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.

6 Protective Mask Bundles You Can Get On Sale

pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus
pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Daily life has changed immeasurably since the onset of COVID-19, and one of the ways people have had to adjust is by wearing protective masks out in public places, including in parks and supermarkets. These are an essential part of fighting the spread of the virus, and there are plenty of options for you depending on what you need, whether your situation calls for disposable masks to run quick errands or the more long-lasting KN95 model if you're going to work. Check out some options you can pick up on sale right now.

1. Cotton Face Masks; $20 for 4

Protective Masks with Patterns.

This four-pack of washable cotton face masks comes in tie-dye, kids patterns, and even a series of mustache patterns, so you can do your part to mask germs without also covering your personality.

Buy it: $20 for four (50 percent off)

2. CE- and FDA-Approved KN95 Mask; $50 for 10

A woman putting on a protective mask.

You’ve likely heard about the N95 face mask and its important role in keeping frontline workers safe. Now, you can get a similar model for yourself. The KN95 has a dual particle layer, which can protect you from 99 percent of particles in the air and those around you from 70 percent of the particles you exhale. Nose clips and ear straps provide security and comfort, giving you some much-needed peace of mind.

Buy it: $50 for 10 (50 percent off)

3. Three-Ply Masks; $13 for 10

Woman wearing a three-ply protective mask.

These three-ply, non-medical, non-woven face masks provide a moisture-proof layer against your face with strong filtering to keep you and everyone around you safe. The middle layer filters non-oily particles in the air and the outer layer works to block visible objects, like droplets.

Buy it: $13 for 10 (50 percent off)

4. Disposable masks; $44 for 50

A batch of disposable masks.
Odash, Inc.

If the thought of reusing the same mask from one outing to the next makes you feel uneasy, there’s a disposable option that doesn’t compromise quality; in fact, it uses the same three-layered and non-woven protection as other masks to keep you safe from airborne particles. Each mask in this pack of 50 can be worn safely for up to 10 hours. Once you're done, safely dispose of it and start your next outing with a new one.

Buy it: $44 for 50 (41 percent off)

5. Polyester Masks; $22 for 5

Polyester protective masks.

These masks are a blend of 95 percent polyester and 5 percent spandex, and they work to block particles from spreading in the air. And because they're easily compressed, they can travel with you in your bag or pocket, whether you're going to work or out to the store.

Buy it: $22 for five (56 percent off)

6. Mask Protector Cases; $15 for 3

Protective mask case.

You're going to need to have a stash of masks on hand for the foreseeable future, so it's a good idea to protect the ones you’ve got. This face mask protector case is waterproof and dust-proof to preserve your mask as long as possible.

Buy it: $15 for three (50 percent off)

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

16 Priceless Treasures We've Lost Forever

jeanyfan, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
jeanyfan, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Steven Spielberg is known for crafting such masterpieces as Jaws, E.T., Schindler's List, and Jurassic Park. With such a long and acclaimed film career, it probably wouldn't surprise anyone to learn that Spielberg got his start behind the camera at just 17 years old when (with the help of his friends and his high school marching band) he directed his first feature-length film, Firelight.

What's that? You've never seen Firelight? Well, you're certainly not alone; sadly, just under four minutes of the original footage remains. After screening Firelight for around 500 people, the young director sent a few of the film reels off to a producer for review. When the budding director later went back to retrieve his film, he discovered that the producer had been fired—and his movie had vanished.

Firelight is just one example of the many priceless items that have disappeared from history. On this episode of The List Show, we're rediscovering all sort of treasures—from writing by Ernest Hemingway to natural landmarks—that have been lost to time (or circumstance). You can watch the full episode below.

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