How Modern Family Almost Saved Osama bin Laden

Getty Images
Getty Images

On May 1, 2011, President Obama spoke at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. His poker face onstage hid a very big secret—the biggest he’d ever known. At most, a half-dozen guests knew what the president did: that seventy-nine members of three U.S. Joint Special Operations Command task forces were in the final stages of preparation for a raid in the picturesque town of Abbottabad, Pakistan. The commandos would be storming a compound that housed a man called “the Pacer” by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. (Other intelligence analysts called him “Cakebread.” Some SEALs informally called the man “Bert.” As the mission’s target, he was designated “Jackpot,” though he was officially codenamed “Crankshaft.”) The target, of course, was Osama bin Laden.

That no one at the dinner leaked the secret is remarkable for several reasons. In Washington, carefully leveraged secrets can elevate one’s status in social circles. A year before, by way of WikiLeaks, the government sustained the most substantial loss of secrets in American history. And the whole purpose of the Correspondents’ Dinner is for journalists to ferret confidential information out of their dinner guests. (A few of the more egotistical journalists brought celebrities. The smarter ones invited people with security clearances.)

But there was a close call that night concerning the raid. William Daley, the White House chief of staff, was a guest of ABC News, as was actor Eric Stonestreet, who won an Emmy for his starring role as Cameron Tucker on the television comedy Modern Family. Stonestreet had apparently arranged for a tour of the White House that next day but was suddenly told that it was canceled. Over salad, Stonestreet turned to Daley and asked, “So I was wondering. Was there any reason they canceled my tour?”

George Stephanopoulos’s head swung around, and he caught Daley’s eye. “You got anything going on there, Bill?” Stephanopoulos asked. A veteran of the Clinton administration, Stephanopoulos knows how the White House works.

Daley began to sweat, by his own recollection, and blurted out an excuse. “It’s something to do with the plumbing.” He added, “You know what, Eric? Stop by Monday and I will personally give you the tour myself.”

That answer satisfied Stonestreet, and more importantly, Stephanopoulos, who returned to his original conversation. Had a journalist at the dinner pried a little harder and made a few calls, the secret might well have leaked, and front pages the next morning would have told a very different story.

Adapted from Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry, by Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady.

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

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Visit Any National Park for Free on September 26—or Volunteer to Help Maintain Them

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Nick Hanauer/iStock via Getty Images

Temperatures are quickly cooling down, and you might be inclined to take advantage of the last few long, sunny days with a weekend visit to the great outdoors. This Saturday, September 26, you can bask in the open air of any national park for free, as part of National Public Lands Day.

According to the National Park Service, the holiday has been held on the fourth Saturday of every September since 1994, and it’s also the nation’s largest single-day volunteer effort. It’s up to you whether you’d like to partake in the service side or simply go for a stroll. Opportunities for volunteering include tree-planting, park cleanups, and more; you can find events near you here. There are also a number of virtual events you can tune into, which range from wildlife livestreams and virtual tours to how-to webinars (a Virginia State Parks ranger, for example, will teach you how to make a bee hotel).

There are more than 400 areas run by the National Park Service across the U.S., and many of them aren’t parks in the traditional sense of the word; the Statue of Liberty, Alcatraz Island, and countless other monuments and historical sites are also run by the NPS. Wondering if there might be one closer than you thought? Explore parks in your area on this interactive map.

If you do decide to celebrate National Public Lands Day on public lands, you should contact the park—or check its website—before you head there so you know of any coronavirus-related protocols they've put in place. And for those of you who can’t take advantage of the free admission on September 26, the National Park Service will also waive all entrance fees for Veterans Day on November 11.