With the 9/11 attacks being the story of the last decade, the raid that resulted in the killing of OBL may be the big story of this decade.

Before SEAL Team Six (correctly known as {redacted}) inserted via classified stealth helicopters and killed HVT #1, the White House, the Pentagon, and the CIA had a single, agreed-upon narrative that would be sold to the public. This narrative would presumably help everyone take the most credit possible and would at the same time do the responsible thing in maintaining operational security. This meant that the military would be able to protect tactics, techniques, and procedures, while the CIA would protect the sources and methods.

After all, more than a decade after 9/11, American citizens did deserve some answers about the raid that finally brought down Public Enemy #1.

But then one of the stealth helicopters, probably a highly modified MH-60 Blackhawk, crash-landed inside the compound. With the agreed-upon cover story thrown into disarray, the White House panicked. This was the big story that would keep the president in office for another four years, and if the PR spin made them look bad, it could be curtains for the administration. And by the way, there is absolutely no question that whoever happened to be in the White House, regardless of party affiliation, would have leveraged this operation for political gain.

The White House began to leak sensitive information. Perhaps the culmination of these leaks was a pitifully bad article about the OBL raid in The New Yorker magazine, describing a childish facsimile of an actual military operation.

The author, Nicholas Schmidle, blows it in the first paragraph by giving the wrong name for the military working dog that was on the mission. While Schmidle certainly makes it seem like he was in contact with members of SEAL Team Six when he wrote the story, he later had to back-peddle and admit that he had in fact talked to the guy who talked to the guy. The story itself was written in a dramatic, sweeping narrative with great scenes that sounded like clichés straight out of a Jerry Bruckheimer production.

While many journalists scrambled to get the big scoop on the OBL raid, they became frustrated that The New Yorker landed the story first. What many didn’t understand was that The New Yorker was the White House’s trusted media outlet. Call it PR, call it propaganda, but this was the channel chosen to make the White House look good. SOFREP does not know where the leak originated, but the National Security Council and any connections they may have to The New Yorker would be a good place to start looking.

Information Operations, i.e. influencing and managing perceptions, can sometimes be the decisive point of modern military operations. The United States government understands this and even created cover stories within cover stories. Some of them probably appear in Schmidle’s story. What many are deriding as “leaks” are in fact covers put out by military and intelligence authorities in order to protect their sources and methods. The scenario that now emerges from a national security standpoint is that we have good authorized leaks to the media and bad self-serving leaks coming from people who harbor a political agenda.

As far as prosecutions for the illegitimate leaks go, good luck with that. The perception in the halls of government is that anything ordered by the White House is automatically legal, as if by some royal decree-but this is not the case. One way or the other, the president is not the fall guy for anybody, except perhaps in the most extreme circumstances.

These OPSEC violations have given rise to much debate as we head into the current election season. Political Action Committees (PACs) are producing videos to demonize the Obama administration. We would advise people to be highly skeptical about these types of campaigns. The White House has a political agenda, and so do groups like Special “OPSEC” Operations. What’s interesting about the OPSEC group is that many of the personalities featured in their video documentary are OPSEC violators themselves. (Note: What makes this doubly confusing is that while OPSEC is the official abbreviation for the term operational security, it is also the name of a specific PAC. They’re not the same thing.)

At least one member has been criticized by SEAL Team Six for appearing on the news and disclosing information about the OBL raid immediately after the mission. Another OPSEC member leaked information in the Valerie Plame affair, and another provided an interface between the Bush administration and the media. Others are closely associated with Christian right-wing politics. Shooting the messenger or engaging in ad hominem attacks does not invalidate their message, but such groups should also be taken with a grain of salt and seen in a wider context of national politics, especially in the run-up to the presidential election.

Today’s world is an information-dense, telecommunications-heavy global exchange that can only be described as a type of hyper-reality, straight out of science fiction.

Our world is filled with information, misinformation, and deliberate disinformation, all at the same time, and sometimes they even come from the very same source. It has never been easier to conduct research and become informed, but perhaps it has never been harder to distinguish between fact and fiction. SOFREP’s goal is to make this determination easier.

As the information interface, we are interested in providing a bridge for information to flow between the American public and the U.S. Special Operations community. While Spec Ops units have both counterintelligence agents who prevent leaks and public affairs officers (PAO) to engage with the media, Americans today are getting their information from other sources.

Officially sponsored outlets such as U.S. military websites are often incomplete and do not do justice to the units they represent.

SOFREP’s Greatest Hits #10: SEAL TEAM 6 Throws OPSEC to the Wind

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SOFREP is one such website that is filling the information gap, and as such, we are a big part of SOF having more of a presence in the public eye. Opinions will differ greatly on whether we do a good job at representing SOF while maintaining OPSEC (actual OPSEC, not the PAC!). However, if the public and most of our SOF brethren really understood how convoluted the situation was, we think most would agree that a website run by actual SOF veterans is a good thing.

The public is learning and engaging with their military Special Operations Forces on various websites and platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. A depressingly real story that continues to go largely unreported is how many of these media outlets are in actual fact fakes, frauds, and charlatans. At SOFREP we have encountered dozens upon dozens of so-called “stolen valor” cases where those who never served in the military claim service in Spec Ops units. Some of these people and organizations scam unsuspecting Americans out of their money. Others assume the identity of dead Rangers or SEALs in order to dupe women. We have also uncovered charity after charity organization running large-scale stolen-valor operations in which they insinuate themselves into veterans’ networks, befriend widows of fallen soldiers, and host major speaking engagements for a profit.

Adding to this labyrinth of unreality is the countless number of Facebook pages and profiles set up by random people who claim to be representing one cause or another for Spec Ops troops. There are memorial pages for fallen soldiers, charity sites, and false profiles – all run by people completely unaffiliated with the Spec Ops community. It is literally an archipelago of lies and deception with no end.

This is another reason why U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) needs to get a better handle on media engagement, its information operations directed at enemy forces, and why non-governmental, veteran-run websites like SOFREP will become more important in the future.

With leaks coming both from the White House and from within SEAL Team Six, the perception in the public and within the military is that the Navy’s most elite unit is now becoming worthless for covert operations. Maybe it is time for Admiral McRaven to be told to lock down his SEALs until they can be brought under control. There are plenty of SEALs who epitomize the quiet professional moniker. A few months ago, we would have said that the publicity surrounding the OBL raid is not SEAL Team Six’s fault, but this is no longer the case.

What appears apparent, although contradicted by the actions of many SEALs, is that the highly praised SEAL Team Six had the technical and tactical competency to execute difficult Spec Ops missions, but that they did not have the maturity to handle their own success. It is widely known that the team that executed the OBL operation was openly celebrating at an establishment called {redacted}, a local Virginia Beach bar. They were apparently reprimanded by Command soon afterward.

The desire for the tiniest crumb of information related to the historic OBL raid was to remain ever prevalent until something was coughed up. Even the name of the Belgian war dog was coveted. FYI, the true name of the Military Working Dog (MWD) on the operation is “Rhino,” not “Cairo,” as previously leaked.

One thing is certain, No Easy Day is sure to dish up a bellyful of information.

(Read Chapter 3, Who is ‘Mark Owen’?)