HERNDON, Va., Aug. 28 (UPI) -- Few people really know what triggered the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Most believe it was the random discovery of the sites in aerial photographs taken by high-flying U-2 aircraft over Cuba.
But the U-2 flight was ordered after a "leak."
Two-and-a-half weeks before the flight, an undercover CIA agent overheard a conversation in a bar in Cuba involving Fidel Castro's personal pilot. He bragged the island nation would soon have nuclear weapons.
The agent's subsequent report of this to Washington prompted U.S. President John Kennedy to order the U-2 flight that revealed solid evidence as to what the Soviet Union was doing.
During World War II, the phrase "Loose lips sink ships" evolved within the U.S. military to remind those entrusted with classified information not to talk about it.
Obviously, Castro's pilot had never heard the expression. His loose lips would bring the world to the brink of nuclear war. Although the end result proved beneficial to U.S. national security interests, the Cuban pilot's lack of operational security -- opsec -- cost his country a nuclear weapons capability.
For as long as there have been military secrets to be kept, history is replete with examples of enemies eager to learn them. The United States has been victimized at times as there have been those guilty of failing to observe opsec, endangering the country's national security, either through lax security or a personal need to promote themselves as knowing what others do not.
But it is inexcusable when it is our own leaders, with access to all our national security secrets, who violate opsec for political gain, endangering our national security in the process.
This is the clarion call of a recent documentary entitled "Dishonorable Disclosures: How Leaks and Politics Threaten National Security." The film reveals concerns by retired military and intelligence professionals who have come together to emphasize the personal risks to our warriors involved in conducting classified operations and opportunities lost to use the intelligence those operations yielded as a direct result of leaks made by our own president -- leaks members of both political parties agree endanger our national security interests.
The documentary cites several examples:
-- Following the May 2011 raid by Navy SEALS to kill Osama bin Laden, U.S. President Barack Obama immediately went public with details on the raid rather than allowing the intelligence community time to evaluate documents captured at bin Laden's compound to extract maximum value from them. Obama's announcement immediately put other terrorists in a damage-control mode, causing them to change locations, cellphones, codes, plans, etc.
-- Raid details included information about a Pakistani doctor who assisted the United States, causing him to be tried for treason by Pakistan, for which he was sentenced to 33 years in prison. This will make recruiting locals for future operations much more difficult.
-- As if revealing these details to the general public was insufficient, the president personally briefed in greater detail an elite audience of Hollywood producers -- sharing information benefitting al-Qaida as well.
-- Sharing operational details with those having no need to know has compromised the ability of the United States to conduct similar operations in the future and endangered specific units involved in the raid -- as well as their families -- by revealing unit identities and tactics.
-- Concerning the Stuxnet malware used to disrupt Iranian equipment involved in that country's nuclear arms production program, Obama's admission the United States and Israel are responsible for developing it removes the need for Iran to go through the complex process of identifying Stuxnet's manufacturer. Now stripped of the ability to claim plausible deniability, the United States and Israel can expect to be targeted by similar malware attacks or other retaliation.
-- The revelation the president can authorize the assassination (death by drone) of terrorist leaders whose names appear on a "kill list" has put at additional risk those charged with maintaining and operating them overseas.
It is interesting to note that part of the reason it took so long to locate bin Laden was because of other instances of loose lips. He had been utilizing cellphones during the early days of the manhunt -- until he realized U.S. voice- recognition and tracking technologies were compromising his location.
Subsequently, as the manhunt continued, bin Laden released video messages recorded in outdoor locations. Once he learned the United States was using geologists to analyze the surrounding terrain to approximate where he might be hiding, bin Laden began deploying a blanket as a backdrop during video recordings to prevent such an analysis from being undertaken.
Learning as well that U.S. analysts listened carefully for background noises in audio and videotapes the terrorist released in hopes of gaining intelligence about location resulted in various noises being recorded into them to throw analysts off track.
The more information released by U.S. government representatives about the processes that were used in the manhunt for bin Laden or -- for that matter -- any classified operation, the better able terrorists are to avoid detection or counter such operations in the future.
It is senseless to give information to terrorists who can only benefit from what we tell them by needless public disclosures. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by a U.S. government employee with national security information doing so, other than to inflate his personal importance or political career.
The "Dishonorable Disclosures" documentary ends with solid advice a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer would give, if asked, to the Obama administration about its use of U.S. intelligence leaks that impact upon our national security, made for political gain.
Demanding Obama observe quiet time concerning all opsec but putting it in a straightforward vernacular only a Marine would dare do, his message to the president is to: "Shut the #@&$%@ up!"
(James. G. Zumwalt, a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer is author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will -- Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields" and "Living the Juche Lie -- North Korea's Kim Dynasty.")
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)