Soldiers from Bravo Company 1-505 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82d Airborne Division raid a suspected terrorist’s home on Oct. 25, 2003, in Fallujah, Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lee Davis) (Not Released)
On of the many false narratives that the media, the left, and NeverTrump (though, from the point of view of their desired political outcomes they are all clearly the same group now) have tried to hang on President Trump over an over is that he’s careless with classified information. If you’ve worked around the intelligence community at all you know that their default position it to classify the number of sheets of toilet paper in a roll if they can get away with it. Some of it is a reflexive impulse to safeguard information. Part of it is self preservation. When you f*** up as often as the intelligence community does it is best to classify everything. In fact, the CIA, in particular, has managed to turn John F. Kennedy’s statement from his November 1961 speech at CIA Headquarters–“Your successes are unheralded–your failures are trumpeted”–on its head. Their successes result in movies and book deals, the failures are laid at the feet of the current administration.
Saturday, America’s premier Special Operations unit, the US Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta aka Delta Force conducted an airmobile assault that resulted in the death of numerous ISIS combatants, including Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi, the titular head of the Islamic State. Naturally, this is a very, very bad thing because OrangeManBad, and so the next problem was articulating what killing al-Baghdadi was a very bad thing. This is the state of play right now.
Naturally, the old “careless with classified information” meme resurfaced in a Politico article titled How Trump gabbed too much about the ISIS raid.
President Donald Trump’s announcement of the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi revealed a slew of sensitive details about the secret military operation that could imperil future raids, special operations and intelligence, veterans fear.
Do f***ing tell?
Among the most striking were his descriptions of how the Army Delta Force was inserted into the heavily fortified compound, breached its walls to avoid booby-trapped doors and pursued the terrorist kingpin into a network of tunnels, where he detonated his suicide vest, killing himself and three children. But considered especially egregious were Trump’s remarks about the number and route of the commando’s helicopters.
“I always get a little bit nervous when people without knowledge of operations start describing operations,” said Michael Nagata, a retired Army lieutenant general who was the senior special operations commander in the Middle East during the early stages of the anti-ISIS campaign. “It’s a good story, and I can understand the impulse to tell a good story. Telling it can have positive benefits. But the benefits are unpredictable and marginal, whereas the harm could be more substantial.”
Taken together, some of the details Trump revealed could help terrorist groups piece together new information about how U.S. counterterrorism forces gather intelligence and execute such dangerous missions, said veterans of previous operations.
If you read the transcript of the press conference you see that this is just hogwash. The number of troops is limited to eight helicopters (what kind? Delta uses two primary models, the MH-47 and the MH-6, no break down is given of which type so the number of troops used in unknowable) and a dog. The route was 1:15 over Syrian airspace controlled by Russia.
More to the point, the force encountered ground fire on the way in (so it’s safe to say ISIS has an idea which direction they came from), and they probably have a pretty good count of the number and model of helicopters. In other words, the only people who would not know the information that President Trump is getting blamed for divulging would be people on our side.
Trump didn’t offer specifics about how the U.S. located Baghdadi. But he keyed in on the highly sensitive discipline of signals intelligence — or the remote monitoring of enemy communications — that struck several with deep experience as better left alone.
“These people are very smart, they’re not into cell phones anymore,” Trump said. “They’re not — they’re very technically brilliant. You know, they use the internet better than almost anybody in the world, perhaps other than Donald Trump. But they use the internet incredibly well.”
“Why mention it?” asked Nagata. “It could contribute to a reverse engineering of our intelligence methods by the adversary, and if there’s any possibility of that, why do it?”
There is nothing here that is not available in open source literature and ISIS knows they aren’t using cellphones, they know they’re using the internet, and they know that we know. Again, the only people being kept in the dark about this, if these people have their way, is you.
Trump also described the layout of the compound. “The tunnels were dead end for the most part,” he recounted. “There was one we think that wasn’t but we had that covered too,” he said, seemingly suggesting the U.S. mapped the tunnel network ahead of time.
“That’s a bit sensitive,” said a former special operations commander who also asked that he not be identified. “The enemy knows to some degree that we have technology that can detect that. But they don’t know how it’s done or how good we are at, and we don’t want them to.”
“This is something the president should not have said about the target development,” added Eric Robinson, a former Army officer who held positions in intelligence and special operations forces until last year. “It’s reckless. But it’s not as bad as hanging the satellite image of the Iranian space launch site two months ago. That was bad.”
This is just nonsense in all its details. There is no hint of how the tunnels were mapped. The article, itself, says the other guys know some of our techniques. And the Eric Robinson character is pushing a debunked story about the North Korean missile image that no person with any self respect should still be using.
Trump also specified the number of helicopters the commandos used — eight — and reported that, upon landing, the commandos “blew holes into the side of the building, not wanting to go through the main door because that was booby-trapped.”
So ISIS didn’t see the holes in the wall? How many years have we been fighting these guys?
Finally, when the helicopters carrying the commandos and their haul took off, they “took an identical route” back to friendly territory, Trump revealed.
That detail bothered the former military officials more than any of the others. “That’s the most worrisome,” said Nagata. “The force is vulnerable throughout the operation, but arrival and departure by helicopter are very dangerous. For me, the idea that anyone would talk publicly about how we did the most dangerous part of the operation — the risks far outweigh the storytelling value.”
Again, the assault force was extracted without casualties. They encountered ground fire on the way out, so the enemy has that bit of information. You try not to do missions the same way every time, and so route selection information here is pretty close to useless in anticipating the next mission route…which you couldn’t do without knowing the time and location of the mission.
There a couple of things at work here. As I said earlier, there is an impulse in the intelligence community to classify everything. For instance, A few days ago, back when I was a studly infantry company commander, my company did an airmobile assault into what was supposed to be a cold Landing Zone (LZ). We landed about 100 yards from A Company 3d Battalion, 5th Infantry, who were part of the Opposing Force (OPFOR) on this exercise as they were lining up for chow. I had been suspicious about the cold LZ call because we were landing fairly close the intersection of the only two paved roads in that part of Korea. Long story short, we were pursued for two days. I got my company back together when the exercise ended. Some days after we returned to the States, I encountered a close friend of mine who worked in the Division G-2 (intelligence) shop. He’d been Brigade S-2 (primary intelligence officer below Division level) while I’d been the deputy Brigade S-3 (operations) at the Officer’s Club.
“Carl,” I said, “that was quite an intelligence failure you guys pulled off.”
“What do you mean.”
“I mean giving us an LZ right in the middle of a f***ing rifle battalion at chow time. How’d you managed to miss them?”
“We knew they were there.”
“You knew and let us go in anyway?”
“Sure. Because if we told you, then you guys would have put your LZs away from the best area to land. That would have let them know that we knew they were there and that would compromise our sources and methods.”
My jaw still drops whenever I think about this.
The second part of this, is that Politico and its fellow travelers are trying desperately to turn a battlefield success into a political liability. There is zero information in President Trump’s press conference that divulges tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) at a level of detail that wasn’t already known to the enemy based upon us having fought them since 2003. Nothing. Moreover, everything President Trump told us about the mission, other than Baghdadi’s last fretful moments, is known to the survivors of the attack. This is simply a cheap attack trying to score political points.
BTW, if anyone from Politico reads this, tell John Bresnahan and Heather Caygle we’re Redstate.com, not Redstate.org. You freakin buffoons.