A string of White House information leaks, each leak a war-story skit crafted to buff President Barack Obama's tough-dude cred in the upcoming presidential election, has very likely harmed U.S. national security interests. These leaks may also make future military and intelligence counter-terror operations more difficult to organize and, for the American covert intelligence agents and special operations commandos who jeopardize their lives in these grim endeavors, much riskier to execute.
Little wonder the "Obama's guts, Obama's glory, vote Obama" media campaign, employing such narrative-dominating powers as Hollywood and The New York Times, is backfiring on Obama's election campaign. Spicing the narrative with concrete military and intelligence operational details has angered and energized a very small but aggressive group, Special Operations Speaks (SOS). Its members are retired U.S. special operations soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines, the mentors and comrades of the guys who really did get Osama bin Laden.
Let's take the current harm and future difficulties first.
While glorifying the president's role in the bin Laden raid, administration spinmeisters mentioned local help in Pakistan. The tidbit gave an angry Pakistani government enough data to identify Dr. Shakil Afridi. He now faces 33 years in prison for helping the U.S. end bin Laden's murderous career.
Loose lips sank ships in World War II, now they jail courageous friends in a war where the friendship of locals is priceless. White House leakers, however, value a temporary political advantage over the liberty, and perhaps the life, of a pro-American intelligence source. This discourages future Dr. Afridis. Terrorist commanders will deploy phony Afridis, complicating CIA surveillance.
Two months ago, the administration revealed that an agent working for British and Saudi intelligence had penetrated al-Qaida's Yemen-based affiliate, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. The agent, ostensibly studying at an Arabic-language school, passed himself off as a potential suicide bomber. His British passport eased access to the U.S. ABC News reported that the agent was withdrawn because leaks risked alerting AQAP. Revealing the agent's existence, after the operation, does increase terrorist paranoia, which has a certain value, but the administration's breathless confirmation of operational details could hinder future U.S. and allied intelligence cooperation.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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