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 His British passport eased access to the U.S. ABC News reported that the agent was withdrawn because leaks risked alerting AQAP.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.
A June 1 New York Times article on U.S. cyberwar capabilities also demonstrates that politics trump operational security. In prose gooey with you-are-there intrigue, the article depicts Obama, man of steel, deciding to continue the Stuxnet computer virus operation to sabotage Iranian uranium centrifuges.
The article publicly confirms that the Stuxnet computer virus, which damaged Iranian nuclear facilities, "had been developed by the United States and Israel." While the article notes the U.S. has not officially admitted using cyberweapons, the Obama-Stuxnet skit serves notice. The Times tapped non-White House sources, but "none would allow their names to be used because the effort remains highly classified, and parts of it continue to this day." Yes, classified information about ongoing operations. The article says Obama knows confirming U.S. attacks justifies attacks by U.S. adversaries. Dumb diplomacy, folks.
Which brings us to SOS. A Vietnam vet friend tipped me to its unfinished website, SpecialOperationsSpeaks.com. The pro-Mitt Romney banner distracts from its core message and mission. The message: A cadre of retired U.S. special operations personnel is fed up with leaks that compromise covert U.S. operations and imprison pro-American sympathizers. Their mission: stop the leaks by firing the leaker-in-chief. A former SEAL and commandant of the SEAL training center, retired U.S. Navy Capt. Larry Bailey, organized the group. I asked him, over the phone, why he formed it. He replied: "I'm pissed." Bailey knows the leaks put U.S. security and the lives of American spies and SEALS at risk, so he's fighting a political fight, seeded with his own money. He'll take donations, you bet. Yes, he expects dirty personal attacks impugning his motives.
Bailey and his shoestring SOS are Obama's worst election year nightmare -- special ops guys who publicly question his leadership and judgment. Obama's most potent campaign tout is "I got bin Laden." With SOS in the mix, the potent tout suddenly sounds just a tad pathetic.
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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