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.
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.
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.
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 JapaneseWay 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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