Navy SEALs are disciplined, tactical and menacing warriors within the U.S. Special Forces community. They are often at the tip of the spear, operating in the shadows and conducting dangerous missions worldwide, and they have achieved much success: from hostage rescues, to ship and oil rig assaults, to perhaps the most publicized and well-known of them all--the death of Usama bin Laden.
The mission that led to bin Laden’s death is back in the spotlight now that one of the SEALs involved in the operation has identified himself as the shooter.
Much of the attention is sourced to criticism of the shooter on the basis that this revelation violates the SEAL code and the sacred trust forged among operators. FOX News and other media outlets have also faced some criticism for reporting individual accounts from members of the elite SEAL team that killed bin Laden.
This criticism is misdirected.
SEALs have a right to address this issue amongst each other. That is a right that comes with wearing the Trident—the famed and hard-earned insignia worn by SEALs. For the Obama administration and the Defense Department in particular, there is no ground solid enough to support the condemnation and warnings directed at the shooter or any other SEAL involved in the bin Laden mission.
To think these SEALs were first to divulge unknown or protected information is a mistake. Was it the SEALS that strategically leaked details of the mission or claimed credit for killing bin Laden? No—it was not the SEALs. It was White House aides that began leaking mission details.
Just days after the operation, the New York Times published a graphic of bin Laden’s compound and depicted the order of events—including SEAL movements. Another report from the New York Times that same month referenced “a dozen White House, intelligence and Pentagon officials” who described the operation.
None of the leaks were sourced to the SEALs themselves.
Not everyone was pleased about the publicity. That included Robert Gates, who was serving as Secretary of Defense at the time. Gates was rightfully irked by the leaks and made a recommendation to Tom Donilon, then-President Obama’s national security adviser, suggesting that everyone “shut the f--- up.”
Gates was ignored, obviously.
Not long after the bin Laden raid, a Hollywood movie was in the works and the director and film crew were given unprecedented access to ensure the most accurate portrayal was provided.
This all points toward a troubling pattern with the administration: do as we say, not as we do. The rightful recipient of individual frustration is the administration itself, for its inability to keep quiet.
The story behind bin Laden’s death is no doubt spectacular and will continue to be told, but different expectations can no longer be imposed on the shooter and other former SEALs who tell their version of events.
Under normal circumstances, if information was not disseminated publicly, criticism of the SEALs in this case would be justified. Also, if at any point, classified information is released or secrets on tactics and technology are revealed, no reasonable defense can exist. However, at least right now, the latest first-hand account of bin Laden’s death has neither revealed information not already publicized by the administration nor has it given America’s enemies greater insight. What it does is remind us that behind every rifle sight is an American who is proud to serve his nation and willing to do the unthinkable.
This latest personal account from a now former SEAL is a continuation of the storyline already been told through the media, documentaries and a movie. Though the shooter, as does any SEAL or special operator, must take extreme care not to expose operational details that could in anyway undermine future operations.
There is real intrigue in the heart-pounding play-by-play from someone who was actually there, whose body and mind were invested in the operation. On that aspect alone, there’s extraordinary interest in his experience.
The most important question to ask is whether it’s wise for government officials to release classified mission details at all.
The answer is no.
The administration, among all entities, should lead by example on this front and not create double standards, as they have.
The shooter and his teammates are all heroes for what they did. That is how they deserve to be recognized.
Even so, it was a mistake for the administration to release so many mission details. This should be the real lesson-learned and more appropriately the focus of aggravation. And if ever a similar situation is presented, there is no better advice for bureaucrats to follow than what has already been given by Secretary Gates: shut up.
Republican Duncan Hunter represents California's 52nd congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Hunter is a Marine Corp combat veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He is the first Marine Corp combat veteran of these wars to serve in Congress.
Pete Hegseth is the former CEO of Concerned Veterans for America and the former executive director of Vets for Freedom. A Fox News contributor, he is an infantry officer in the Army National Guard and has served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. He is the author of “In the Arena” and serves on the Advisory Board for United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI).