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05.03.11

Audrey Tomason: Situation Room Mystery Woman

There's fleetingly little information about the woman standing just feet from the president in what has become an iconic photo of the Situation Room during the raid on Osama bin Laden. Daniel Stone investigates Audrey Tomason's sparse record.

There's fleetingly little information about the woman standing just feet from the president in what has become an iconic photo of the Situation Room during the raid on Osama bin Laden. Daniel Stone investigates Audrey Tomason's sparse record. Plus: full coverage of Osama bin Laden's death.

The photo has been seen on front pages around the world: President Obama in the White House Situation Room watching the Osama bin Laden raid with the most recognizable faces in American government and counterterrorism.

Except one.

Who's the woman peeking her head from the back? A White House caption for the photo identifies her as Audrey Tomason with title "Director for Counterterrorism." But in a room full of oft-cited and quoted people, there's fleetingly little published information about who she is or what she does for the administration.

The presence of Tomason is notable for a few reasons. Next to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she's the only other woman pictured in the testosterone-filled room. And she appears to be the only person under 40. But what matters most is that she is standing just a few feet from the president, who is otherwise surrounded by his closest advisers, as they watch one of the country's highest-stakes operations in decades as it occurs in real time.

When The Daily Beast asked the White House press office about Tomason, an official said she worked with the National Security Council, a White House agency closely involved with the intelligence that led to bin Laden. The official intimated that the White House generally doesn't discuss personnel at any of the government's covert or intelligence agencies. Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the NSC, confirmed she worked with the agency. When asked why she had never been identified or mentioned before, Vietor responded "Well, we've never killed bin Laden before."

"There are trace details floating around the Internet about Tomason; trying to figure out who she is has become a sort of Web parlor game."

There are trace details floating around the Internet about Tomason; trying to figure out who she is has become a sort of Web parlor game She is said to have gone to Tufts University and earned her masters at Harvard's Kennedy School. (Harvard and Tufts did not immediately respond to inquiries but we'll update the story as soon as we hear back.) One corner of the Internet suggests she is 34, but the number couldn't be confirmed. She also didn't appear to be active on any major social networks. When the Beast tried to reach her Tuesday afternoon at her office, no one answered the phone.

The image shows a white-knuckle moment: a resolute and stone-faced President Obama and a level of organization and discipline among his team. But could it have outed a sensitive national security employee? "You can make a reasonable deduction that she’s a member of the intelligence community," says Michael Barrett, a national security expert and principal at strategy firm Diligent Innovations. "Is that a story [the White House] wants to put out there in public? The fact that we can see her face could potentially jeopardize her career."

Daniel Stone is Newsweek's White House correspondent. He also covers national energy and environmental policy.