Former U.S. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell lit a cigar to celebrate the end of a decade-long search for Osama bin Laden.
"How about them Navy SEALs?" he said to an audience of about 300 people gathered Wednesday at the seventh annual
Homeland Security Innovation Conference at the North Charleston Convention Center.
McConnell, who also is the former director of the National Security Agency, gave the audience the option of hearing him talk about homeland security in the past 10 years, cyber- security or Osama bin Laden. The group unanimously chose Osama bin Laden.
McConnell, who served as intelligence chief from 2007 to 2009, said when he held that post, he was certain bin Laden was in Pakistan. But he didn't know specifically where in Pakistan. The specific location "didn't start to unravel until last summer," he said.
"There are 6 billion people in the world," he said. "If you want to be lost and you have a support structure, you can be invisible."
Now a Summerville resident and executive vice president at the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, McConnell was the keynote speaker at the two-day conference, which focused on border, port and transportation security, preventing domestic-initiated attacks, responding to natural disasters and advancing cyber security.
He said the Obama administration had three options after learning where bin Laden was likely living. They could bomb the area, send in the Navy SEALs or wait for more intelligence. He thinks officials made the right choice.
He always had thought that smart bombs or drones would have to be used to kill bin Laden but said bombing destroys any proof that the mission was accomplished.
The threat of retaliation from al-Qaida is likely increased right now. The intelligence community is "up on all toes."
But, he said, "I would expect the short-term threat to go up and the long-term threat to go way down."
There is currently an "air of spring" in the Arab world, he said. There's a move there, mostly driven by young people, toward freedom and democracy.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama said the administration won't release photos of bin Laden because they could incite violence and create national security risks. The president said there is no doubt bin Laden is dead and "there's no need to spike the football."
McConnell would not comment on releasing the photos. "There are pluses and minuses, and I don't want to second guess the president."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.