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The Women Behind the ‘Manhunt’ for Osama Bin Laden

Cindy Storer and Nada Bakos were working for the CIA when the airplanes struck the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. But the hunt for terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden didn’t start that day.

They were part of a team of intelligence analysts, many of whom were women and were therefore dubbed “The Sisterhood”, whose story is told in the documentary “Manhunt”, which airs Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

The two women recently spoke to senior correspondent Margaret Warner in an interview airing on Wednesday’s PBS NewsHour. Storer described the difficulties she had tracking down the little-known at the time terror network al-Qaida in the 1990s.

“If you’re working on a state — a country — you already know the wiring diagrams, you know how the state is organized,” she said. “But with a group like this, you had to figure out if they even existed.”

The CIA did learn about its presence and ties to global terrorism, and presented that information to the president in daily intelligence reports. In particular, one memo dated Aug. 6, 2001 was titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” (PDF file) and written by Barbara Sude, another CIA analyst featured in the documentary.

Bin Laden “felt like the United States was driving the world movement against Muslims and was the driver behind everything that was happening that was bad,” said Sude, who now works as a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation in Washington, D.C.

When the towers fell and nearly 3,000 people died, the women watched with the rest of the world but with an added sense of responsibility.

“That sense of responsibility is not lost on the people who do that job to have to point out that maybe there were some issues leading up to 9/11 or points missed. Certainly the people doing the work understood exactly what had happened,” said Bakos.

Information the women and other intelligence analysts gathered culminated in the lethal raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, 10 years later.

President Obama tells the nation on May 1, 2011 that Osama bin Laden is dead:

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