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Documentary Focuses on Analysts Behind ‘Manhunt’ for Osama Bin Laden

May 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

GWEN IFILL: Today marks the second anniversary of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Tonight, we bring you the previously unknown story of the sisterhood of CIA analysts who chased the al-Qaida leader.

Margaret Warner reports.

MARGARET WARNER: It was the news most Americans had waited nearly a decade to hear.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

MARGARET WARNER: But for many of the people who’d helped find Osama bin Laden, their work had started nearly two decades earlier, long before the most-wanted man on earth had earned his infamy.

Their story of the CIA analysts and officers who’d tracked down the al-Qaida chief is told in the documentary HBO film “Manhunt” debuting tonight. It’s based on the book by CNN’s Peter Bergen.

PETER BERGEN, CNN: In ’97, Osama bin Laden had declared war on the United States, but no one paid any attention.

CINDY STORER, Former CIA Analyst: There were just warning after warning. We knew something huge was going to happen.

MARGARET WARNER: But long before that September day, their chase began in a near-total information vacuum.

WOMAN: Well, we certainly didn’t know that al-Qaida existed. We didn’t know there was a terrorist organization.

MARGARET WARNER: The group tracking the elusive Saudi militant was known as Alec Station and was novel in its approach.

MAN: The unique thing about Alec Station was the fusion of analysis and operations.

MARGARET WARNER: The analytical team at CIA was comprised mostly of women. Before 9/11, it wasn’t a prime assignment. Cindy Storer was an analyst, part of what was called “The Sisterhood.”

CINDY STORER: I was counseled once in a performance review that I was spending too much time working on bin Laden. They said we were obsessed crusaders, overly emotional, using all those women stereotypes.

MARGARET WARNER: Nada Bakos followed Storer on the mostly female team.

NADA BAKOS, Former CIA Analyst: We picked up that end of the spear, where some of the operations officers tend to be mostly men.

MARGARET WARNER: After 9/11, the tempo of operations shifted to hunting al-Qaida figures in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Many analysts moved into new jobs as “targeters.” Nada Bakos was among them, forward-deployed in Iraq to track Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

She also targeted a vital al-Qaida emissary who, after capture, gave up the name of the courier who eventually led the U.S. to bin Laden’s door two years ago today.