Center for Strategic Communication

Does the voting public care about national security leaks? A group of special operations veterans opposed to President Obama hopes so.

A new political nonprofit, the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund, seeks to be the 2012 edition of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. (OPSEC is a military term meaning “operational security,” which in layman’s terms means “shut up about the mission.”) The ad it produced and circulated, embedded above, alleges that “Intelligence and Special Operations forces are furious and frustrated at how President Obama and those in positions of authority have exploited their service for political advantage,” owing to “countless leaks, interviews and decisions by the Obama administration and other government officials” that have “put future missions and personnel at risk.” The ad has racked up over 226,000 views on YouTube in a single day, and the group plans to air it in battleground states.

Leaks are not the most obvious subject for a political assault. For one thing, it’s often difficult to determine that a mission was compromised because of any particular leak. For another, everyone in Washington leaks national-security information: Ken Dilanian reports for the Los Angeles Times that the group itself includes members who have downplayed the impact of leaks during the Bush administration. And for a third, it’s an inside-the-Beltway subject that few voters consider significant.

The Obama campaign compared the ad to the “Swiftboat” ads that baselessly accused Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry of misrepresenting his Vietnam service and claimed it was a sign of desperation on the part of Obama’s opponents. But starting in the spring, unusual details began to appear in the media about the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden; about the process for killing suspected members of al-Qaida; and about the way in which allied intelligence services infiltrated the terrorist network. Although it’s not known who the leakers were, the common thread running through all of the narratives was that they made Obama look like a macho man, during an election year.

On the other hand, Obama makes a difficult target to attack on leaks. His administration has prosecuted more leakers than any previous one, a record that has incensed civil libertarians. The Justice Department is currently investigating the leaks that this latest political group — made up of self-described Republicans, including former candidates for office, Dilanian reports — attacks Obama over.

As well, Obama has embraced the special-operations community, placing the Joint Special Operations Command and other elite, stealthy organizations at the heart of his prosecution of the war on terrorism. That’s led to Obama seizing the political advantage on national security, something practically unheard of for a Democratic president; his Republican opponents, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, appear disinclined to challenge Obama on the issue. Will an ad about leaking degrade that advantage?