The public rift between the Pentagon and the White House over the leaking of details surrounding the Navy SEAL raid of Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan compound intensified Wednesday, as senior defense officials warned of their worries about the safety of the highly secretive US military commando team.
“My concern is that there were too many people in too many places talking too much about this operation,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a briefing with Pentagon reporters. “And we had reached an agreement that we would not talk about operational details.”
This agreement was one he referred to during a town hall meeting at Camp Lejeune, N.C., last week. “Frankly, a week ago Sunday, in the Situation Room, we all agreed that we would not release any operational details from the effort to take out bin Laden,” Mr. Gates said.
“That lasted about 15 hours,” he told Pentagon reporters Wednesday.
These are leaks that make the US military’s job harder the next time they need to carry out a top-secret operation, defense officials say. “I’m very concerned about this, because we want to retain the capability to carry out these kinds of operations in the future,” Gates said. “When so much detail is available, it makes that both more difficult and riskier.”
US Navy SEAL team members have expressed concern to the Pentagon that sharing details with the American public about the bin Laden operation has put their families at risk.
In meetings with operatives in SEAL Team Six on the Thursday following bin Laden’s death, “They did express concern, not so much for themselves, but for their families,” Gates said.
He added that the Pentagon is currently looking into stepped up security measures for the SEALs and their families: “We have been taking a close look at that, and we will do whatever is necessary.”
In sharp words that could be seen as a rebuke to White House leakers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen warned, “We have gotten to the point where we are close to jeopardizing this precious capability that we have.”
The fight against terrorist extremists “isn’t over,” he said. “From my perspective, it’s time to stop talking.”