WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Barack Obama’s re-election campaign on Wednesday accused Republicans of trying to “Swift Boat” the president, a reference to hardball smear tactics used to attack the war record of Democratic Senator John Kerry when he unsuccessfully challenged George W. Bush for the White House in 2004.
Reuters reported on Tuesday that a group of former U.S. intelligence and Special Forces operatives was preparing to launch a media campaign, including TV ads, that scolds Obama for taking credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden and accuses his administration of leaking U.S. secrets for political advantage.
The group, the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund Inc, unveiled a documentary-style video featuring interviews with former spies and U.S. military commandos on Wednesday.
The Obama campaign hit back.
“The Republicans are resorting to ‘Swift Boat’ tactics because when it comes to foreign policy and national security, Mitt Romney has offered nothing but reckless rhetoric,” said campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt.
Romney’s “two major foreign policy speeches never even mentioned al Qaeda once, and he hasn’t outlined a plan for America’s relations with a single region of the world,” LaBolt said. “In 2008, the president said he’d end the war in Iraq in a responsible way and refocus on taking out al Qaeda’s leaders, and few would question that he’s kept his word.”
The term “Swift Boat” refers to a discredited political smear campaign used to attack Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, in the 2004 presidential election. As a young U.S. Navy officer during the war, Kerry commanded a class of vessel called a “Swift Boat.”
The 22-minute video released on Wednesday by the group known as OPSEC - spy jargon for “operational security” - contains interviews with people identified as former U.S. military and intelligence operatives.
They accuse Obama of claiming undeserved credit for the May 2011 U.S. raid by Navy SEAL commandos which killed bin Laden, and castigate the administration for alleged news leaks.
“Mr. President, you did not kill Osama bin Laden, America did. The work that the American military has done killed Osama bin Laden. You did not,” Ben Smith, identified as a Navy SEAL, says in the film.
“As a citizen, it is my civic duty to tell the president to stop leaking information to the enemy,” Smith added. “It will get Americans killed.”
Leaders of OPSEC said it is nonpartisan and unconnected to any political party or presidential campaign. It is registered as a so-called social welfare group, which means its primary purpose is to further the common good and its political activities should be secondary.
However, the group was incorporated in June in Delaware, a state that has the most secretive corporate registration rules in the United States. It also set itself up as a nonprofit organization under section 501(c)4 of the U.S. Tax Code, allowing it to keep donors’ identities secret. Group spokesman declined to discuss its sources of financing.
The group’s president, Scott Taylor, is a former Navy SEAL who in 2010 ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for a congressional seat in Virginia. A spokesman for the group, Chad Kolton, served in the Bush administration as a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence.
A former CIA officer who appears in the OPSEC video, Fred Rustmann, has given interviews to conservative news outlets including the Newsmax website and Fox News.
Responding to LaBolt’s comments, Kolton, the OPSEC spokesman, said: “What the president and his administration haven’t kept is quiet about critical missions and intelligence and that has put our agents, Special Operations forces and the vital missions they carry out at risk. Protecting the men and women who volunteer to serve our country is far more important than politics.”
Spokespeople for the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney did not reply to a request for comment.
Editing by Warren Strobel and Christopher Wilson