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Why Would Woodward Leak Confirmation of US-Pak Collaboration on Drone Strikes While Sharif Was in DC?

Obama and Sharif enter the Oval Office yesterday.

Obama and Sharif enter the Oval Office yesterday.

On the same day that Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, spoke to the press alongside US President Barack Obama in Washington, Bob Woodward teamed with Greg Miller to release confirmation that Pakistan’s government has agreed to and collaborated in choosing targets for the US “secret” drone program inside Pakistan. Participation by Pakistan, and especially its military, has long been known by close observers and the regular insistence by Pakistan’s government that drone strikes are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty is viewed cynically as the government’s need to provide domestic political cover.

On first thought, the timing of this revelation seems to break the basic tenets of what Marcy describes as the Bob Woodward Law that applies to classified information being leaked to Woodward:

As explained by John Rizzo in the context of the Obama Administration’s leaks to Bob Woodward, they can and do insta-declassify stuff for their own political purposes all the time. They can do it to make the President look important; they can do it to lie us into an illegal war; they can do it to ruin the career of someone who might expose the earlier lies.

The timing of this leak seems to be aimed more at embarrassing Obama than making him look important. The description of the joint appearance by the New York Times is quite interesting if one assumes that Sharif and Obama were aware that the leak was about to be published:

But Mr. Sharif said after the meeting that he had asked Mr. Obama to halt American drone strikes in Pakistan, broaching an issue that has aggravated tensions. The president did not respond publicly, saying only that the two sides needed to find ways to fight terrorism “that respect Pakistan’s sovereignty, that respect the concerns of both countries.”

So Obama would not address the drone issue directly in his public remarks. But it seems that Sharif was not particularly enthusiastic in his obligatory public denouncement of drone strikes: Read more

Admiral McRaven: Taxpayers Should Learn about Special Operations from Hollywood Movies

Most of the coverage of Admiral William McRaven’s letter to the special operations community telling them to shut up has focused on McRaven’s insinuation that the recent flurry of activity stems entirely from a desire for personal or political gain. But I find McRaven’s comments about what forms of publicity about special ops are appropriate just as interesting (thanks to Josh Rogin for linking a copy).

McRaven notes the importance of books on special operations as a learning tool.

Few senior SOF officers have benefited more from reading about the exploits of our legendary heroes than I. My thesis at the Naval Postgraduate School was based on a rigorous examination of the available literature, without which I could never have written my book on “The Theory of Special Operations.”

Most of these books were wonderful accounts of courage, leadership, tough decision making, and martial skill all of which benefited me as I tried to understand of our past and how it could affect missions in the future.

And he suggests that movies “provide public insights into life in special operations … that can’t be garnered anywhere else.”

Movies that portray the heroics of service members are also well worth watching and often provide the public insights into life in special operations or the service that can’t be garnered anywhere else.

Personally, I was motivated to join special operations after watching the movie, “The Green Berets”, starring John Wayne. To this day my Army brethren still wonder where I went wrong…

Countless stories have been told through the medium of film that needed to be told and I am thankful that they were.

Now, I’m grateful that McRaven has criticized OPSEC’s attempt to politicize the Osama bin Laden raid (though it does suggest a double standard). But these comments are rather troubling.

First, note that McRaven’s thesis depends on at least two first person narratives of special ops soldiers–those of Otto Skorzeny and Jonathan Netanyahu (though Netanyahu’s consists of his letters published after his death). So McRaven’s citation of his thesis hardly discredits Matt Bissonnette’s decision to publish his own first person account of his SEAL exploits.

I’m even more troubled by McRaven’s suggestion that we should turn to Hollywood to learn of stories “that need[] to be told.”

One reason he may do so is to legitimize the Administration’s cooperation with the Zero Dark Thirty team. If the Commander of SOCOM suggests Hollywood is the proper venue for special ops stories, it serves to distinguish the Administration’s push for publicity for the Osama bin Laden raid from that of the SEALs. (Though since Bissonnette’s already  shopping his book, I expect McRaven’s position on movies may soon change.)

Of course, in doing so McRaven also suggests that fictional stories are all taxpayers should learn about these “stories that need to be told.” Not just fictional ones, either, but sensational ones. The better to inspire a future head of SOCOM to join the military, just like John Wayne did for McRaven!

Of course, that says taxpayers should only have a false understanding of the wars being fought in their names, which is a profoundly contemptuous view. I have no idea whether Bissonnette’s narrative will be accurate (the Pentagon has gotten a copy and is reading it now, so they may seize it before we get to see). But if it is accurate, why should a Hollywood movie be a more valid telling of the OBL story than the kind of firsthand account McRaven himself has relied upon?

Plus, by endorsing sensational Hollywood narratives, McRaven effectively endorses the kind of special ops hero that would, himself, seek publicity. You can’t have Hollywood serve as the legitimate venue for discussing special operations without feeding the system that would lead a SEAL to want to write his own book and sell the rights to Steven Spielberg. Hollywood created the market for such books; you can’t expect veterans not to feed it.

If the Commander of SOCOM believes the stories of special ops need to be told, then he should declassify them so they can be told in a format that is factual, sober, and complete. This endorsement of Hollywood flicks–while it may serve the Administration’s immediate interests–makes the Administration’s abuse of information asymmetry even worse. It defends not only the Administration getting exclusive control over how to the tell the stories, but suggests it should do so using fictional and sensational means.

The First Rule of the Fight Club…

I’ve been waiting to comment on the news that one of the SEALs that killed Osama bin Laden has a book coming out on September 11.

The publication will undoubtedly be yet another telling episode in our government’s asymmetric treatment of secrecy, but thus far it is too soon to say how. After all, when a SEAL wants to “correct the story,” does he plan to engage in a little JSOC score-settling (I heard rumors the Rangers and the SEALs had competing versions not long after the operation). Will he reveal details that change our understanding of Pakistani knowledge of the operation? Or will he significantly upend the myth Obama’s team has spun about it? All were–and probably still are–possible.

In any case, the book publication will present an interesting challenge for the Obama Administration, which has gone to great lengths to prevent or disincent publication of other books revealing secret information. Nevertheless, the completely arbitrary system for prepublication review seems to encourage people to bypass the system. (This SEAL has already planned to donate much of the proceeds of the book, following a lead set by Ishmael Jones, which takes away one of the tools the government might use against him.)

Finally, there’s the political problem Obama will have. It’ll be hard for the Administration to villainize this SEAL the way it has given others. After all, the SEAL played a key role in half of Obama’s re-election bumper sticker: “Osama bin Laden is dead, GM is alive.” Either he’s a hero for killing OBL, or he’s not, right?

It’s against that background that I read the exposure–first by a Fox News Pentagon reporter, citing “multiple sources,” and then by Craig Whitlock, citing “Pentagon sources”–of the SEAL’s real identity. Given that the Pentagon was sharing (or at least confirming) the SEAL’s identity to the WaPo, then this line from the SOCOM spokesperson is rather ominous.

And Col. Tim Nye, a Special Operations Command spokesman, said the author “put himself in danger” by writing the book.

“This individual came forward. He started the process. Read more