Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Special ops bravado hurts national security

This is probably the most important OP-ED written in decades about SOF.  It touches on many critically important points – recognizing the entire Intelligence Community-DOD team that got Bin Laden, the danger to national security from overexposure and overuse of SOF, the importance of both SOF surgical strike and special warfare capabilities, and the recognition that SOF should not (and cannot replace) the GPF.  The only people that should be offended by this are those with a big mouth who need to take a large cup of shut the "f" up (excuse my language).  

That is not to say that SOF cannot be properly written about from a national security academic and lessons learned perspective.  SOF can and should be correctly written about in the press because the American public has a right to know about and understand and properly honor all its military forces.  But the exposure of sensitive information in "I was there war stories" as well as exposure by those in positions of responsibility who know should know better needs to cease.  This Op-Ed should be hung on all SOF team room walls and the bulletin boards of policy makers and pundits alike.

Special ops bravado hurts national security
By Michele L. Malvesti and Nancy Walbridge Collins
updated 8:36 AM EDT, Wed May 1, 2013

Osama bin Laden was killed by a team of U.S. Navy SEALs in May 2011, at a compound near Abbottabad, Pakistan. Click through to see images of the compound where he spent the last days of his life.

  • Michele Malvesti, Nancy Walbridge Collins note anniversary of Bin Laden raid
  • They say day reminds us to reject culture that publicly details special ops missions
  • Books, movies on missions hurt national security, team morale, they say
  • Writers: Leaks about missions can distort view of how military power used, must be reined in
Editor's note: Michele L. Malvesti teaches national security issues at Yale University, where she is a senior fellow with the University's Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. Nancy Walbridge Collins teaches international affairs at Columbia University, where she is a research fellow with the University's Saltzman Institute of War & Peace Studies.

(CNN) -- Wednesday is the second anniversary of the Osama bin Laden raid.
The terrorist leader's death made the world safer, but the bombings in Boston on Patriots' Day are a cruel reminder that we will never prevent every act of terror. In the United States, we accept that risks coexist with our culture of freedom. Yet we also must act with greater responsibility in the face of ongoing threats.

We can begin by rejecting a culture that drives details of our nation's special operations missions out into the open, thereby weakening our national security.

The aftermath of the raid in Abbottabad is a powerful example of this problem. We have tolerated, and at times encouraged, a steady stream of marketing and promotion that glorifies the mission and its participants: "No Easy Day," an unauthorized, tell-all bestseller by a special operator; "Zero Dark Thirty," a blockbuster film based on insider accounts; and "The Shooter," an Esquire magazine profile that sparked a scramble for personal credit amid competing claims over who fatally shot bin Laden, and how and where.

We might think such visibility honors our nation's special operations forces -- expertly trained units that conduct clandestine, high-risk missions, often to combat terrorism -- but when these shadow warriors become public figures it produces unintended consequences.

First, the extensive attention creates backlash and division that ultimately detract from national readiness. Thousands contributed to the decade-long hunt for bin Laden, and future missions will demand similar support across military services and civilian agencies. Most public portrayals, however, romanticize one moment or individual while neglecting many others. This weakens the entire team's morale and leads to resentment, fair or unfair, that degrades the willingness of all to collaborate fully on the tasks at hand. Collective action is the cornerstone of success. Our countrycannot afford such internal discord.

Second, excessive public accolades contribute to the overuse and misuse of special operators. These forces have proven their ability to address a range of 21st century security threats, but they do not have unlimited capacity. Yet special operators are increasingly asked to take on more conventional missions better done by the military's general purpose forces or that divert them from maintaining readiness for missions they are uniquely qualified to conduct. Simply because they can do just about anything does not mean they should be called upon to do everything. We should respect the limits and specializations of these forces.

Who really killed bin Laden?

Bin Laden Raid - SEALs' Accounts

Third, most portrayals depict an exceptionally narrow and violent view of special operations that weakens our collective understanding of military power. Films and books brandish dramatic raids, such as rescuing hostages or killing terrorists. They overlook conflict-prevention activities our forces undertake every day, such as training the militaries of other nations to better provide for their own defense.
(Continued at the link below)


  1. I agree with her that excessive, careless advertising of SOF capabilities is harmful and wrong. Unfortunately, one of the biggest violators was the Obama administration telegraphing the OBL operation's TTPs in order to gain political favor in the run-up to the 2012 election.

    Concord, NC
    USA, Retired

  2. Vern disagrees with a decision made by the Commander in Chief. So noted.

  3. And I agree with Vern.

    USA, Retired

  4. I saw it start with the 'Ballad of the Green Berets', then the John Wayne movie. Too much publicity. The SEALs had a chance to keep up their shield of anonymity, but now they're even worse.

    Professionals will stay out of the limelight.


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