We caught the headlines about that recent memo by Adm. William McRaven taking Special Forces troops to task for writing books about their on-the-job exploits. The chiding missive from the head of the Special Operations Command was clearly aimed at the Navy SEAL who’s penning a book about the raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed.
Reading the memo a little more closely, however, we realized the initial news reports played down a few interesting tidbits. First, McRaven revealed the unlikely inspiration behind his own career choice: a John Wayne flick.
The admiral was making the point that he’s not opposed to all pop-culture portrayals of military operations. “Personally,” he wrote, “I was motivated to join special operations after watching the movie, ‘The Green Berets’, starring John Wayne.”
Just imagine how different things might have been if he’d been similarly inspired, say, by “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which debuted the same year as “The Green Berets.” Would he be an astronaut?
“To this day my Army brethren still wonder where I went wrong,” McRaven wrote. (McRaven is a Navy SEAL while the Green Berets are Army Special Forces, and so he followed his inspiration only up to a point.)
And with a subtlety his fictional mentor might envy, McRaven also used the message to take a veiled slap at the anti-Obama organizations formed by Special Forces members and veterans. Groups such as the Special Operations Opsec Education Fund have blasted President Obama for politicizing the bin Laden raid.
McRaven noted that the military is nonpartisan and serves the president — no matter the party. “By attaching a Special Operations moniker or a unit or service name to a political agenda, those individuals have now violated the most basic of our military principles,” he wrote.
Clearly, he wishes Special Operations personnel would take a cue from another entry in the John Wayne oeuvre: “The Quiet Man.”
And speaking of dramatizing the bin Laden raid, more back story (that’s a Hollywood-script term) is emerging about the access the Obama administration gave to the filmmakers working on the action film “Zero Dark Thirty.”
E-mails between CIA officials, White House aides, the filmmakers and others — which Judicial Watch obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and just released — are light on jaw-dropping revelations. But the trip-over-their-feet eagerness with which the administration helped director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal might be a tad embarrassing in the cold light of day.
One e-mail shows former CIA spokeswoman Marie Harf talking up the project, apparently to colleagues, citing the Oscar winners involved. “I know we don’t pick favorites but it makes sense to get behind a winning horse,” she wrote. Another reveals George Little, who was then the CIA director of public affairs, gushing to Boal. “I can’t tell you how excited we all are (at DOD and CIA) about the project,” he wrote, adding: “PS — I want you to know how good I’ve been not mentioning the premiere tickets. :-)”
At least he didn’t ask for an autograph.
The most serious breach revealed in the new batch of documents, though, didn’t come from the administration. In one string of correspondence between Harf and New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti, the scribe gave the flack an advance copy of a column by Maureen Dowd slated to be published Aug. 7, 2011, in which Dowd took a dim view of the administration’s courting of the filmmakers. “This didn’t come from me . . . and please delete after you read,” Mazzetti wrote, apparently attempting to reassure the CIA people the column wasn’t as critical as they’d feared it would be. “See, nothing to worry about!”
A New York Times spokeswoman called the incident “a mistake that is not consistent with New York Times standards, and said in an
e-mailed statement that Dowd had given the column to Mazzetti for help with fact-checking and didn’t know he shared the whole piece with CIA. Earlier, NYT editor Dean Baquet described the apparent lapse a bit differently to Politico, saying it was “an intelligence matter.”
Somewhere, a bunch of trees are breathing a sigh of relief.
The federal government is taking steps (perhaps they’re baby ones, but still) toward reducing the amount of tree-killing paperwork that presidential nominees must submit to be considered for such positions. We hear the White House has named Lisa Brown, who is the acting chief performance officer at the Office of Management and Budget, to chair the new working group established in the nomination-streamlining bill that the president signed into law this month. Brown will head up the group tasked with writing a report (sounds as though some more paper will be involved) on how to reduce filing burdens for executive nominees.
That’s always been a headache for nominees, who are saddled with multiple questionnaires and disclosure forms for the Senate and the White House to peruse — some of which are redundant and often require hours with one’s accountant and lawyer to fill out. The goals of the working group include coming up with a single “smart form” for nominees and pooling more of the records electronically.
Sounds as if Brown knows a thing or two about cutting through clutter: At the OMB, she heads up the presidential initiative to “reorganize government functions and agencies to enhance their efficiency and effectiveness.”
Unclear whether the group’s efforts — which have support on the Hill — will take effect in time for the inevitable influx of nominees that accompanies the start of a presidential term — no matter who is in the White House.
With Emily Heil
The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.