ARLINGTON — A former U.S. special-forces soldier who worked on the project to kill Osama bin Laden has now been enlisted in the project to kill a Canadian oil pipeline.
Dave Cooper was a member of the Navy SEALs squad, known informally as SEAL Team Six, who supervised and helped train the soldiers who killed bin Laden in 2011.
Now retired from the military, he was hired by opponents of the Keystone XL project to conduct a threat assessment against the controversial pipeline plan.
The group that commissioned his report is headed by anti-pipeline billionaire Tom Steyer. Cooper said Wednesday that he wasn’t paid much for his work, joking that it wasn’t until they agreed on a fee that he learned Steyer was a billionaire.
For his research, Cooper wandered onto different spots along the existing Keystone pipeline route in the U.S. Midwest. He said he managed to approach it without being bothered and snapped pictures of different pump stations for 15 minutes.
His report concluded that a handful of terrorists could trigger a catastrophic explosion with just four pounds of readily available material and cause a spill of 7.24 million gallons of toxic diluted bitumen, known as dilbit.
At a news conference where he released his 13-page report, he was asked: Wouldn’t that be true of virtually every piece of energy infrastructure — not just the one opposed by his patron?
Cooper replied that there’s one big difference with Keystone: notoriety. He said terrorists crave easy targets with a big-name impact and, because Keystone XL is so famous and so easy to hit, it fits the bill.
He said 72 per cent of Americans know about the pipeline, and it’s not even in the ground yet.
“An enterprising terrorist is going to prey on that,” he said. “That is the kind of impact that, if I were a terrorist, I would want to achieve.”
He also rebutted a question about the circularity of the whole logic — namely, working with a group that raises opposition to Keystone, then warning that because of all the opposition it could be ripe for a terrorist attack.
Parts of Cooper’s report were redacted. He said he’d spent a quarter-century in the military fighting terrorists and didn’t want to give them any guidance.
His most famous anti-terror mission came in May 2011.
He said he helped train the special forces who killed Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani compound, and supervised the operation from a base in Afghanistan. He said he saw the troops off onto the helicopter, and greeted them upon their return.
He also discussed Wednesday some of the problems faced by his former colleagues.
A former head of the Navy SEAL foundation, Cooper said team members haven’t suffered the same rates of post-traumatic stress as other soldiers, but he said many have concussion problems from being exposed to crashes and explosions.
But he said many are faring well in business ventures, and otherwise succeeding in their post-military careers.
He now works as a motivational speaker and consultant. He said the Keystone report is the first security-threat assessment he’s done as a civilian, but said it closely resembled some of the work he did in the special forces.
Cooper no longer works as head of the SEAL foundation. His position ended abruptly, after three months on the job. He was actually placed on leave just a month into the job.
But he said it had nothing to do with an interview he gave U.S. News and World Report, where he was cited discussing a few details of the Afghan raid.
Cooper said he’d only agreed to do that interview to discuss his work with the SEAL Foundation. He said Wednesday that the little snippets where he discussed the bin Laden raid were inflated and twisted out of context.
Some of his former colleagues have spoken more extensively. A piece in Esquire magazine featured one of the soldiers who shot bin Laden, speaking anonymously. The CBS show 60 Minutes featured a segment with another SEAL who wrote a book about the operation, although he was heavily disguised for that interview.
He said Wednesday that it was those guys who took all the chances in that particular raid.
“I assumed none of the risk,” he said.