The nation's top civilian and military defense officials are calling on their government colleagues to shut up about the details of the May 1 raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen held their first press conference on Wednesday since the mission to kill bin Laden. Gates stood by a remark he made May 12 at Camp Lejeune, in which he said there was an agreement by top Obama officials in the Situation Room to not reveal details of the raid -- but that the agreement fell apart the next day.
"My concern is that there were too many people in too many places talking too much about this operation. And we had reached agreement that we would not talk about the operational details, and as I said at Camp Lejeune, that lasted about 15 hours," Gates said on Wednesday. "And so I just -- I'm very concerned about this because we -- we want to retain the capability to carry out these kinds of operations in the future. And when so much detail is available, it makes that both more difficult and riskier."
Neither Gates nor Mullen called out any Obama administration officials by name, but Mullen, sounding even more frustrated, implied that the breaches of security by administration officials are ongoing and still a problem to this day.
"We have, from my perspective, gotten to a point where we are close to jeopardizing this precious capability that we have, and we can't afford to do that," Mullen said. "This fight isn't over, first of all. Secondly, when you now extend that to concern with individuals in the military and their families, from my perspective it is time to stop talking. And we have talked far too much about this. We need to move on. It's a story that, if we don't stop talking, it will never end. And it needs to."
Mullen said that multiple parts of the government had been leaking details, and that retired military officials were also not being helpful by giving their take on such operations to the media.
Gates said that the U.S. government so far has no evidence that senior-level Pakistani officials were aware that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad, but that he suspected either retired Pakistani military officers or low-level officials were involved. He also said the Pakistani government had already paid a price in terms of humiliation, and that he did not see a benefit in punishing them further.
"It's hard to go to them with an accusation when we have no proof that anybody knew," Gates said. "It's my supposition -- I think it's a supposition shared by a number in this government -- that somebody had had to know, but we have no idea who, and we have no proof or no evidence."
Economic and military aid to Pakistan should probably go forward, although not without scrutiny, Gates said. Mullen explained that Pakistani officials have often promised to go after violent domestically based Islamic extremist groups, such as the Haqqani network, but there was no agreement on when such missions would occur.
"I'm not trying to give [them] an excuse, but matching those clocks has been pretty difficult," Mullen said.
Gates began the press conference by laying out his plan to review all Pentagon programs and develop strategies that will give Obama options to achieve the $400 billion in cuts to "security" spending over 12 years that the president announced last month. The review will be led by Mullen, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, and Christine Fox, director of cost assessment and program evaluation.
The review will be divided into four parts: finding internal efficiencies in the Defense Department, examining defense entitlements like healthcare, eliminating marginal missions, and rethinking the United States' overall strategic posture. Gates said that last part -- which he described as the most difficult -- would require politicians to take responsibility for increased risk if they decide to cut the force.
"What I am really working against here is what we did in the '70s and in the '90s, which was these across-the-board cuts that hollowed out the force," said Gates. "But the consequence of avoiding that is everybody -- from the services to the chairman to the secretary of this department -- making tough decisions, and then the president and the Congress making tough decisions, because they have to accept responsibility for risk."
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