WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of former U.S. spies and commandos that launched a media campaign this week criticizing President Barack Obama’s national security record has extensive links to the Republican Party, public records indicate.
Records filed with federal and state authorities, and material posted on the Internet, show that key players in the campaign by the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund include individuals with current or former affiliations with national and local Republican Party organizations. These include the group’s treasurer, lawyer and TV producers.
Spokesmen for the fund, which uses the nickname OPSEC - spy jargon for “operational security” - have said that it is non-partisan and that its supporters include Republicans, Democrats and independents who are upset at how recent news leaks may have damaged U.S. national security.
In a 22-minute film which it released earlier this week, OPSEC presented soundbites from former U.S. intelligence and special operations personnel - some of whom have Republican or conservative links - who accused Obama of “leaking information to the enemy” and of taking undue credit for the May 2011 operation in which U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden.
The Obama campaign responded on Wednesday, accusing 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.
When OPSEC first announced its media campaign earlier this week, one of its representatives, Chad Kolton, who worked as a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence during George W. Bush’s presidency, insisted the group’s message was non-political.
“You’ll see throughout the film that concern about protecting the lives of intelligence and Special Forces officers takes precedence over partisanship,” Kolton said.
E. Mark Braden, a Washington lawyer who advises OPSEC, said the group included Democrats and independents. But the records and web postings show that key people involved in setting up OPSEC and working on its media campaign have current or past direct ties to the Republican Party or related groups.
Braden, the OPSEC legal advisor, confirmed in an interview that during the 1980s he worked as chief counsel for the Republican National Committee, the party’s central organization. He said that since leaving that job he has represented numerous Republican-related political causes, though he has also represented non-Republican clients.
One of the Republican-leaning organizations that Braden represented during the 2008 presidential election cycle, an obscure group called Majority America, listed as its president a Michael Smith of Alexandria, Virginia.
Smith, a Republican political consultant, also was involved in another Republican-related group called Making America’s Promise Secure that was involved in redistricting issues.
A spokesman for OPSEC confirmed that the same Michael Smith is the treasurer of OPSEC. Smith, through a spokesman, declined to comment.
Federal Election Commission filings show that one of the principal sources of finance for Smith’s Majority America group was a $250,000 donation from the late Carl Lindner, an Ohio businessman who backed numerous conservative causes - including the original 2004 “Swift Boat” campaign against John Kerry.
A Majority America website homepage copyrighted in 2010 says the group is a “non-partisan, non profit” group set up to “serve as a counter-weight to radical left wing message organizations, such as MoveOn.org”.
OPSEC has registered as a non-profit “social welfare” group, under section 501(c)4 of the U.S. tax code, a provision that allows it to keep its donors secret.
Braden said he was unaware that Lindner had financed the 2008 group in which he and Smith were involved. He declined to disclose information about OPSEC’s finances.
There are other links between OPSEC and individuals or entities involved with the Republican Party.
Greener and Hook, a “strategic communications” firm in Arlington, Virginia, says on its Internet home page that its services include TV production. It lists among its productions OPSEC’s main video, entitled “Dishonorable Disclosure”, as well as a 30-second trailer for the film and another teaser for it.
Among more than two dozen entities and individuals listed by Greener and Hook as “political clients” are the Republican National Committee, the 2012 Republican National Convention, the Republican Governor’s Association, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Federation of Republican Women. Representatives of Greener and Hook did not respond to a detailed voice mail requesting comment.
OPSEC rents an office in Alexandria, Virginia from a political consulting firm with Republican ties named The Trailblazer Group. Both OPSEC and Trailblazer said they have no relationship beyond sharing premises.
OPSEC spokesman Chad Kolton said that Dave King, a former special forces soldier who appears in OPSEC’s film, is a political independent and that Gabriel Gomez, a former Navy SEAL who is “doing media” for the group, was an Obama donor in 2008.
Gomez said on Friday that he had given money to Obama’s campaign in 2008 but that he has supported both Democratic and Republican politicians at the local level. He said he had become involved with OPSEC because the jobs of undercover or commando operatives have been “made harder by these leaks.”
Gomez said details of secret operations “don’t need to be out in public” and that there had “just been a spike in leaks so that it finally reached a tipping point.”
Kolton said the involvement of Republicans in OPSEC, alongside other politically independent veterans, was not in dispute.
But he added that, “No one can also dispute that Democrats like Dianne Feinstein and respected military leaders like Admiral McRaven have said there are more leaks than ever before under this Administration and that these leaks put American lives at risk.” Admiral William McRaven, who now heads the U.S. Special Operations Command, oversaw the bin Laden raid.
“The Obama campaign’s response hasn’t said a single word to acknowledge the problem of leaks or the risk they carry,” Kolton said.
U.S. officials point out that the Obama administration has “aggressively” prosecuted alleged national security leakers and that some of the reporters who wrote stories containing alleged leaks have said they did not originate with the White House.
Editing by Warren Strobel and Anthony Boadle