WASHINGTON — A group of retired special operations and CIA officers who claim President Barack Obama revealed secret missions and turned the killing of Osama bin Laden into a campaign centerpiece are coming under criticism from some of their own.
Some special operations officers say the activist veterans are breaking a sacred military creed: respect for the commander in chief.
“This is an unprofessional, shameful action on the part of the operators that appear in the video, period,” U.S. Army Special Forces Maj. Fernando Lujan wrote on his Facebook page, to a chorus of approval from colleagues.
A Green Beret who returned last year from Afghanistan, Lujan says that attaching the title of special operator with any political campaign is “in violation of everything we’ve been taught, and the opposite of what we should be doing, which is being quiet professionals.”
On its website, the group called Special Ops OPSEC, short for operational security, says that Obama has taken too much personal credit for the Navy SEAL raid that killed bin Laden and hasn’t recognized sufficiently the SEALs who actually carried out the raid. The group also claims that the Obama White House released classified details of the raid for the making of a Hollywood film, a claim that has not been proven.
“This is not to criticize the president personally, and the president himself,” the group’s founder, former Navy SEAL Scott Taylor, said in an interview Tuesday. “But at the same time, we feel he is ultimately responsible for cracking down on these leaks.”
Known officially as a Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund, the group is listed as a social welfare organization, which allows it to receive unlimited financial contributions without disclosing the donors. Its identified members have Republican ties.
The group is one of a handful of groups of special operations veterans formed in the past few months that criticize the president.
Special Ops OPSEC’s 20-minute video selectively edits the speech Obama delivered after the bin Laden raid, deleting the times he thanked the intelligence and military teams for the operation, and ending on reverberating repletion of his phrase “I directed.”
Taylor says the president’s use of the word “I” overshadowed his few lines thanking the team.
“Mr. President, you did not kill Osama bin Laden,” Navy SEAL Ben Smith says in the video. “The work that the American military has done killed bin Laden.”
The head of U.S. Special Operations Command sees it differently.
“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,” the leader of the raid, Adm. Bill McRaven, said at this summer’s Aspen Security Forum.
“I don’t take these folks too seriously,” President Barack Obama told the newspaper The Virginian-Pilot on Monday. “One of their members is a birther who denies I was born here, despite evidence to the contrary.” Special Ops OPSEC member ret. Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, who appears in the group’s film, has publicly questioned Obama’s birth in Hawaii.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., compared the group’s campaign to the “Swift Boat” attacks that questioned his service during the Vietnam War. Though later discredited, the claims were partially blamed for unseating his 2004 presidential campaign.
“I honor and appreciate the service of my fellow veterans, but a false attack is a false attack — no matter who’s making it,” Kerry said in a statement Monday.
Transcripts of interviews obtained by Judicial Watch showed minimal information was revealed to the Hollywood filmmakers, but Taylor believes that filmmakers should not have been given such access. He also believes that battlefield procedures may have been exposed as a result of briefings to the media.
A similar group, Special Operations for America, openly advocates “for the election of Mitt Romney and like-minded candidates.” Registered as a super PAC, the group is run by former Navy SEAL Ryan Zinke, a Montana state senator who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in the Republican primary.
“They have a good point. I wish there was better OPSEC (operational security), and fewer leaks,” said retired Navy SEAL Capt. Rick Woolard, who commanded several SEAL units. “But I would prefer that SEALs and other special operators would sit down and shut the hell up.”