By Kerry Patton
Former CIA and Special Operations members created OPSEC to combat the spike in leaks and politicization of Intelligence and Special Operations missions that threaten their effectiveness and the safety of Americans who conduct them. Special Ops were instrumental in creating the United States.
George Washington, America’s first spymaster, truly understood the principles of operational security. He was a believer in sound and executable intelligence that could be actioned—without it, our smaller fighting force would never had succeeded in defeating the world’s largest army.
Washington didn’t have the intelligence network to defeat Great Britain. This led him to secretly create one in 1778—the Culper Ring.
The Culper Ring, led by Calvary officer Benjamin Tallmadge, was a small network of spies utilizing ingenious tradecraft which entailed pure secrecy. That tradecraft included dead drops, invisible ink, and coding. To throw the British off completely, the name Culper was merely a pseudonym. In fact, two of the ring’s operatives were known as “Samuel Culper, Sr.” and “Samuel Culper, Jr.”
It wasn’t until 1939, approximately 161 years after Washington’s spy ring was established, that the true identity of “Samuel Culper, Jr.” was discovered—Robert Townsend. In fact, the American public did not know anything about the Culper Ring’s existence until 1930. Washington was the epitome of an American leader who understood the importance of secrecy.
So what sparked Washington to establish not just America’s first spy ring, but also ingenious tradecraft that ensured secrecy? Some historians believe the Culper Ring was established because of Nathan Hale, a close friend of Benjamin Tallmadge, and Hale’s capture and execution by the British in 1776.
If this were true, the dates of Hale’s capture and the implementation of the Culper Ring present evidence of one key startling fact—it takes a long time to create a sound and executable intelligence network, especially when people fear their own lives could face capture, torture, and death.
Fortunately for General Washington, he was surrounded by true American patriots who believed in him and the mission to defeat America’s enemy. Those who appointed Washington knew about his military past. They knew he was a seasoned combat veteran who not only served his nation honorably on the battlefield, but also served with great distinction while captured and briefly held as an enemy combatant during the French and Indian War in 1754.
Washington’s selfless service garnered great support by virtually every American because they believed in him—they trusted him. But how many serving in the Beltway are truly trusted by the everyday American today? Do we have leadership like we had? Do we have the individuals willing to sacrifice everything for this country, or are we saturated with narcissists?
The silent professional is often the most valuable. Someone, somewhere, is serving this great nation in a capacity we will never know about. Many silent warriors are citizens of this great nation, yet many are not. Those who are not believe. They believe in America and what it stands for and they are willing to serve us, the United States, because our history reflects our greatness.
Unfortunately, the days of silent professionals are quickly dwindling. Equally, the days of recruiting foreign nationals to serve alongside our silent warriors are also fading at an unprecedented pace. Who would want to spy for America when America can’t keep a secret? Who would want to spy for America after America recently betrayed those who gallantly served We the people?
On November 11, 2011, an estimated 10 CIA assets operating in Lebanon were compromised by Hezbollah terrorists. Obvious leaks of information were presented to the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization. The leaks inevitably crippled U.S. national security operations in Lebanon. American officials conceded that Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah wasn't lying when he told the world about his organization’s success.
Less than two weeks later, on November 24, 2011, The Telegraph (UK) reported that another network of CIA assets was compromised in Iran. Iranian officials quickly alleged the spies were working at the highest levels of "major firms involved in oil, gas and nuclear industries" inside the country on a mission to cripple Iran in vital sectors with military and security links.
Both of these incidents have one thing in common—leaks were released about U.S. clandestine operations targeting Iran and its proxy Hezbollah. How many more intelligence assets will be identified abroad? How many more lives will be at stake because of the failure to adhere to secrecy? When will the failure of Operational Security lead to another torturous death of an American citizen like CIA Station Chief William Casey?
America needs a new leader. In fact, America needs not just one but many new leaders. We need leaders who truly understand the necessity of Operational Security and secrecy to fulfill national security operations.
General Washington and the members of the Culper Ring may be long dead, but their spirit must live.
Kerry Patton, a combat disabled veteran, is the author of Sociocultural Intelligence: The New Discipline of Intelligence Studies and the children's book American Patriotism. You can follow him on Facebook or at www.kerry-patton.com.