Brian Birdnow

Buried in the back pages of the Friday newspapers (May 25th) lay a story of Obama Administration efforts to play up the elimination of Osama Bin Laden for political purposes and the suspected compromise of certain national security secrets by Administration officials, cavalierly attempting to gain partisan advantage in advance of the November election.

The facts of the story are somewhat murky, as the Administration has invoked the cone of silence on the emerging issue. It does seem, however, that the Obama administration has played fast and loose with national security secrets to maximize good publicity, via a Hollywood blockbuster, just in time for the coming election. So says Representative Peter King, R-NY, and the Homeland Security Committee Chairman. King, who first raised questions about this proposed Bin Laden movie last summer, said newly released documents confirmed his suspicions. He referred to documents obtained by Judicial Watch, the public interest legal foundation, under a Freedom of Information Act order. In King’s words, the documents revealed “extremely close, unprecedented and potentially dangerous collaboration” with President Barack Obama’s administration.

Judicial Watch said that the requested (and received) documents show that the Defense Department granted Academy Award winning filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal access to “a planner, an operator, and commander of SEAL Team 6”, the unit that killed Bin Laden in Pakistan on May 1, 2011. Other documents confirm that the moviemakers met with White House officials on at least two occasions about the film. A CIA e-mail indicates that Bigelow and Boal were granted access to “the vault”, which is believed to be the CIA command post where much of the tactical planning for the raid took place.

Naturally, Pentagon spokespeople are disputing these findings. DOD Press Secretary George Little insisted that the meeting between the filmmakers and the SEAL Team 6 operatives, while authorized by the department, never took place. He argued that the Defense Department regularly offers technical and operational expertise on movie projects to help make them as realistic as possible. Little also pointedly denied that the film was an effort to boost Obama’s re-election prospects, arguing that SONY pictures has scheduled December 19th as a potential release date for the movie.

The Obama Administration has made no public comment on the issue, to date. They refuse to confirm or deny that their staff people met with Bigelow and Boal, and hope that a complicit media will help them to sweep this issue under the rug. This remains a distinct possibility.

Now the material point in this emerging story is quite simple. Did the Defense Department bend National Security rules in a bid to assist the Obama re-election effort?

The answer is undoubtedly “Yes”. Contrary to the DOD spokesman’s assertion the department has been quite selective in the past with the help they extend to filmmakers. During the fifth anniversary commemorations of the 9/11 attacks ABC-TV expressed frustration over the non-cooperation they received from the Defense Department when making a movie that expressed mild criticism over the Clinton Administration’s malfeasance in ignoring Bin Laden, and turning a blind eye to his infernal activities in the late 1990s. It is truly unprecedented that moviemakers were given access to highly secure areas at CIA headquarters at Langley Air Force Base. Finally, the military never allows “planners” to discuss operational matters with civilians who lack security clearances.

What is to be done, particularly if SONY pictures moves the release date of the movie forward by two months, or so? Certainly, Congressman King should pursue this issue by issuing subpoenas if necessary. DOD Secretary Leon Panetta can be invited to Capitol Hill to discuss this matter at a mutually convenient time. What, however, will the GOP do in the event of Democratic chicanery on this issue? Unfortunately the answer is probably nothing. The public should expect very little from candidate Romney, now that he has had a taste of the media lynch mob. History also teaches us that the Republicans fumble most issues due to the lack of a unified Party message.

The real story here is that a political Party and a candidate who will compromise national security secrets in an effort to gain partisan advantage will stop at nothing to win. This comes as no surprise to seasoned politicos, but never ceases to shock the ordinary citizen. Welcome to campaign 2012, just in time for Memorial Day.


Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.