I wheeled around in my chair. It was Nicki. “What was that about?” I had been unaware that she’d been lying on the bed behind me and had heard everything on my end of the conversation. I replied in an elated tone, “I think they got him!” Nicki was a muscular thirty-five-year-old with straight, long light-brown hair, vivid green eyes, and a quirky sense of humor. She stood in contrast to my robust body, brown eyes, and short, curly, dark hair. Despite her mostly butch demeanor, of the two of us, she was the softer and more feminine.
Nicki often said she admired my tenacity. She would say that when I was working on a goal or project, I was like a pit bull with my jaws clamped tightly to her end of a rope. Once I got started, it was almost impossible to pull the rope away from me. If I latched on to a task, I didn’t give up until it was complete. There was no stopping me. I would just snarl and keep tugging. The rope was mine! Because of this stubborn quality, Nicki believed that I could accomplish almost anything—even finding Osama bin Laden.
Nicki listened carefully as I laid out the details of my conversation with the FBI. I told her about the commotion on the other end of the line and exactly what the New York agents had said to me. We were both astonished by what had just happened, so we repeatedly went over every minute detail of the phone call as well as the events of the past several days. We needed to know for sure that the celebration meant I had found Osama bin Laden. But no matter what angle we took, the endpoint was always the same: Bin Laden had been arrested that morning.
As we discussed my conversation with the FBI, we analyzed the nickname first. Why would they call me the Green Lady? What did it mean? After about a half-hour of brainstorming, we drew what seemed like the most likely conclusion: The agents were calling me that because they thought I was going to be “seeing green” by collecting the $25 million reward.
Years later, I would Google “Green Lady” and discover that it’s also a colloquial name for the Statue of Liberty. I wondered vaguely if my nickname was meant to be a play on words for “seeing green” and standing strong for America.
But on that day, I hadn’t yet made this connection. Satisfied with the “seeing green” explanation, Nicki and I moved on to the next mystery: Why would the second agent ask me if I “got the lotto picks?”
After thinking about it for a few minutes, we remembered the words of a Houston agent. A few days earlier, he had asked me how I found the “Big Guy” (bin Laden). During the conversation, he had also asked me a serious, point-blank question: “Are you psychic?” So, what if the “lotto picks” agent also thought I could be psychic? After all, wouldn’t that be the first question a lot of people would ask a true psychic if they met one? “Ya got the lotto picks?” About a week after the arrest, I would be asked once again if I was psychic—this time by CNN.
To the Houston agents, the celebrating New Yorkers, and later, the CNN journalist, there was probably little else to explain how a middle-aged woman living in rural Texas could find the most wanted man on Earth—a feat that had eluded the best minds in the intelligence community for five years.
After our discussion, I rushed to tell Peter and Daun—our kids—the news. They were thrilled. We spent some time fantasizing about the future and the money before they shifted their short attention spans and rushed back to Peter’s room to play Mario Party 7 on his GameCube—their latest obsession.
Meanwhile, Nicki ran to White’s Liquor and bought some cheap champagne. As soon as they made the announcement, we were going to celebrate—celebrate our victory and our new life. After all, I had helped find the world’s most notorious terrorist and simultaneously earned $25 million. Our lives would be changed forever, for the better. So we thought…
When Nicki got back, I took a moment to shove the pile of “important” papers off the top of the entertainment center, clearing the view for the small tube television we kept in the bedroom. It had been a while since we’d watched back there, so I used an old, white sock to brush a thick layer of dust off the screen. When I finished, I scowled briefly at the sheer amount of filth clinging to the fabric. Ugh…
With everything set up, I waded through the mound of dirty laundry on the floor and plopped down on the bed next to Nicki and Midnight, our short-haired black cat. We would spend much of the day excitedly spending the $25 million in our minds and obsessively watching the news for any signs of an announcement. Unlike our kitty, who was calm and on his best behavior, I was full of energy and having trouble waiting. After several hours, I began to grow impatient. When were they going to make an announcement? When was news of the arrest going to be on CNN? What was taking so long? My eyes kept wandering from the TV. Occasionally, I’d glance at the blue, pharmaceutical-themed clock on the wall. Time seemed like it was standing still. But mostly, my eyes kept darting nervously toward my monitor. I was like a junkie who needed her fix. I wasn’t used to being away from my computer for so long. I pined for the touch of the keyboard, the click of the mouse, the thrill of the hunt, and the mental rush that came from completing my queries.
Of course, anyone who walked into the room could tell how much time I’d spent at that desk. A half-dozen empty Diet Mountain Dew cans were strewn around the workspace, mingling with Snickers wrappers, empty Shipley boxes, crumpled printer paper, piles of plastic cups, and several souvenir coffee mugs. I never bothered to pick up the trash or dishes, or even acknowledge their existence. Only one thing had mattered: the work.
But I couldn’t work any more. I couldn’t go back to my obsession. Bin Laden had been my ultimate target, so there was no one else left who was worth looking for. I felt like I had completed my mission.
Thank God …
Honestly, I was glad the work was over. I had been mentally and physically exhausted for weeks. It was time to rest and watch the news. Besides, this was the most time I had spent with Nicki in months. She and I were glued to the set, scrutinizing the news stories and monitoring them for any signs of bin Laden’s capture. Several hours into watching, there was nothing relevant in the news.
But wait… What was this? My head shot up as I heard his name for the first time all day: Osama bin Laden.
CNN had announced that in about a week, it was going to air a documentary titled In the Footsteps of bin Laden. It would outline his path to 9/11 and beyond.
The timing of the documentary struck me as more than coincidental. Osama bin Laden had been out of the news for years. Yet here he was, his face plastered on the small screen in a movie trailer. On that particular day, the video clip was the only definitive clue I had that something was going on in bin Laden land.
Did CNN know something about bin Laden’s arrest? Had they heard rumors? Did they have access to a Washington insider? Maybe they were preparing for a presidential announcement and the excitement that would inevitably surround bin Laden’s arrest. Perhaps they were even trying to get the jump on competing networks.
After watching the news for hours and seeing nothing more substantial about bin Laden than the ad for the documentary, I could no longer wait.
I flipped open my phone at 9:47 p.m., and called the FBI in New York for the second time that day. I needed information. But this time, when the screener picked up, I didn’t ask to speak to an agent in the Terrorism Task Force. I had a short, simple question, and I didn’t want to bother the duty agent.
I knew from experience that asking a direct question to get answers about classified information would be futile. So, on the evening of bin Laden’s arrest, I used a tactic I had been taught a few days earlier by a friendly Houston agent. I made my question slightly vague by politely asking, “Can I be optimistic that there will be an announcement from the president?” I expected a normal FBI response such as, “Yes, you can.” That way, the agent wouldn’t be breaking his oath of secrecy by giving an affirmative answer to a direct question. Instead, the response would tell the truth less explicitly. This tactic had usually worked for me before. But this time was different. When I asked if I could be optimistic, the agent shocked me by giving a direct answer to my question: “Definitely. Once our report is sent to Washington, the announcement will be made either tonight or early tomorrow morning.”
I could almost hear a twinkle in his eyes as he conveyed the information.
I thanked him and quickly ended the conversation.
I was anxious to get back to watching CNN.
Wow…the news…the story…my story was going to be broadcast either tonight or tomorrow morning! It was confirmed. Before even stopping to tell Nicki or the kids, I started frantically calling everyone in my family. It was late, but I knew they wouldn’t mind. I was bursting at the seams. I had to…had to tell them to watch the news. I made a mad stream of calls and sent an email to my little brother, who was traveling. I had a large family. I told them—anyone who had time to listen—that there was going to be a huge story in the news that involved me. I didn’t elaborate. I wasn’t ready to tell them. No… I would wait. Once they found out about the arrest, I would explain my part in it.
About forty-five minutes later, still invigorated, I rushed to go find Nicki and tell her about the pending announcement. We put the champagne on ice and sat up all night watching CNN.
The ice melted, the champagne grew warm, and the announcement never came.
Excerpts from Chasing bin Laden: My Hunt for the World’s Most Notorious Terrorist by Barbara K. Janik.