Secrets and Open Secrets

It has amused me for years, how ordinary civilians, media figures and scriptwriters for movies and TV shows can believe so strongly that the military is one big monolithic secret-keeping machine; something which happens on a base, post, or on the front lines will never, ever see the light of day in the larger world and that the military commands can keep something quiet for years or decades. If it is something tippy-top secret, and known to only a few – well, yes, in that case. But quite often something – a program, a wild idea, a mission—remains unknown largely on account of lack of interest on the part of the larger world or the establishment news media organs. The military is actually far from being the big monolithic secret-keeping machine, once you get away from the deliberately highly-classified, ultra-secret-squirrel stuff.

During George Bush’s second term, the reporter Seymour Hersh was given to go around giving lectures to anti-war audience claiming that all kinds of horrible massacres were being perpetrated by American troops; massively violent stuff on the order of My Lai in the Middle East, involving scores of victims and whole companies of U.S. Army and Marine troops. Bodies stacked up by the bale, according to Mr. Hersh, who was at least careful enough not to commit these incredible tales to print. Mr. Hersh, I think, has the monolithic military secret-keeping meme on the brain. The atrocities which he was alleging to have happened among front-line troops in Iraq just could not have happened, not without a lot of personnel inside of the military family knowing. The truth is that the possibility of keeping something out of general knowledge in the military world expands geometrically with the number of people involved, directly or peripherally. And nothing much happens in the military world stays secret for long; yes, the knowledge of certain matters may not seep out into the ken of the greater public and the news establishment professionals – but that’s because military members are routinely briefed about OPSEC (operations security) and they don’t spill to outsiders, much. Something that may be common knowledge to those inside the family, as it were, may go for years without attracting undue attention or interest on the part of those outside of it.

Mr. Hersh and other fantasists might well have had an easier job in peddling incredible stories of military malfeasance in pre-internet days; it would take months and years for allegations to make the rounds and for those inside the military family to even become aware of them and respond – and then, of course, it was already over. History had been engraved in stone, as it were; set there by being repeated over and over. Any debunking was too late and too little. But the internet and a generation or two of tech-savvy and social media troops have tightened the OODA loop considerably. It took a good few decades for many of the established memes regarding Vietnam veterans – sullen draftees, drug-abusing, unstable, baby-killing losers – to be debunked by researchers like B. G. Burkett, and even now that meme refuses, zombie-like to lay down and die. It twitches now and again, over the last ten years or so, but refreshingly, military members and veterans today are instantly aware and more than willing to swing into social media action to debunk sensational accusations and to unmask fraudulent veterans – or even to speak out when there is a controversy such as Bowe Bergdahl’s status as a POW or as a deserter. Which brings me around to the thing about secrets. Among the milblogs like Blackfive there was no secret about there being something hinky regarding the circumstances of his disappearance from his duty station in Afghanistan. It wasn’t a big thing, but it came up now and again; one of those open secrets among the milblog family and commenters. Very likely, everyone that he served with and under knew that he was a flakey, unmotivated soldier, and after he went under the wire, a deserter as well. But it was one of those open secrets – which, because the Obama administration didn’t care to look before they leaped into a deal, a distraction and a show and tell in the Rose Garden, has now come back to bite – heavily.

Couldn’t happen to nicer people, I would say; except that whatever does happen next, in the wake of freeing five upper-level operators from Guantanamo, will very likely not land on the Obama administration or its high-level flunkies. Most likely, it will land on the rest of us, starting with those in the uniformed services.

21 thoughts on “Secrets and Open Secrets”

  1. I wonder if John Kerry would have had a political carreer if our Internet safeguards had been in place back in the 70s.

    As to Bergdahl I remember reading about it when he disappeared.

    Good article in the wsj on why Obama was blindsided on Berdahl – if you don’t want to read the entire thing it is summarized at the end:

    “The left’s blinkered view of military culture is perhaps best summarized by Elias Isquith, a young writer for, who yesterday explained the backlash against the Bergdahl deal as follows: “When a member of the military fails to adhere to the far right’s rigid formula of what a soldier should be (nationalistic, religious, obedient; conservative) right-wingers . . . come down on them [sic] like a ton of bricks.” He cited one example in addition to Bergdahl: John Kerry.

    Isquith seems to imply that servicemen are fungible, each entitled to equal respect regardless of conduct. But the bitter criticism of Kerry in 2004 and Bergdahl today would carry no force if it came from mere “right-wingers.” It comes, instead, from servicemen and veterans who see the two men as having behaved dishonorably. Once again the left is being undone by its failure to comprehend the centrality of honor to military culture.

  2. It’s odd. Since the Second World War the USA has lost, or at best tied, every war it’s fought, bar the first Gulf war. (I’m ignoring mere skirmishes such as Grenada, and the bombing of Serbia.)

    And yet the important one, the war it didn’t “fight”, it won – the Cold War. And no, I don’t subscribe to the lazy view that the victory was entirely due to internal Soviet decay, as if the pressure from outside played no part in that decay. And yes, I acknowledge allies such as the Polish Pope, Mrs T, sundry Czech and Polish heroes, and so on, but still virtually all the credit must go to the USA.

    On matters of foreign and military policy, what lessons should be drawn from this stark contrast?

  3. I know I sound like a broken record, but I am flummoxed at the lack of research that the Obama administration does on…anything. All it would have taken would have been a couple of staffers and a tiny bit of Google-fu and they would have seen that this wasn’t going to be all it was cracked up to be with Bergdahl. But no – instead they are surprised once again and beaten to a pulp after the fact (and I am sure that there is more to come). Ever since this administration took power I have wondered to myself if they are just lazy, don’t care, or some sort of combination of both. Maybe as long as they are brown nosing with Captain Zero everything is OK. I just don’t get it.

  4. ” Ever since this administration took power I have wondered to myself if they are just lazy, don’t care, or some sort of combination of both.”

    It is run by a bunch of 25 year old lefties who have Harvard, or equivalent, degrees and know nothing. Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National SEcurity Advisor, has a agree in “Fiction Writing.” He was also the expert who coordinated the Beghazi story . I still wonder what happened to the Protocol Office. The early blunders have been followed by more.

  5. “It’s odd. Since the Second World War the USA has lost, or at best tied, every war it’s fought, bar the first Gulf war. (I’m ignoring mere skirmishes such as Grenada, and the bombing of Serbia.)

    And yet the important one, the war it didn’t “fight”, it won – the Cold War.”

    There are probably a lot of ways to look at it, but you can take the narrow view and say there are two ways to fight:

    formulaic, deliberate, and decisive approach


    a round about approach

    If you’re in a position of a stalemate or equilibrium like the Cold War, then a step by step scientific method may be the best way to go. The kind of top down, big operation decisions that we excel at will have maximum effect to shift momentum one way or the other.

    On the other hand, if you cede the initiative to your opponent and let them dictate the terms of engagement, then straight up the gut isn’t going to be that effective. Maneuver would seem be the better choice.

    The important lesson to learn, I suppose, is that the USA best engages in situations where it can use its mass as a blunt instrument. As much as I’d like to think we could dance around with variations on a theme, the American way of war is one of immediacy and clarity. We should just stick with those situations where that does the best good.

  6. “you can take the narrow view and say there are two ways to fight:”

    There is an obvious way to deal with Russia. Encourage fracking, build Keystone XL, build LPG terminals to ship LPG to Europe, restore the US economy which is slowly reviving in spite of Obama and the Democrats. We could again be the powerful economy we were 50 years ago.

    The problem is that one political party is in the hands of a wealthy elite who do not believe they need to pay attention to basic economics. They are obsessed with social and transitory issues like gay marriage, LGBTQ issues, creationism, global warming, and other matters of style and self absorption. They don’t care about the poor, except as voters who can be fooled easily. The school system, which is destroying today’s black generation, is a matter of sympathy and self praise for phony concerns about “healthy” school lunches.

    The other political party is far too dependent on big donors, like Bloomberg who says “Who will maintain golf courses ?” if illegal immigration is stopped. The Wall Street Journal is trying to explain Cantor today. It’s kind of amusing.

    We won the Cold War by being economically stronger than the Soviet Union. Socialism ends up like Venezuela.

  7. Oh, about Liddell Hart and the “indirect approach.” He has written a very good biography of General Sherman who he (and I) consider the first modern general. Sherman avoided frontal attacks and really invented maneuver war, at least since the invention of the rifle. He out maneuvered Joe Johnston repeatedly and only fought one frontal attack. Johnston was finally relieved by Davis who replaced him with Hood. Hood was impetuous and destroyed his army against Thomas who was excellent at defense. Johnston was reinstated but the war was almost over and he could do nothing. After the war, he said Sherman’s army was so great, “There has been no such army since Julius Caesar.” Johnston was a pallbearer at Sherman;s funeral.

    The “indirect approach” doesn’t work when misapplied, as in Vietnam. Korea was unavoidable but the other small wars were fairly successful except the failures. We never heard of the successful ones.

  8. “it can use its mass as a blunt instrument”: you aren’t persuaded by talk about counter-insurgency and so on?

    Anyway, thinking about why I typed up my comment, I suppose the reason was this. The people who won the Cold War by keeping calm, building nuclear submarines, and pressurising the USSR, behaved with honour towards their servicemen; those who launched doomed wars – especially JFK/LBJ in Vietnam, and W in Iraq and Afghanistan – with dishonour. Needlessly lengthening a doomed war is also an act of dishonour, so we can add O to that list. If you think Nixon needlessly lengthened Vietnam, you could add him too. The men who came out best, it seems to me, are three old-fashioned Republicans: Ike, Reagan, and Bush the Elder. They seem like an extinct species.

  9. @Grurray: thank you for that first reference; he has an engagingly dry style. “the U.S. … Army’s optimistic approach to combat operations. The Army, especially in its recent history, holds full expectations of winning its battles. … this sanguine approach to war. Clausewitz however warned against the dangers of the inherent uncontrollability of war.”

    Winning its battles, I note, not winning its wars.

  10. “There is an obvious way to deal with Russia. Encourage fracking”

    Fracking is also the best way to increase the minimum wage:

    Speaking of counterinsurgency, I was reading Col Ralph Peters earlier in the week, and he mentioned that Petraeus told him that, even though everyone knew Bergdahl was a deserter who collaborated with the enemy, the Army choose to keep it under wraps to shield his family.
    It’s plausible that being kept in the dark or even misled could have contributed to the old man going off the deep end and turning Full-Metal-Pashto. It think we’ve seen more than enough of General Pop-COIN’s good intentions.

  11. “and W in Iraq and Afghanistan – with dishonor.”

    This is a cliche about Iraq and, especially Afghanistan. After 9/11, Bush had to do something. Most obvious and done first was invade Afghanistan to punish the Taliban for supporting bin Laden and his camps. That was pretty obvious and you seem disingenuous to suggest it wasn’t.

    I was not in favor of the attempt to bring Afghanistan into the 20th century, let alone the 21st. That was folly but Bush was criticized for letting that campaign remain mostly a special forces war. It was Obama who called it “The good war” and poured in troops with ridiculous rules of engagement.

    Iraq was more of a choice but I supported it for two reasons. Saddam was defying us with the sanctions. He was shooting at planes enforcing the No Fly Zone and would eventual shoot one down. We had two choices there. To withdraw from Saudi, which was necessary because of the cultural incompatibility that led us to later move the commend center to Qatar, no friend by the way. A withdrawal from Saudi when Saddam was still in power would have looked like a retreat and that would be harmful to our interests.

    The other reason was that Saddam was more involved with terror financing than has been acknowledged. He wasn’t part of 9/11 but he was, in the words of “Spengler,” a hotel with some guests being terrorists. That was his description of middle eastern countries. A big part of our problem with Saddam was the action of Schwartzkopf who signed a truce with Iraq with no input from the State Department. He was bamboozled into letting them keep helicopters that they used to massacre Shia. That was Gulf War I and it was a huge mistake, bigger than Powell’s mistake of ending the war too soon.

    Also Iraq looked like the best opportunity to build a modern Arab state after Saddam had seemingly secularized it. That was wrong and the US State Department completely missed the tribal nature of all Arab society. Jay Garner did a pretty good job with the Kurds but Bremer wrecked what chance there was with his imperial delusions. I think Rumsfald and Franks wanted to crush Saddam and leave, turning the country over the the exiles. That would have been no worse than what we have and there would be 4000 more American soldiers alive.

    I don’t believe that Democrat’s nonsense about “lies”. Clinton was president when the US policy became “regime change” for Saddam. We suspect Clinton was lying but that is what Democrats do about things like gay marriage. Why not war ?

  12. “a hotel with some guests being terrorists”

    Yes. It didn’t take long at all for Baathist irregulars to start a guerrilla campaign and invite Jihad Joes from all over into the party.
    Now we see today that the Sunni region of Iraq is still a magnet for extremists. There’s no way they poured in then or now without close ties maintained at some level long before the war.

    With or without us, the Middle East is reverting back to its old ways, like they took a century or so vacation from history.
    The common trope is that Gulf War II made terrorism in Mesopotamia worse, but without it, how long do you think before Al Qaeda & Saddam’s Fadayeen make some kind of deal, especially with Saddam’s crazy sons in charge of it?

    In 2006, with American soldiers on the ground, Sunnis joined us instead of them.
    Eight years later, now that we see the ISIS cutting through northern Iraq like crap through a goose, the answer is pretty obvious.

  13. We won in Iraq and then Obama lost it. The first time in history a victor surrendered after winning.

  14. Someone talk me down from the crazy tree, because I’m wondering just why I shouldn’t simply conclude Obama is just a flat out traitor.

    Let me recap his actions re the religion of peace(tm) and the region of the world it presently infects.

    He left the Iranian opposition twisting in the wind just after he took office, while massive riots were rocking that entire country, at a time when mere words from the President of the United States may have been enough to cause the overthrow of the regime.

    He reportedly retasked NASA to be a muslim self-esteem agency.

    He turned against longtime US ally Hosni Mubarak, encouraging the fascist muslim brotherhood, sticking with them even after millions took to the street against them, and even after the Egyptian army booted them out.

    He overthrew the non-islamist government of Libya by armed force, despite that government having given the United States no cause for war for many years, and after it cooperated fully with our wishes.

    He armed Al-Qaeda in Syria, and lately it has been charged that he ignored pro-US rebels while doing so.

    He reportedly was unwilling to kill Osama bin Laden, delaying the mission repeatedly, until Leon Panetta threatened to leak to the press his unwillingness.

    Lastly, he traded a deserter for five high-ranking taliban terrorists, breaking the law to do so, and also apparently planning it as the beginning of a scheme to empty gitmo.

    I recall reading that the whole Benghazi fiasco was a result of a plan to allow islamists to capture many American hostages, so Obama would have an excuse to release the infamous blind sheik, in prison for the first World Trade Center bombing.

    I always thought that last a little to far out to be credible. But after the Bergdahl exchange I’m not so sure.

    And I haven’t even mentioned the abandonment of Iraq.

  15. Is it always simple to distinguish a dud from a traitor? Would you argue that Slick Willie’s dereliction of duty in failing to pursue al-Q during his time in office makes him a traitor?

  16. Is it always simple to distinguish a dud from a traitor? Would you argue that Slick Willie’s dereliction of duty in failing to pursue al-Q during his time in office makes him a traitor?

    Now that you bring it up, sure.

    Why I am supposed to ignore that sort of thing, pretend it means nothing nothing at all, while the left SHRIEKS!!!! endlessly that conservatives are traitors, bigots, etc, etc, insert slur here, because they don’t go along with the latest leftist demand of the day?

    Plus, I’d add that Clinton was a traitor as well as a criminal because he took unknown millions of dollars from the Chinese government for his re-election campaign, and subsequently enacted policies that benefited China enormously and harmed America greatly.

    Why doth treason never prosper, etc.

  17. The question is: “Traitor” or “lefty dufus without an accurate moral/historical compass”?

    Either way, impeachment is the answer.

  18. “Would you argue that Slick Willie’s dereliction of duty in failing to pursue al-Q during his time in office makes him a traitor?”

    No, just a Democrat. Democrats have abandoned common sense in foreign policy since they got us into Vietnam.

    Just remember Eisenhower turned the French down when they wanted us to bail them out.

    Obama is an extreme example. He does have an odd sense of who he is and who we are. You’d think he spent his tender years going to mosque.

  19. Let me get this straight.

    Something walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, eats bread right from my hand, and looks really goofy when flying.

    But no. Let’s not simply call it a duck, because…


    The ducks get really angry when you notice that they’re ducks, and quack really loudly.

    In my opinion the endless loud quacking has convinced people that it just isn’t worth the effort to notice that they’re ducks, and say so plainly, because of the noise.

    I disagree. Ducks are ducks, and pretending that they aren’t is counterproductive, if you object to them crapping on your nice, shiny Republic.

    I think something needs to be done about the ducks, and their bowels, before the Republic becomes unlivable.

    A fine start would be to simply notice that ducks are in fact, ducks.

  20. Strange that the VA could keep big secrets for decades. Strange, too, that none of the military services have atheist or humanist chaplains, considering that some 20% of its members list themselves as religiously unaffiliated.

    The military keeps its secrets by obscuring its procedures. Hiding the ball, just like the medical-drug-hospital-insurance complex has been doing for years.

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