Secrecy, the Legitimate Kind

Yesterday Secretary of Defense Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mullen appealed to the press and any others concerned, to stop discussing publicly the details of the mission to kill or capture* Osama Bin Laden.  Their reason for this appeal was that revelations of the capabilities and characteristics of the people and equipment used, had reduced the potential for future raids of the same kind employing the same or similar resources.

This strikes me as an entirely in the public interest and one of the cases in which classification and government secrecy are fully justified.  That members of the Seal Team are concerned for the safety of their families if their identities become known reinforces my sense that this secrecy is appropriate.  There will ( or should anyway) come a day when this information will be unclassified,  but this is not it.

This is a link to the Washington Post‘s coverage:

Of course I raised this matter to point to what appears to be a rampage of classification being employed by the government to hide legitimate secrets, wasteful management, outright corruption and pursue whistle blowers without addressing whether they meet the standard for whistle blowers set out laws.

In the category of illegitimately classified materials is a document from NSA that, at the time it was shared with a reporter was unclassified but is now classified and being used to against Tom Drake, whose story is covered at length in the New Yorker this week by Jane Mayer.  That is, they are retroactively classifying it.  I commend it to you.

Here is the link to the New Yorker coverage:

*  “Kill or capture” may have been the order.  I don’t know.  I am aware of the debate, both moral and pragmatic about whether Bin Laden should have been killed if he could have been captured and by using this designation do not mean to take sides but simply to describe what I understand is the standard for such missions, whether of local police or presidentially directed units, to get on with addressing the topic of legitimate and illegitimate uses of government secrecy.

What SEAL Team Six Could Teach the White House

I can’t understand the changing narrative of the Bin Laden event itself, even as I applaud the White House for correcting parts of it as quickly as it could.  It is as if they made no preparation for reporting this event, considered no strategies other than giving out information as fast as they could, had no awareness that an operation as complex as this, involving a team of people, will have to be a story pieced together from what each team member saw and did, as best those people can remember.  Every contingency the SEALs prepared for probably deserved a corresponding strategy for how it would be reported.

The solution to the chaotic narrative development is not to say, as the WH is reported to have done, that it will report no more details as, if they were appropriate prior to this time when they were inaccurate, they are surely more important as more and more of the story emerges.  At some future point they are probably going to want to release more facts.

SEAL Team Six, with some  CIA personnel, carried out this operation after months of rigorous training for it and mindful of some previous disasters when we’ve tried operations of this type.  They worked with a full-scale model of the compound, to the degree they had details necessary to construct one.  They planned to be successful killing or capturing a “high value target” thought likely to be Bin Laden.  I am also confident they had plans for other contingencies ranging from success to disaster.

The White House should take a lesson (maybe more than one)  from the SEALs.