Television news

The Hunt for Bin Laden

ITV 1 May at 9pm

The Hunt for Bin Laden is the inside story of the greatest manhunt in US history.  It spans decades, sparks wars, and defines presidencies.  Now, with interviews with those who were in the center of the action or in charge of the pursuit and the war on terror during three administrations, this Brook Lapping production tells the definitive story of the twenty-year cat and mouse game, and the attempts to bring the world’s most notorious terrorist to justice.

On October 12th 2000, al Qaeda attacked the USS Cole, a US Navy guided missile Destroyer, refuelling in Aden harbour.  The bomb killed 17 US sailors on that day, and maimed dozens more.

Despite a direct attack on a billion-dollar warship, the US government failed to respond.  Information collected in the ensuing investigation into al Qaeda’s responsibility for the attack was not shared between the CIA and FBI: as a result nineteen al Qaeda terrorists entered the United States unnoticed, and began to train for the 9/11 attacks.

This was just one of a string of grave mistakes and missed opportunities, which characterise the US government’s attitude towards tackling the threat of Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda. 

Through interviews with military leaders, CIA chiefs, FBI agents and White House insiders, The Hunt for Bin Laden reveals in detail how three consecutive US presidents failed to realise how dangerous bin Laden really was.

Despite the many clear chances to take out bin Laden over the years, we show how bureaucracy and political expediency were always the priority, allowing bin Laden to continue his terrorist attacks with ease. 

The programme uses only archive material directly relevant to the story – including rare footage of bin Laden’s training operations – and interviews with key players in the hunt for bin Laden since the early 1990’s.

The story tracks bin Laden’s career in terrorism from the early 1980’s, when he first became involved in jihad by joining the CIA-backed war in Afghanistan against Soviet Russia.  We find him being seeking shelter in states which sponsor terrorism and planning deadly attacks on US embassies in Africa, which cause hundreds of deaths.  As his threats escalate, the US government dithers. 

Only after 9/11 did they mount a full-scale war to find Osama Bin Laden, and even then, military failures caused the world’s most-wanted man to slip through their fingers.  As the war in Iraq diverts crucial man-power from the hunt for bin laden, it would be almost ten years before another lead came to light, and led to the raid in Abbottabad exactly a year ago. 

With the full story laid out, and the damning reasons why governments failed to catch bin Laden for so many years, this is a tale that hasn’t been told before.

The Wall Street Journal (Dorothy Rabinowitz)l:   ...this superbly revealing documentary from Brook Lapping Productions—the same team that produced the unforgettable "9/11: Day That Changed the World."

The Daily Telegraph (Michael Hogan) - Critics Choice ... This in-depth film, made by premier political documentary producers Brook Lapping, tells the story of the most expensive, intensive manhunt in history. Tense and gripping, it’s packed with candid interviews with key US government staff – many speaking publicly for the first time – including military leaders, counter-terrorism agents and White House insiders, such as former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

For ITV in association with the Smithsonian Channel, ZDF Arte and NHK.

Director of Production
ANDREW McKERLIE  

Production Manager
JAMES MUDIE 

Assistant Producer
HUGO MANDER
Rebecca Abrahams 

Archive Producer
PETER SCOTT

Film Editor
IAN MELLER

Senior Producer
TALYA TIBBON

Executive Producers
SIMON BERTHON
Kate Botting

Director
LESLIE WOODHEAD