Keeping Your Lips SEALed

It’s not an easy thing to strike a balance between National Security and Transparency.  Living in a democratic society necessitates the population enter into a social contract where some freedoms are surrendered so that many protections can be afforded.  Generally, this contract refers to the administration of justice and the fact criminal penalties are enforced for certain behaviors.  However some other rights, such as the “right to know” are surrendered at times.

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In recent months, a couple of Navy SEALs have come forward to discuss information pertaining to the raid that took the life of Osama Bin Laden.  These revelations have not been authorized by the government and are most certainly in violation of non-disclosure agreements signed by the individuals who are releasing the information.  These events raise the question:  Are the disclosures acceptable because of the public’s right to know?  I argue the disclosures are unacceptable, illegal, and possibly immoral.

 

POTENTIAL DAMAGE

This argument is fairly obvious.  Anytime information is released regarding national security related tactics and procedures, there is a threat that adversaries will use that information to develop countermeasures.  Sometimes only a few details are all that are needed to reverse engineer and an operation or allow opponents to deduce what methods and equipment were utilized.

PUTTING A HUMAN FACE ON A UNIT IS NOT ALWAYS A GOOD THING

This is a gray area that is difficult to explain.  There may be times when it may be beneficial for a military or law enforcement organization to show that their employees are people with genuine emotions, hopes, and problems.  The U.S. military can use public relations programs for recruiting purposes and police departments can promote community policing programs that will help secure neighborhoods and build goodwill.

However, some specialized units and agencies that deter enemy action through some level of intimidation are less likely to benefit from public relations activities that demonstrate the humanity of their members.  This is the case with Special Forces units just as it was true in my former organization, the Secret Service.  Sometimes an element of mystery can manifest itself into an ominous feeling in the gut of an adversary, and that ominous feeling can result in dissuading violent action or at least in causing hesitation before an attack.  When a U.S. Navy SEAL pops up on FOX News to talk about a mission, that element of mystery is diminished and opponents no longer see an elite warrior.  They see some guy with a name giving an interview that shines a light on internal procedures and operational tactics.

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LESSONS FROM THE GREATEST GENERATION

My grandfather was a heavy machine-gunner in World War II.  Over time, I’ve be able to determine that he was active in campaigns in North Africa and Europe, but for the life of me I have no idea what he experienced.  He died many years ago and, like many WWII veterans, he never spoke of the war.  That generation accomplished amazing things and experienced horrors many of us will never fully comprehend, but they did their duty and few rushed to the media or sought individual credit for their actions.  Because of this, they have become known as The Greatest Generation and will continue to be celebrated as an example of sacrifice and bravery.   Perhaps one of the downsides to the silence by The Greatest Generation is that some of their lessons have not gotten through to some modern-day warriors.  In recent decades, some soldiers and law enforcement officials have helped define recent generations as the Attention-Seeking Generation.  Whether or not the people who defeated Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito were truly different or the temptations as self-promotion are more prevalent today, I’m not sure.

CODE OF THE SAMURAI

I own a cool little book I pick up from time to time.  It’s something like 128 pages, called CODE OF THE SAMURAI and in its pages one can read about Bushido – the JapaneseSamuraiWay of the Warrior.  The book details many Samurai warrior traits including:  Duty, Service, Education, and… Modesty.    These are terms many organizations use, but few have employed them like the Samurai did.  Those traits are the reasons that, for centuries, Samurai have represented the very best in military service.  As a unit, I have nothing but respect for the Navy SEALS, just as I respect our other military entities.  But, when it comes to having a resounding effect throughout time, it’s hard to top the Samurai.

 

To put things in perspective, some of the first mentions of the word “Samurai” appeared in the 10th century while the U.S. Navy SEALS have only been around since the early 1960’s.  Today we have weapons that can destroy targets across an ocean, but we are still writing books and making movies about the samurai.  That’s quite an echo throughout history.

 

 

It’s ironic that those who are the quietest seem to be heard for the longest amount of time.  The Samurai did it by creating a culture of honor and respect.  The Greatest Generation shaped the world with courageous actions and a quiet dignity.  Now our warriors are being tempted to reveal operational details and are being seduced by bright lights and book deals.  A few are probably thinking that conducting interviews and smiling for the camera will help them leave their own mark in history.  A vast majority of our soldiers and cops serve honorably and stand by their oath to keep secret information secret.  As far as military and law enforcement organizations go, they will continue to do their best to enforce non-disclosure agreements and to educate on the importance of confidentiality.  Maybe it’s up to the general public to reinforce the fact that we understand and accept the social contract and that we expect our protectors to protect information as well.

I for one will not buy any book or see any movie that financially benefits a person who broke their word by seeking the spotlight.  Only time will tell how recent generations of protectors will be remembered.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the modern-day warrior turned out to be a lot more Samurai and a lot less Sound bite?

 

What are your thoughts on the recent disclosures by two Navy SEALS?  Leave a comment!

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, and Measure Twice – which also involves running.  Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

RESOLVE was a finalist for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers organization and was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Suspense Magazine.

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8 thoughts on “Keeping Your Lips SEALed

  1. Mary C.

    Thank you for writing this post. It brings up some important points. First and foremost, why would any soldier put a target on his/her head and, more importantly, those of their families and friends? You are right – some information is not safe to be shared. The SEALs deserve the utmost respect for all they are capable of doing and all that they do, but should take a lesson from Special Forces soldiers (aka Green Berets), who pride themselves on being ‘the quiet professionals’. The mission is what counts. I believe your grandfather and his generation may have understood that and carried it with them throughout their lives.

    Reply
  2. Sara

    Totally agree with you, J.J. and all excellent points. I especially enjoyed how you brought up your grandfather and the Greatest Generation. I’m reading Unbroken right now and it’s such a stark difference between WWII and the society we live in now and while I wasn’t alive back then, I sometimes lament parts of the way our society has become. The Navy SEAL who is choosing to reveal his story comes off as money and glory hungry and would do much more service to himself just staying quiet. But those dollars and lights sure are tempting and it takes a special person to resist. I guess nobody can ever say what they would do in that situation, but I’m sure he was lured into telling it by the media and with promises of royalties and bonuses. If our media culture exists the way it does now, do you think those same members of the Greatest Generation who stayed silent would have been more tempted to talk? I don’t think the money was laid out for them the way it has been for this Navy SEAL. With all of our technological “advancements”, I feel like America and the world suffers a regression of modesty and that Samurai ideal becomes an even more distant memory, unlikely to become a part of modern culture. Thanks for your thoughts.

    Reply
    1. J.J. Hensley Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Sara. The book Unbroken is a wonderful example of a member of that generation going through unthinkable suffering and somehow emerging with a spirit most of us will never be able to possess. While I certainly understand the modern-day temptations, most of our protectors honor their professions by maintaining silence about critical operations. I hope the minority who do not realize what kind of potential damage can be caused by seeking attention.

      Reply
  3. Ramona DeFelice Long

    Very interesting, JJ, I am reminded of Machiavelli, and his attitude toward mercenaries–a soldier cannot have a loyal heart when motivated by money. (paraphrasing)
    The comment that sticks out to me is “some guy with a name” (and not just because you put it in italics). I recall from an old self defense course being told to personalize yourself to an attacker, if you can. Say your name, show yourself into a person, try to connect as one human being to another, as opposed to victim to attacker. If you can’t be a warrior, you can be a real person? Fortunately, I’ve never had to test it.

    Good post. I’m left thinking.

    Reply

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