years. And I might have exceeded state and local speed limits on my way to 30 Rock," he said.

Williams also provided perspective on the event itself -- in particular, the sprawling compound in which Bin Laden was living.

"Believe me, for this town and this country this was a mansion. Valued at a million dollars, eight times larger than the nearest other private parcel of land," he explained. "But they made a mistake. It's as if they built a house with what the military calls an LZ -- a landing zone -- right there adjacent to it."

The compound may have been luxurious by Pakistani standards, but, Williams declared, "It wasn't built any better than U.S. intelligence."

Letterman was curious about the complicity of Pakistani officials. "The notion that the Pakistani government knew where he was hiding: Is that going to be a problem for them? A problem for us?" he asked.

Williams responded with another question: "What does it tell you that the White House didn't call Pakistan and say, 'Hey, good news. Here's the GPS coordinates. We've found him. Send a squad car over, and pick him up'?"

-- Meredith Blake