WASHINGTONÂ – In a direct attack on one of President Obama’s political strengths, a group of former special operations and C.I.A. officers started a campaign on Tuesday night accusing Mr. Obama of recklessly leaking information about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and other security matters to gain political advantage.
The new group, called the Special Operations Opsec Education Fund, using shorthand for “operational security,” describes itself as nonpartisan, but some of its leaders have been involved in Republican campaigns and Tea Party groups. A 22-minute video called “Dishonorable Disclosures” featured on its Web site appears to be aimed squarely at the president, echoing charges made previously by Mitt Romney and other Republicans.
The Obama campaign immediately compared the effort to the “Swift Boat” advertisements against Senator John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign. Like that effort, which attacked Mr. Kerry’s military record in Vietnam, the Opsec site goes after Mr. Obama’s strong points on national security – specifically his role in overseeing the military-Central Intelligence Agency raid that killed Bin Laden, the founder of Al Qaeda, in May 2011.
Security officials and members of both parties in Congress have sharply criticized leaks about classified operations under Mr. Obama, and some Republicans have complained about news briefings on the Bin Laden raid and assistance to filmmakers making a movie about the operation. But the administration has also overseen an unprecedented number of prosecutions for press disclosures, and in June, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. directed two United States attorneys to investigate leaks discussed in the Opsec video.
Chad Kolton, who was the spokesman for the director of national intelligence in the Bush administration and now represents the Opsec group, said that because it was classified as a 501(c)(4) educational group under tax laws, it was not required to identify its donors. He said the group had raised nearly $1 million since June and intended to run television and Internet ads, as well as show the video in swing states.
Mr. Kolton rejected the comparison with the Swift Boat advertisements, saying they reflected narrow differences of opinion about Mr. Kerry’s war record. He said the Opsec group had a broader purpose in speaking out against leaks and the politicization of the Navy SEALs and the C.I.A., and it hoped to keep working after the election. No one who was involved in the Swift Boat campaign is working with the Opsec group, he said.
Asked whether the group was not itself bringing the SEALs and C.I.A. into the presidential campaign, Mr. Kolton said that leaks were a bipartisan concern, noting that some Democrats, including Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, had complained vociferously about them and called for a criminal inquiry.
Of the video’s anti-Obama tone and content, Mr. Kolton said: “I realize you see a lot of criticism directed at the Obama administration. But that’s the current administration.” He said “several dozen” former military and intelligence officers were supporting the campaign.
The Opsec group shares an office suite in Alexandria, Va., with a Republican consulting firm, the Trailblazer Group. Christian Ferry, a partner in the firm, said that he had sublet space to Opsec because it included “people I know,” but that Trailblazer had no role in the project.
Among the featured former members of the elite Navy special operations teams are Benjamin Smith, whose Facebook page identifies him as a model and actor who served in Iraq and later became a spokesman for the Tea Party Express and several Republican campaigns. Another former SEAL member, Scott Taylor, is the group’s president and ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for Congress in Virginia in 2010.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Taylor acknowledged the Republican ties of some members but said, “As many or more are apolitical.”
“This issue is more than just politics,” he said. “Folks from this group, including me, have buried enough of our buddies.”
In an effort to portray Mr. Obama as a braggart taking credit for the accomplishments of special forces and intelligence operatives, the video omits some of his remarks in announcing Bin Laden’s killing. In that late-night televised address, Mr. Obama credited 10 years of “tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals,” but that is edited out.
In a CNN interview last month, Adm. William H. McRaven of the Navy, who oversaw the raid as commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, said, “The president and his national security team – I’m not a political guy, but I will tell you as, as an interested observer in this – they were magnificent in how they handled it start to finish.”
He added: “At the end of the day, make no mistake about it, it was the president of the United States that shouldered the burden for this operation, that made the hard decisions, that was instrumental in the planning process, because I pitched every plan to him.”
Asked about the Opsec group, Ben LaBolt, an Obama campaign spokesman, said: “The Republicans are resorting to Swift Boat tactics because when it comes to foreign policy and national security, Mitt Romney has offered nothing but reckless rhetoric. His two major foreign policy speeches never even mentioned Al Qaeda once, and he hasn’t outlined a plan for America’s relations with a single region of the world.”
Mr. LaBolt said Mr. Obama promised in 2008 to “end the war in Iraq in a responsible way and refocus on taking out Al Qaeda’s leaders, and few would question that he’s kept his word.”
Source: NBC News