By Jennifer Griffin, ,
Published January 12, 2017
The United States' top military official criticized a group of former military and intelligence operatives for its aggressive campaign against President Obama, telling Fox News that he is "disappointed" by such political activity, which he called "not useful."
The group of former CIA agents, Navy SEALs and other military members recently released a long-form political ad blasting Obama for security leaks on his watch, as well as suggesting he has taken too much credit for the SEALs raid in Pakistan that killed Usama bin Laden.
“If someone uses the uniform, whatever uniform, for partisan politics, I am disappointed because I think it does erode that bond of trust we have with the American people,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said in an interview with Fox News while flying back from a trip to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Dempsey is the most senior military officer to publicly condemn the group, which calls itself Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund, which some opponents have compared to the "Swift Boat" group that attacked John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race.
“Is their criticism valid? I won’t comment on that,” Dempsey said onboard a C17 military aircraft en route back from the Middle East. “Is it useful? No, it’s not useful. It’s not useful to me.”
Dempsey said as the steward of his profession -- the military -- he thinks it imperative that the military remain “apolitical.”
“That’s how we remain our bond of trust with the American people,” Dempsey said. “People don’t want us to be another special interest group. They don’t want that. In fact I think it confuses them.”
But Scott Taylor, one of the former Navy SEALs behind the campaign, responded to Dempsey's comments in an interview Tuesday night with Fox News' Greta van Susteren, saying that they consciously excluded active-duty military because of restrictions on such political activity. This group, however, intends to speak out.
"We have our First Amendment rights," Taylor said. "We fought for them, and we're going to continue to do so."
OPSEC unveiled its 22-minute video on its website last week and pledged to go on air with a TV ad sometime in September.
In the video, an array of retired CIA agents and other intelligence personnel suggest the administration has been leaking security details for political gain, and specifically criticize the president over his public handling of the bin Laden raid.
"Mr. President, you did not kill Usama bin Laden. America did," Navy SEAL Ben Smith said in the video. "The work that the American military has done killed Usama bin Laden. You did not."
The Web video showed clips of Obama's press conference in early May on the Pakistan raid, highlighting his comments about directing the mission. The video left out the rest of the remarks in which Obama thanked the "countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals" involved.
The Obama campaign, though, dismissed the video as akin to the 2004 "Swift Boat" ads.
"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," Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said.
The group seems to be most focused on the controversy over security leaks. Those leaks are currently under investigation by Justice Department attorneys.
The narrator in the video says former military and intelligence operatives who understand the importance of operational security "have had enough."
"Their mission -- stop the politicians from politically capitalizing on U.S. national security operations and secrets," the narrator says, as a picture of Obama flashes on screen.
Obama has condemned the leaks. He said in June that the issue is "a source of consistent frustration" for his and prior administrations.