Dishonorable Disclosures: How Leaks and Politics Threaten National Security

by August 20, 2012 08/20/12

A new organization has recently formed, going by Special Operations (OPSEC) Political Committee. From their mission statement and the video you’ll see embedded here below, they’re attempting to put a stop to the leaks occurring within the current and future administrations.

After the successful raid on UBL’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on 5.1.11, some (including myself) saw the leaks surrounding the disclosure of operational details which followed, as political capitalization on OPSEC (Operational Security).

I will also state that in my opinion, the Obama administration has also done a lot of good for our Special Operations community and did credit the success of the UBL operation to the “tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals.” This doesn’t change the fact that in the same speech announcing the raid, President Obama divulged the name of the unit responsible and their location.

In the video below, you’ll see a few key figures mention that even holding onto the the press release for a day or two could have helped the intelligence community utilize the intel gathered at the raid to their advantage, rather than our enemies knowing publicly that intel had been compromised.

Former Navy SEAL and DEVGRU (Development Group) Operator, Craig Sawyer, recently wrote a fantastic article on OPSEC here on ITS Tactical, which I’d highly recommend you read if you haven’t yet. In it, he calls on citizens, those in the operational community and the media to protect the information that is sensitive to the welfare and success of our troops.

I feel that Sawyer’s article sums it up best, we need to police ourselves. Not only in the ranks of the government, but from within the military and the civilian community as well. I feel this is where the Special Operations (OPSEC) Political Committee could have chosen to direct its energy towards as well.

What’s your opinion of the video below? Do you feel the current administration is leaking too much information?


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My name is Legion
My name is Legion

Bryan (if that's your real name),

This story poses a dilemma for its readers.

How can society exercise due diligence over the activities carried out in its name when the existence and details of these events are concealed from scrutiny forever?

How can you even exercise due diligence over your own activities? You only know what you are told. Why? 'OPSEC'. Are you allowed to verify it independently? No. Why? 'OPSEC'. How do you know if you just did the right thing ... or the wrong thing? Can't answer? Why? 'OPSEC'. At a certain point, it becomes clear that 'OPSEC' is being used to obscure accountability and conceal responsibility. There's no way to prove it's not. Why? 'OPSEC'.

Why do those hiding behind that overused acronym, OPSEC, fear being held accountable for their actions?

'What actions?' is the evasive answer of the habitual liar. I'd expect that from a lawyer, or a politician, or from management. Not from the operatives, themselves.

Is that what you want people to see, when you use 'OPSEC' as an excuse? 'Habitual liar'? I didn't think so. 'Reflexive liar'? Not much better.

What makes you think you'll be able to stop lying to people when you return to civilian life?

Wouldn't truly fearless individuals be comfortable divulging details and taking full responsibility for their actions, in public, around the world?

Us civilians are getting really tired of being told that if we have nothing to hide, then we should have no qualms about losing what little privacy we have.

And so the natural question is, why do YOU need privacy? What are YOU hiding?

Just sayin'.

My name is Legion
My name is Legion

Bryan (if that's your real name), This story poses a dilemma for its readers. How can society exercise due diligence over the activities carried out in its name when the existence and details of these events are concealed from scrutiny forever? How can you even exercise due diligence over your own activities? You only know what you are told. Why? 'OPSEC'. Are you allowed to verify it independently? No. Why? 'OPSEC'. How do you know if you just did the right thing ... or the wrong thing? Can't answer? Why? 'OPSEC'. At a certain point, it becomes clear that 'OPSEC' is being used to obscure accountability and conceal responsibility. There's no way to prove it's not. Why? 'OPSEC'. Why do those hiding behind that overused acronym, OPSEC, fear being held accountable for their actions? 'What actions?' is the evasive answer of the habitual liar. I'd expect that from a lawyer, or a politician, or from management. Not from the operatives, themselves. Is that what you want people to see, when you use 'OPSEC' as an excuse? 'Habitual liar'? I didn't think so. 'Reflexive liar'? Not much better. What makes you think you'll be able to stop lying to people when you return to civilian life? Wouldn't truly fearless individuals be comfortable divulging details and taking full responsibility for their actions, in public, around the world? Us civilians are getting really tired of being told that if we have nothing to hide, then we should have no qualms about losing what little privacy we have. And so the natural question is, why do YOU need privacy? What are YOU hiding? Just sayin'.

Joel
Joel

I actually wrote a similar article on my website, which is not entirely military oriented, but this falls close to me so I figured Id share. I think that people just plain and simple do not understand because they have not been there. They don't really understand the principles of keeping quiet about something. Unfortunately many people do not learn until either taught or they make the mistake of talking when they shouldn't and now they're responsible for deaths. (extreme case I know)

Ben Simon
Ben Simon

Man, what an adventure, thanks for sharing!

I'm exhausted just reading about...

-Ben

Ben Simon
Ben Simon

Man, what an adventure, thanks for sharing! I'm exhausted just reading about... -Ben

Michael
Michael

Many good points all around. By the people on this site that is. I have little or nothing good to say about the organization that put this documentary together. While I have no doubt that many of these people served our country with honor and distinction, I am underwhelmed by their contribution here. The sneering and anger contributes nothing to the discussion. We all know this cat has been out of the bag for ages. We know what base they mostly live on. The tactics used are not that unique. We have mockups. We have great satellites taking great pictures. We pay for lots and lots of training. The biggest loss was exposure of what may have been a stealth aircraft that wasn't out in the wild.

In the end, these people have lowered the bar. A public service announcement about OPSEC may have been a great contribution, but this is a political hack job of low quality and far less finesse than one would have expected of these operators in the field.

I don't care who is in office. I don't care that we are out of the service. Not just the special ops people, all veterans. In my opinion, we should never use our former standing to attack our government. As a private citizen, we can say what we will. We protected that right. But to say "as a former navy whatever" then you make yourself out as a representative and I don't think that's right.

And to those that go where others won't and do what others can't, who hold memories no one should have to, to keep us safe from things we don't want to acknowledge, you have my thanks. I served, but never like you. Thank you.

Michael
Michael

Many good points all around. By the people on this site that is. I have little or nothing good to say about the organization that put this documentary together. While I have no doubt that many of these people served our country with honor and distinction, I am underwhelmed by their contribution here. The sneering and anger contributes nothing to the discussion. We all know this cat has been out of the bag for ages. We know what base they mostly live on. The tactics used are not that unique. We have mockups. We have great satellites taking great pictures. We pay for lots and lots of training. The biggest loss was exposure of what may have been a stealth aircraft that wasn't out in the wild. In the end, these people have lowered the bar. A public service announcement about OPSEC may have been a great contribution, but this is a political hack job of low quality and far less finesse than one would have expected of these operators in the field. I don't care who is in office. I don't care that we are out of the service. Not just the special ops people, all veterans. In my opinion, we should never use our former standing to attack our government. As a private citizen, we can say what we will. We protected that right. But to say "as a former navy whatever" then you make yourself out as a representative and I don't think that's right. And to those that go where others won't and do what others can't, who hold memories no one should have to, to keep us safe from things we don't want to acknowledge, you have my thanks. I served, but never like you. Thank you.

032125
032125

The very word "secrecy" is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings... there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. - JFK

Charlie
Charlie

Hey ITS!

A great post, very level and clear. What is more, the commentary that has so far followed is very intelligent. You should take this as a point of pride: to be able to bring up an issue that could reasonably be highly polarized on another site and have it discussed with candor is a mark of the kind of readership you have culled together these few years.

Charlie
Charlie

Hey ITS! A great post, very level and clear. What is more, the commentary that has so far followed is very intelligent. You should take this as a point of pride: to be able to bring up an issue that could reasonably be highly polarized on another site and have it discussed with candor is a mark of the kind of readership you have culled together these few years.

LFA
LFA

I find the video upsetting in its approach which I felt oversimplified the possible use of confidential/privileged/sensitive/etc. information.

Methods such as misinformation, canary traps, and barium meals through public channels are not addressed in the problem statement nor the proposed solution (a watchdog organization). If the proposed organization is founded, how would a potential claim of misuse of confidential information be verified as not only confidential information but a misuse of confidential information as well? If the information is determined to be confidential, how does the organization know it is/is not intended to be publicly released (as politicians can be utilized as pawns)?

Unfortunately, the persons within this video are players in a game which itself is part of a much more complex series of interwoven games played on arenas of various sizes. Many things, both concrete and abstract, are at risk (as mentioned in the video, human lives is one very serious example). I assume the persons within the video know plenty of things not publicly known (I myself have no knowledge of actual confidential information within the military nor intelligence agencies) but I also assume no one has the complete picture on all levels (especially the international arena).

To those in the video and those who are not, thank you for your service.

LFA
LFA

I find the video upsetting in its approach which I felt oversimplified the possible use of confidential/privileged/sensitive/etc. information. Methods such as misinformation, canary traps, and barium meals through public channels are not addressed in the problem statement nor the proposed solution (a watchdog organization). If the proposed organization is founded, how would a potential claim of misuse of confidential information be verified as not only confidential information but a misuse of confidential information as well? If the information is determined to be confidential, how does the organization know it is/is not intended to be publicly released (as politicians can be utilized as pawns)? Unfortunately, the persons within this video are players in a game which itself is part of a much more complex series of interwoven games played on arenas of various sizes. Many things, both concrete and abstract, are at risk (as mentioned in the video, human lives is one very serious example). I assume the persons within the video know plenty of things not publicly known (I myself have no knowledge of actual confidential information within the military nor intelligence agencies) but I also assume no one has the complete picture on all levels (especially the international arena). To those in the video and those who are not, thank you for your service.

Davey T
Davey T

http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/17/opinion/bergen-obama-swift-boat/index.htmlcc

CNN has an interesting opinion editorial has an interesting argument about the other side of this issue. The article points out that the president never actually identified the SEALS in his speech and that the helicopter crash forced their hand about when they announced the raid and what info they provided. I would hardly call the info about the stealth helicopter an intentional leak. Anybody who has ever seen a picture of a B-2 or F117 could look at the pictures of the tail rotor and make a pretty logical guess as what they were looking at.

OPSEC is certainly important but realistically SEAL team six is not really a big secret, they have their own movie and video game series. Its pure speculation, but I have a growing suspicion that the government is trying to use this attention to their advantage by allowing the SEALs to become the public face of american spec ops. By sending the SEALS on missions that will be officially announced publicly or attributing the seals to missions that end up going public, it keeps attention away from units like DELTA that have much less media and public exposure. For all we really know the raid could have been done by a true "black ops" unit nobody has ever heard of and was then attributed to the SEALS since they are the most well known american spec ops unit. There is no reason not to believe that the SEALs didn't do the raid but just because it was leaked to the media doesn't make it true. Deliberately leaking false info has been around longer than war itself.

If I ran SOCOM and had to disclose an op I'd attribute everything to the Navy SEALs, everybody knows who they are and what they do (not necessarily how they do it), its perfect plausible deniability for every other unit under my control.

Just some of my thoughts.

Davey T
Davey T

http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/17/opinion/bergen-obama-swift-boat/index.htmlcc CNN has an interesting opinion editorial has an interesting argument about the other side of this issue. The article points out that the president never actually identified the SEALS in his speech and that the helicopter crash forced their hand about when they announced the raid and what info they provided. I would hardly call the info about the stealth helicopter an intentional leak. Anybody who has ever seen a picture of a B-2 or F117 could look at the pictures of the tail rotor and make a pretty logical guess as what they were looking at. OPSEC is certainly important but realistically SEAL team six is not really a big secret, they have their own movie and video game series. Its pure speculation, but I have a growing suspicion that the government is trying to use this attention to their advantage by allowing the SEALs to become the public face of american spec ops. By sending the SEALS on missions that will be officially announced publicly or attributing the seals to missions that end up going public, it keeps attention away from units like DELTA that have much less media and public exposure. For all we really know the raid could have been done by a true "black ops" unit nobody has ever heard of and was then attributed to the SEALS since they are the most well known american spec ops unit. There is no reason not to believe that the SEALs didn't do the raid but just because it was leaked to the media doesn't make it true. Deliberately leaking false info has been around longer than war itself. If I ran SOCOM and had to disclose an op I'd attribute everything to the Navy SEALs, everybody knows who they are and what they do (not necessarily how they do it), its perfect plausible deniability for every other unit under my control. Just some of my thoughts.

mark greenman
mark greenman

It's also worth mentioning that the Obama administration has launched 6 inquiries into leaks, which is more any other presidency in history, combined. So to say his administration is flippant about security is misleading.

If you look at the history of electoral politics in the US over the last several decades, that will put this video in way more prospective. The Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry being just the most recent example of a long line of adds designed to undermine their opponents strength.

At the end of the day, whatever damage these leaks have done, more damage to terrorist organisations world wide have been done under this administration than any other.

mark greenman
mark greenman

It's also worth mentioning that the Obama administration has launched 6 inquiries into leaks, which is more any other presidency in history, combined. So to say his administration is flippant about security is misleading. If you look at the history of electoral politics in the US over the last several decades, that will put this video in way more prospective. The Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry being just the most recent example of a long line of adds designed to undermine their opponents strength. At the end of the day, whatever damage these leaks have done, more damage to terrorist organisations world wide have been done under this administration than any other.

Nunzio X
Nunzio X

Keep in mind that leaks sometimes serve psy-ops purposes.

Letting an enemy "know" that you have valuable intel captured in a raid MIGHT make them think every operation they've planned is now compromised and should be abandoned.

Imagine you're Al Qaeda and you find out Osama's compound has been hit and all his files seized.

Why WOULDN'T any administration want this info divulged? It panics the enemy.

Nunzio X
Nunzio X

Keep in mind that leaks sometimes serve psy-ops purposes. Letting an enemy "know" that you have valuable intel captured in a raid MIGHT make them think every operation they've planned is now compromised and should be abandoned. Imagine you're Al Qaeda and you find out Osama's compound has been hit and all his files seized. Why WOULDN'T any administration want this info divulged? It panics the enemy.

Brandon Franklin
Brandon Franklin

I really like the idea of creating a watchdog organization for this purpose. This is one of the rare areas where I do not favor full disclosure. How this group presents itself leaves me wondering if it is the best entity to do the job, though.

The Background page reads more like an anti-Obama diatribe than an actual brief on the detrimental effect of media-driven politics on OPSEC. I don't want to put words in Bryan's mouth (and please correct if I'm misconstruing the meaning), but I think his third paragraph about the good the administration has done has touched on this fact. A group of this nature needs to educate and protect, not grandstand with language like "the most egregious display of ambition over country." The "What to Expect" page has nothing to do with promoting OPSEC; it instead raises issues of whether Obama should be credited for a part in the killing of UBL. Language like this makes people defensive and unreceptive to your cause.

I think the model organization for educating and influencing policy to support a cause is the Federation of American Scientists, which was founded by scientists that worked on the Manhattan Project to address issues of nuclear proliferation.

I'm assuming the group does not yet have 501 status yet. I really think they need to state if they're applying for it on their page given that they're asking for donations. I have a less than charitable view of organizations that ask for donations but aren't subject to mandatory transparency regulations and auditing.

I also think it's ironic that an organization dedicated to OPSEC has a privacy statement that is not entirely truthful -- they don't make any notice of their use of Google analytics or uniquely identifying tracking cookies.

Brandon Franklin
Brandon Franklin

I really like the idea of creating a watchdog organization for this purpose. This is one of the rare areas where I do not favor full disclosure. How this group presents itself leaves me wondering if it is the best entity to do the job, though. The Background page reads more like an anti-Obama diatribe than an actual brief on the detrimental effect of media-driven politics on OPSEC. I don't want to put words in Bryan's mouth (and please correct if I'm misconstruing the meaning), but I think his third paragraph about the good the administration has done has touched on this fact. A group of this nature needs to educate and protect, not grandstand with language like "the most egregious display of ambition over country." The "What to Expect" page has nothing to do with promoting OPSEC; it instead raises issues of whether Obama should be credited for a part in the killing of UBL. Language like this makes people defensive and unreceptive to your cause. I think the model organization for educating and influencing policy to support a cause is the Federation of American Scientists, which was founded by scientists that worked on the Manhattan Project to address issues of nuclear proliferation. I'm assuming the group does not yet have 501 status yet. I really think they need to state if they're applying for it on their page given that they're asking for donations. I have a less than charitable view of organizations that ask for donations but aren't subject to mandatory transparency regulations and auditing. I also think it's ironic that an organization dedicated to OPSEC has a privacy statement that is not entirely truthful -- they don't make any notice of their use of Google analytics or uniquely identifying tracking cookies.

JLS
JLS

Great video and I fully support a committee to monitor when these things occur. Loose lips definitely sink ships as the old saying goes. It was hard to believe that the President was on TV naming the special operations group that completed the raid and their location at the time. I was in disbelief that they just didn't come on the air and say, "I won't be taking any questions today. I just have a statement. Brave men from our special operations community successfully completed a raid on a compound that resulted in the dead of Bin Laden. We have confirmed his identity with modern technology to know 100% it is him...party on!" I am really really disappointed with our governement and the way they are handling sensitive information that violates OPSEC.

I have personally talked to some of our men who work in the special operations community and am very proud to call some of them friends. The men and women who fall under the JSOC are quiet professionals that don't want any special recognition. They just want to complete their mission and come home to their families. Then you have the President out there painting targets on their backs telling the world specifically who went into the compound. It's absolutely asinine!!!

There must be reprocussions for anyone in the government that speaks out of turn and jeopardizes anyone of our citizens within the military, intelligence community, or their assets because the bottom line is "loose lips" will result in more American lives lost.

JLS
JLS

Great video and I fully support a committee to monitor when these things occur. Loose lips definitely sink ships as the old saying goes. It was hard to believe that the President was on TV naming the special operations group that completed the raid and their location at the time. I was in disbelief that they just didn't come on the air and say, "I won't be taking any questions today. I just have a statement. Brave men from our special operations community successfully completed a raid on a compound that resulted in the dead of Bin Laden. We have confirmed his identity with modern technology to know 100% it is him...party on!" I am really really disappointed with our governement and the way they are handling sensitive information that violates OPSEC. I have personally talked to some of our men who work in the special operations community and am very proud to call some of them friends. The men and women who fall under the JSOC are quiet professionals that don't want any special recognition. They just want to complete their mission and come home to their families. Then you have the President out there painting targets on their backs telling the world specifically who went into the compound. It's absolutely asinine!!! There must be reprocussions for anyone in the government that speaks out of turn and jeopardizes anyone of our citizens within the military, intelligence community, or their assets because the bottom line is "loose lips" will result in more American lives lost.

James Slemmons
James Slemmons

There is so much more wrong than just the leaks. It is the mindset and culture of an administration that would allow...possible capitalize...on them

My greatest concern is that, as the leadership of this country loses it's honor, so do the actions of our troops. Not every operation serves to protect our freedom, and not every death is given to preserve the freedom we enjoy. They are noble men and women, but if they are sent out on ignoble missions, our leaders have tragically traded their lives for a dishonorable cause.

There must be a culture change at the highest levels of government. The Commander in Chief must be a leader who values this country, engages the enemy wisely, and will not tolerate one death for political gain. He will preserve the memory of those who fall by ensuring their orders are never frivolous.

James Slemmons
James Slemmons

There is so much more wrong than just the leaks. It is the mindset and culture of an administration that would allow...possible capitalize...on them My greatest concern is that, as the leadership of this country loses it's honor, so do the actions of our troops. Not every operation serves to protect our freedom, and not every death is given to preserve the freedom we enjoy. They are noble men and women, but if they are sent out on ignoble missions, our leaders have tragically traded their lives for a dishonorable cause. There must be a culture change at the highest levels of government. The Commander in Chief must be a leader who values this country, engages the enemy wisely, and will not tolerate one death for political gain. He will preserve the memory of those who fall by ensuring their orders are never frivolous.

Bryan Black
Bryan Black

Comments aside, don't you think it's a bit ironic you're calling into question my real name when yours is "My name is Legion?"

Luke
Luke

I agree, this commentary is what has impressed me more than anything. Rather than polarizing rhetoric and hurtful language all points have been maintained intelligently. Politicians on both sides of the aisle could learn a thing or two.

gggnotaz
gggnotaz

Davey T,

When the raid was first announced, I had similar thoughts as well. Maybe it was the SEALS and maybe it wasn't. They are already relatively high profile in the public eye so most people won't think twice if they are given credit for something.

Either way, many thanks to our men and women in uniform who serve.

gggnotaz
gggnotaz

Davey T, When the raid was first announced, I had similar thoughts as well. Maybe it was the SEALS and maybe it wasn't. They are already relatively high profile in the public eye so most people won't think twice if they are given credit for something. Either way, many thanks to our men and women in uniform who serve.

Phil
Phil

I don't think the issue was that we conducted the raid and killed Bin Laden as much as who did it and how they did it that's of concern.

Sgt. Miller
Sgt. Miller

Amen brother. I'll second that notion.

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