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Former special forces officers slam Obama over leaks on bin Laden killing

By Dugald McConnell and Brian Todd, CNN
August 17, 2012 -- Updated 1436 GMT (2236 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The ad also includes former Navy SEALs
  • Former military officers accuse Obama of disclosing successful secret operations
  • Group behind ad shares an office with two GOP political consulting firms in Virginia

(CNN) -- A web video featuring former special forces officers accuses President Barack Obama of taking too much credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden and allowing classified information about the raid to become public.

The ad also includes former Navy SEALs.

The organization behind the ad, the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund, has posted the 22-minute web video on its website. A spokeswoman says the group has raised about $1 million toward an advertising campaign in some key swing states.

Over a picture of Obama, the video's narrator says that the group's mission is to stop politicians from using sensitive intelligence about the bin Laden raid and other clandestine programs for political benefit.

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In a series of interviews, former military and intelligence officers accuse Obama of seeking political gain by disclosing successful secret operations.

Opinion: To fix leaks, fix culture of secrecy

"As a citizen, it is my civic duty to tell the president to stop leaking information to the enemy," says Benjamin Smith, identified in the video as a former Navy SEAL. "It will get Americans killed."

Another former Navy SEAL in the video, Scott Taylor, says of the bin Laden raid: "If you disclose how we got there, how we took down the building, what we did, how many people were there, that it's going to hinder future operations, and certainly hurt the success of those future operations."

Smith also criticizes the president for taking too much credit for the SEALs' raid.

"Mr. President, you did not kill Osama bin Laden. America did," he says. "We have become a political weapon. We are not."

Defense officials: Leaks didn't come from Pentagon

Smith said the ad campaign pays no heed to political affiliation, and the organization describes itself as nonpartisan and says its focus is on protecting intelligence agents and special operations officers, not on politics.

But it shares an office with two Republican political consulting firms in Alexandria, Virginia. Its spokesman Chad Kolton worked for the Bush administration as a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence.

Taylor has run for the Republican nomination for Congress in Virginia; Smith said he is a registered Republican but votes independently.

As to who is funding the attack, which was first reported by Reuters, a spokeswoman for the organization would not disclose its donors.

Darrell West of the Brookings Institution says it is too soon to say whether this campaign could become as successful as the 2004 "Swift Boat" advertising campaign, which mounted a barrage of negative attacks on John Kerry's standing as a Vietnam war hero.

Video: Obama calls leaks "offensive"

"Obama's strong suit actually is on national security. He's the guy who got bin Laden, and that's been a central claim of his campaign. So there's always a risk of the opposition coming in with this type of ad to try to undermine the president's credibility and take away what is really his strong suit," he said.

West said the video blames Obama for leaks without providing any evidence the leaks are his fault. But still, West said, "national security is a very sensitive issue for many people, that's an issue that swing voters take very seriously."

In recent campaign speeches, Obama has cited the killing of bin Laden as one of the campaign pledges he has fulfilled.

"I promised to go after al Qaeda and bin Laden, and we did it," he told an applauding audience Thursday.

The Obama campaign has even produced an ad called "One Chance" in which former President Bill Clinton praises Obama for ordering the secret raid to proceed.

Toobin: Obama's been "tough" on leakers

But Vice President Joe Biden made an effort to share the credit Tuesday as he was offering the crowd a list of the administration's accomplishments.

"The man here pointed out, 'we also got bin Laden,'" Biden said. "Let me correct that. The president of the United States and the special forces got bin Laden."

And the head of special operations, Admiral Bill McRaven, a former SEAL himself, recently told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that credit was due to the president.

"At the end of the day," he said, "make no mistake about it: it was the president of the United States that shouldered the burden for this operation, that made the hard decisions."

But like other top officials, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, McRaven was highly critical of the recent leaks about clandestine operations.

"Are lives at risk? Absolutely," he said.

The White House has denied leaking secret information about clandestine operations, and two federal prosecutors have been assigned to investigate recent leaks about the Stuxnet virus and drone strike operations.

But in a recent speech in Reno, Nevada, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney called the leaks "contemptible" and said they occurred on Obama's watch.

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