OPSEC and the Media's Responsibility to Guard our Operational Playbook - ITS Tactical

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OPSEC and the Media’s Responsibility to Guard our Operational Playbook

By Craig Sawyer

Somebody BlabbedOperational Security and speaking to the media on Spec Ops matters: Now there’s a high wire act I really can’t recommend.

I’ve been asked to appear on numerous news programs and television specials now pertaining to our Special Operations units and their accomplishments, especially the recent successes of our Navy SEALs. In most cases, due to a lifetime of secrecy and an appreciation for it, I flatly decline. I have, however, accepted on the few rare occasions when I felt there was something positive to contribute, or even to intervene and “stop the bleeding” as it pertains to our Operational Security (OPSEC).

My motivation for speaking out has most often come from seeing high-ranking military officers spilling highly-sensitive information as though it were no concern at all, which sends the media into a feeding frenzy for operational details. In these situations, I feel it’s important that SOMEBODY get on there who will ride the OPSEC brakes a bit and steer the press away from our operational specifics.

So, in my case I spoke out when I thought it would help. Did it work? In one case, apparently it did work to some degree. Friends of mine noticed other news contributors quoting my recommendations in the press over the following few days.

Loose Lips Sink Ships

When our country enjoys a strategic success, I believe it is both healthy and good to acknowledge that accomplishment and celebrate the forward marker that particular success indicates. I also strongly believe we must NOT give away our operational playbook in that celebration. With those in the news media no longer necessarily looking out for our country’s best interest, it can no longer be assumed that they won’t air damaging information.

The words, “Loose lips sink ships” were once right on the tip of every American’s tongue. We had a sense of unity and team that have since been lost with the currently forcing of “multiculturalism” and other anti-American concepts upon our citizens via the powerful news and social media outlets. Gone are the flag-waving American Presidents who stand up as leaders and firmly ask legal immigrants to assimilate into our culture when they arrive. Instead, every criminal invader is seemingly rewarded with an arm-long list of benefits available to them, which are available to none of us should we invade their countries in like manner. Assimilation into the American culture is seemingly dead. It’s unbearable to see that we are increasingly becoming a directionless, multi-national gaggle, living under the protection of one nation’s finest Warriors.

Let’s face it, because we live in an open society with wide open borders, the internet and cable television; what we tell our citizens via the media, we tell our enemies. So, we should all be thinking about the security and safety of the men who are putting their lives on the line to accomplish these missions. Because I’ve been one of those Operators, I understand what it takes to get these missions done. There are only so many ways to skin a cat. The sooner we, as a country, give up any of our techniques to the public, the sooner our operational units lose the ability to use that technique again with the element of surprise they enjoyed when it had been successful. This giving away of the playbook is the most pressing and damaging error I’ve seen lately.

The Right to Know?

Our citizens have the right to know what our government is doing with our hard-earned tax dollars, EXCEPT when that knowledge would be beneficial to our enemies, or harmful to our troops. In these cases, such information should not only be protected by those of us from the operational community, but by our own media as well. ANYONE who lives in our country and is benefitting from our military’s protection has the duty and responsibility as an American citizen to protect the information that is sensitive to the welfare and success of our troops. Yes, even those in the media. How that simple truth got lost over the years, I’ll never understand or accept.

It’s a gamble to speak out, even if your intentions are rock solid and your focus is clear. The things you say can be manipulated or shown in a different light through numerous media manipulation techniques. I’m sure we’ve all seen examples. The safest course seems to be keeping quiet and criticizing those who act. Was speaking out the right call in my case? I’m honestly not entirely sure and probably never will be. There are no absolutes. There will always be those who sit back and do nothing, criticizing anyone who dares to take action. An older, wiser friend who’s been around the block a few more times than I has forewarned me there will always be the 10% who simply don’t like it that you’re on TV and they’re not, no matter what the circumstance may be.

Special Operations Spokesman

I find myself wishing the military had better representation for the media to interview on these issues. Why not put forward a spokesman for JSOC, or any other part of our military who have a rock solid handle on all the operational sensitivities, as well as an appreciation for the few points of a situation that could and SHOULD be shared with the public.

Without such a spokesman, I have tried on a few occasions to contribute what I could to get out the 2-pronged message I felt was important. If you’ve seen or heard any of my interviews, you’ve seen the following 2 points made:

  1. Give only general atmospherics to help give the public an appreciation for our spec-ops troops and the dedication it takes to serve at that level.
  2. Protect the Operational Specifics by steering the media’s questions away from that topic and sharing my concerns about the dangers of it.

Many of these prime interviews are LIVE and GLOBAL, so it’s not necessarily a relaxing venue to have a conversation of such importance. The news anchor has an earpiece with editors and advisors walking them through the talking points and the agenda they want out of the interview.

You, however, do not. If you look at your notes, you’ll look like a moron. You have no monitor, so you have no idea whether or not the audience can see you, or how you appear from moment to moment. You will have a delay to deal with from an interviewing anchor in another location whom you cannot see. The questions are rapid and known to the anchor, but not to you. You must think on your feet in front of everyone you’ve ever met, along with a few million of their best friends across the globe. NOT a forgiving environment. Still, if you speak with conviction, you can make your point. You may have to boldly change the subject to do so, but it can be done.

All in all it’s a chore best left to the experts, but they seem to be missing in action. I definitely can’t recommend speaking to the press on any occasion surrounding special operations. If you do, you should be in a position like my friend, Colonel Anthony Shaffer, who has his finger directly on the pulse of what’s going on at multiple levels and can cover numerous angles of any story.

Personal Experience

For me personally, after what Geraldo Rivera pulled when he took a snippet from an interview I gave with Greta Van Susteren’s Fox news show, On the Record, and plugged that snippet into his show where he was trying to map out the entire Bin Laden raid, I’m all done. For me, that manipulation on Geraldo’s part was a serious betrayal and reversed the appearance of everything I had been trying to accomplish. Only those who know me personally or saw the previous show with Greta in its entirety would understand where I was coming from. That’s the first time Fox has burned me like that.

So, I feel it’s important to share this type of info in case it can be of assistance to anyone else who needs to travel that road. As for me, I think I’ll continue to decline interviews on those subjects. It’s just not worth the effort.

Rage on! ~SAW

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: We’d like to thank Craig for coming forward with this article in light of the recent tragedy in Afghanistan and the Bin Laden operation. For more information on former Navy SEAL and DEVGRU Operator Craig Sawyer, please visit his Website Tactical Insider.com

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  • Bill

    True words have never been spoken!

  • Chris

    There are also PERSEC issues with regards to interviews of family members of the fallen. Locations of those family members can compromise others families and also OPSEC going forward.

  • Steve Collins

    Words to LIVE by, and to allow those on the pointy end of the spear to continue to live with.

    Well spoken Craig.


  • Jonnie

    Doesn’t anyone see the irony of an article like this on THIS website? ITS is the attention whore of the internet and goes out of its way to share tradecraft with anyone with an internet connection. So far they have told folks how to break into cars, break out of flex cuffs, AND how to climb a rope like a real-life Navy SEAL. Obviously the last one was just silly but overall the content on ITS is dangerous to LE and military personnel. The good guys who need to know how to do those things already do. All ITS is doing is teaching bad people how to do questionable things.

    Some of the worst OPSEC violations I have ever seen have been from ITS Tactical.

    • Hi Jonnie, first off thanks for the comment. It’s important for our readers to see the viewpoints of the others out there that don’t always agree with what we teach here at ITS Tactical and I’ve addressed opinions like yours in a previous article here: http://www.itstactical.com/centcom/its-information/an-important-announcement-from-its-tactical/ please check it out if you haven’t yet.

      If you feel so strongly about what we do here on the internet you have the same right that everyone has, stop reading it. If you don’t benefit from what you read here, you don’t have to stick around. To also clear up your comment full of inconsistencies, we’ve never taught anyone how to break into a car and never will. That information is out there all over the internet though in case you didn’t already know that.

      I’m not going to justify our reasoning for posting about methods for escaping from ILLEGAL restraint from “commercially” available zip ties, I’ll let the above link explain that to you and anyone else questioning it. As far as climbing rope like a Navy SEAL, all I did was teach the method that I was taught while I was at BUDs and it’s the same method taught to everyone that goes through that training.

      As far as your comment about “the good guys who need to know how to do those things already do” I guarantee the people that are often in the news getting zip tied in a home invasion don’t know how to escape from illegal restraint and would have benefitted from our series.

      Thanks for the comment,
      Bryan Black, Editor-in-Chief

    • jbayley

      Way to keep your cool Bryan.
      Handled like a true professional.

    • Thanks brother… There’s haters everywhere 🙂

    • Christopher C.

      Good job Bryan, from a fellow DFW-ite. Sometimes, ignorance isn’t bliss, because what somebody doens’t know but sees that others being taught makes them mad, they have to throw a hissy fit. Granted they have the right, but that doesn’t make their comments any less ignorant and uninformed. Bravo to you.

    • Trojan

      Well said Bryan. I had to roll my eyes at Jonnie’s comment, that little nerd wouldn’t know “tradecraft” if it kicked him in the rear. The stuff you guys post is absolutely invaluable to the average joe and certainly better presented than the vast majority of tutorials out there.

  • Jonnie, too bad your not a crew member to see the “member only” articles. We just did one on how to get away with murder (wink wink).
    And thanks for the Internet whore comment. When I first started helping out here I wasn’t very savvy with social media, but it looks like I’ve been doing pretty good!!
    Regards, Eric

  • Finlay

    Great article and thank you for sharing your insight. As a society, we once valued in-depth analyses and expected carefully researched articles from our media sources. Gone are the days of lengthy treatises from the New York Times, or monthly publications that once provided us with a deep and thorough understanding of a particular subject. Instead, both have been replaced with the USA Today mindset, where snippets of information adequately substitute for credible research. The Internet has accelerated our impatience and today, so many of us suffer from the need for instantaneous gratification. Do we really need to know all of the details about the covert operation that took down bin Laden? I would suggest that we do not, as evidenced by the methodology in which the information is presented — both sensationalized and glorified as if to fulfill a prurient interest. The fact is, our need to know must still be balanced against the benefit of keeping such information from disclosure. At a minimum, we could have waited a few days, a few weeks, or perhaps even months after the event itself. Patience is a virtue and these days it seems to be in short supply.

  • BTJ Non-Master

    This is an article that everybody I work with at the big house should read. While I understand that what we do is completely different from what the military does, in the end operational security is every bit as important to the mission of the DOC as it is to missions taken on by SPECOPS and military personnel on the front lines. We are too often our own worst enemy in that far too many of my brothers and sisters behind the walls fail to comprehend the mission, as well as how utterly important keeping ones mouth shut where operations are concerned can be. Fine article, and thanks for the reminder.

    • Trojan

      Yeah, it really drives home the point of Quiet Professionals.

  • Kevin Q

    Great article. OPSEC and information dissemenation (whatever the reason) is a difficult tightrope to walk, with moderation and “adult supervision” it can be pulled off and your objectives can be achieved. Glad I joined this site and became a member, right up my alley! Semper Fi!

  • Jeff

    Let’s see, where to begin? Oh yeah. How about the shows on SEaL Team Six? First of all, the concept of Six was to confuse the Soviets as to just how many teams there were. Then, there is the difference between ” need-to-know ” , ” good-to-know ” and ” nice-to-know ” The first was for those who required that S2 to complete the mission. The second was for those who might wind up in a support role, or command and control. But, only those portions that were not mission-critical and required OPSEC be maintained. The third would be released for public consumption, but only long after the mission, so as not to compromise security. My opinion is that the current adminstration, whose hatred of the military is well documented, turned loose their puppets in the media. But, then again, I’m not an officer and I’m not on active duty. So, I’m not violating Article 88 of the UCMJ.

  • Raven

    Hey where’d Jonnie go!?

  • I did one interview with a local Fox station on a recent computer virus in the wild. They also interviewed a client of mine that was devastated by its affect on her business. I talked for about 20 minutes on the virus, who created it, what were its affects, detection and mitigation. At one time I expressed my admiration for the programmers cleverness not necessarily in the code but in the process of dissemination. The whole interview was edited to 5 seconds of me saying “it’s brilliant” and the rest of the slot dedicated to my client bawling into her knit cap as the reporter looked on with feigned concern.
    Agreed, leave this stuff to the pros and stand by to do some butt kicking when something is put out that should not be.

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