A group of former U.S. military and intelligence officers, including retired Navy SEALs, appear in a 22-minute documentary that was released on Wednesday asserting that the Obama administration has leaked considerable classified intelligence about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden for political gain.
They also claim that the administration has given itself too much credit for this feat of American arms and intelligence gathering. The film even makes the dramatic charge that the Obama administration is "purposefully putting lives in jeopardy" because of its purported leaks about national security.
The charges bear some resemblance to the "Swift Boat" tactics used against Sen. John Kerry in the tight 2004 presidential election against President George W. Bush in which Kerry's service in Vietnam, seemingly a strength of the candidate, was turned into a weakness.
The particulars of the indictment against Obama as laid out in the new film, which is titled "Dishonorable Disclosures," are:
-- The president announced the bin Laden raid before intelligence picked up from bin Laden's compound could be fully exploited.
-- The use of hitherto covert "stealth" helicopters on the raid was publicized.
-- The name of the secret unit that executed the raid --SEAL Team Six -- was made public putting them and their families at risk.
-- The name of the Pakistani doctor recruited by the CIA to help find bin Laden was leaked, jeopardizing him and the CIA's ability to recruit spies in the future. The doctor is now serving 33 years in a Pakistani prison.
-- Obama has taken way too much credit for killing al Qaeda's leader. "Mr. President, you did not kill Osama bin Laden, America did. The work that the American military has done killed Osama bin Laden. You did not," says a former Navy SEAL interviewed in the film.
Criticism of the way that the bin Laden raid has been discussed publicly by the Obama administration makes up the bulk of "Dishonorable Disclosures," but the administration is also taken to task for supposedly leaking details of covert U.S. actions against the Iranian nuclear program to New York Times reporter David Sanger (who has said he was not the recipient of "deliberate leaks out of the White House") and outlining to other journalists the personal involvement of Obama in selecting targets for the CIA drone program in Pakistan.
One former Navy SEAL featured in the film demands dramatically, "Tell the president to stop leaking information to the enemy."
Is there any merit to these serious accusations?
In fact, Obama and his national security team made every effort -- successfully -- to keep the intelligence about bin Laden a closely held secret for almost a year, from the time they first identified what they believed might be the al Qaeda leader's hideout in the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan, in August 2010 until May 1, 2011, when the raid was launched to kill him.
The raid itself was conducted as a covert operation under the overall direction of then-CIA Director Leon Panetta.
I have written a book about the hunt for bin Laden during the course of which I was the only journalist granted access by the Pakistanis inside the compound in Abbottabad where bin Laden was killed. I also spoke on the record about the hunt for bin Laden with a variety of current White House, Pentagon and intelligence officials, as well as former Defense Department and CIA officials familiar with aspects of the story.
None of them divulged classified information about the bin Laden operation. Indeed, they went to great pains to avoid doing so.
What precipitated the operation going public was not Obama's announcement of the raid but the crash of one of the Black Hawk choppers used in the raid, which turned what had hitherto been a covert operation into a very public event.
Pakistani journalists started arriving at bin Laden's Abbottabad compound soon after the helicopter crashed and started filing stories about the mysterious helicopter and its oddly shaped tail rotor. An Abbottabad resident even tweeted about the unusual sound of helicopters flying over the city in the middle of the night.
It wasn't much of a leap for reporters to ascertain that these helicopters had particular features that had prevented them from being detected by Pakistani radar.
Soon after the SEALs had raided the Abbottabad command, Pakistani officials on the ground were interrogating bin Laden's wives and children at the compound who told them that bin Laden had just been killed. None of this was going to stay secret for long.
Indeed, it was Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan's top military officer, who sped up the Obama administration's announcement of the raid. A few hours after the raid, Kayani told his American counterpart, Adm. Mike Mullen, "Our people need to understand what happened here. We're not going to be able to manage the Pakistani media without you confirming this. You can explain it to them. They need to understand that this was bin Laden and not just some ordinary U.S. operation."
Mullen then told Obama and his national security team, "Kayani has asked for us to go public," which swayed Obama to announce the raid sooner than was planned. (Obama wanted to wait for 100% DNA confirmation that it was bin Laden. At the time of the president's announcement about the raid the confirmation was at 95%.)
During his speech to the nation and world, Obama did not divulge the name of SEAL Team Six, saying only that a "small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability."
It quickly leaked that SEAL Team Six had executed the raid, but this was hardly surprising as the SEALs are the principal Special Operations Forces in the Afghanistan/Pakistan theater, something that has been discussed in multiple news stories over the past several years and in bestselling books such as "Lone Survivor" by former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell.
And the SEALs have hardly kept a low profile of late, cooperating in a movie "Act of Valor" that was released in theaters this year, which actually featured real SEALs playing the parts of the heroes of the movie.