Intelligence Leaks Not Very Intelligent

May 23, 2011

The tracking down and recent killing of Osama bin Laden were major accomplishments of the U.S. Intelligence Community, the elite Navy SEAL team, which took out this terrorist murderer, and those in the Obama administration who authorized the successful raid. Ten years, and two Presidents later, justice was done. Whether seeking revenge is right or wrong, it sure felt good to see bin Laden go down. Payback is a “son of a gun” as the expression goes!

The persistence of those in our Intelligence Community and all of our special operations personnel are a real source of pride. I remember personally witnessing the murders in front of the CIA Headquarters in 1993. I watched in horror while trapped in traffic, waiting for a light to change, while terrorist Mir Aimal Kasi murdered two innocent people in their cars. It took several years, but again another terrorist was apprehended in Pakistan and later tried and executed for his crime. It defines who we are as Americans that we would never give up until these terrorists met justice at our hands. But as Paul Harvey used to say, “now for the rest of the story.”

Clearly, President Obama had to “sign off” on the raid and he deserves full credit for doing so. However, what appears to be happening now is the shameful exploitation of the incident by extracting the maximum public relations value from its success. We have seen photo after photo of the Obama “team” watching the raid unfold in “real time.” Press briefings have reminded us that “candidate Obama” had pledged to continue to pursue and eventually bring bin Laden to justice (Shouldn’t that go without saying?).

The President went to New York City at the site of the World Trade Center attacks and spoke there to again remind us that he had gotten bin Laden after he had already told us this on national TV. There have been countless interviews by administration “officials” detailing how the administration was involved in the event. The unsophisticated would assume from all of this that the mission success was due to keen strategic insight or extraordinary expertise in tactical operational planning by the President and his team.

The truth is that this was a well prepared, highly skilled and professional military SEAL team doing their job in an extraordinary manner. They put their lives on the line because they are the best America has to offer. They are patriots. They volunteered to do the job. They reacted to incredibly accurate, fortunate and specific intelligence information. The administration’s role was to authorize this elite force to go in and execute. With all due respect to President Obama and his team, if he is told by the Intelligence Community that bin Laden is located and the team is ready to go get him, it is his job to give the order. Not to do so, would be unconscionable. The aggressive way in which the administration has promoted this makes one wonder why they need to prove that the President wished to pursue bin Laden in the first place. Guilty conscience, maybe?

President Obama deserves full credit for authorizing the raid, but the real heroes are the Navy SEALs who put their lives on the line and all sensible Americans know this. The President should have been content to say that and leave it alone. Unfortunately exploitation prevailed. We may never know who in the administration, after receipt of the intelligence, supported the operation and who did not? What was Panetta’s view? Secretary Clinton’s? Vice-President Biden’s? Secretary Gates’? How about Eric Holder’s? Was he worried about bin Laden’s rights? We may never know but it sure would be interesting to find out.

There is one even more troubling aspect to this entire operation.

Why are the administration and the media so intent upon providing so much detail on the intelligence gathered during the raid? Sources and methods may easily be compromised by leaking so much detailed information. Tracking down more al Qaeda terrorists could be hindered. We hear news stories about computers, hard drives, bin Laden’s personal handwritten diaries, and even the fact that we have names of certain operatives and specific terrorist action plans in America and around the world.

Clearly, this information is coming from the administration officials and not from the Intelligence Community. They are the first to know that releasing such information could result in letting people slip away from capture or killing. It could also make the information less valuable and even threaten the lives of certain U.S. intelligence operatives. Even as a U.S. Senator, I reviewed intelligence on a “need to know” basis only. There is no need for the public to know this information until we have acted upon it. Yet, the press talks about it incessantly in almost every news story.

Elizabeth Flock, in a Washington Post article on May 2nd, 2011, thought it would be nice to let the world and our enemies know that the SEAL team was stationed at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach. What is she going to do next? List their names and addresses? Maybe the bars or restaurants they frequent during off hours? Ms. Flock could not resist taking a cheap shot at these heroes by saying that “they often engage in operations that are outside the boundaries of international law.” True or not true, it is something that she could not know for sure, so why say it? Just plain dumb or something more sinister?

On May 12th in remarks at a Town Hall meeting at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Secretary of Defense Gates indicated that he was very concerned about the safety of the SEALs and their families as a result of what intelligence officials have called an “unprecedented breach of confidentiality.”

Gates told a largely Marine audience that “Frankly, a week ago Sunday, in the situation room, we all agreed that we would not release any operational details from the effort to take out bin Laden. That all fell apart on Monday, the next day.”

Gone are the days of World War II, when correspondents were not only asked to hold up stories that could compromise the success of a mission, they held up the information willingly.

We just lopped off the head of the serpent. Now we have the chance to destroy the rest of the al Qaeda body. That is, unless the exploitation and politicization of the mission and the lack of intelligence of our media compromises the intelligence found in the raid.

Or even worse, compromises the safety of our SEALs and their families.

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Copyright ©2011 Senator Bob Smith

Former Senator Bob Smith (R-NH), known as “Senator Bob,” has joined Accuracy in Media as a Special Contributor. His columns and commentaries on media and politics will be available on a regular basis on the AIM website at He can be contacted at