In Britain, where the military’s special missions units, the Special Air Service and the Special Boat Service, are not classified, the security services work largely to keep the names of members of the units out of the media.
But JSOC’s existence as the umbrella command for America’s special missions units and standing counter-terrorism task forces is classified, as is basic information about its structure. Protecting JSOC’s secrecy is expensive. For many, it is vital to national security. But its veil of secrecy may be untenable in an age where every explosion is reported within minutes of it occurring.
Inevitably, some of the information, like the writings in bin Laden’s diary, will become public. Col. Roland Guidry (ret.), one of JSOC’s founding members and a legend in special operations forces, said he blames President Obama and his aides for the sunlight bathing the SEALs.
“The pre-mission Operational Security was superb, but the post-mission OPSEC stinks,” he said. “When all the hullabaloo settles down, JSOC and [the SEALs] will have to get back to business as usual, keeping the troops operationally ready and getting set for the next mission; the visibility the administration has allowed to be focused on JSOC and [the SEALs] will make their job now more difficult.”
Guidry said that the “administration’s bragging” about details like the existence of the bin Laden courier network and efforts to eavesdrop on cell phones would encourage the enemy to adapt by changing their cell phones, e-mail addresses, web sites, safe houses, and couriers. He also thinks the administration should not have disclosed precisely what types of equipment it found in bin Laden’s compound, such as bin Laden’s use to thumb drives to communicate.
“Why did the administration not respond like we were trained to do 30 years ago in early JSOC by uttering two simple words: ‘no comment’?” he asked.
It isn’t clear, however, that the Obama White House is sanctioning these leaks. After two early attempts to give reporters a basic chronology of the events, the White House began to decline requests to clarify details, referring reporters to the Pentagon and the CIA.
One problem is both the Pentagon and the intelligence community still compartmentalize sources and methods differently. For example, it is hard for the CIA to know whether providing a certain detail about the technology a JSOC door-kicker uses to breach a wall would constitute an operational security violation.
The concern about information leakage comes amid one of the biggest information-sharing efforts to date. Virtually everyone with a Top Secret clearance who works in counter-terrorism has access to the “take” from the bin Laden raid. Leading the effort is the Defense Intelligence Agency’s National Media Exploitation Center. “We are trying to get as much warning-relevant material out as rapidly and widely as possible,” a senior intelligence official said.