Any Publicity is Bad Publicity

At this point the classified existence of SEAL Team Six and its status as an apex counterterrorist force rank among the worst kept secrets in the history of secrets.

The unit first attracted widespread attention in 1993 with the release of Richard Marcinko’s book, Rogue Warrior, which detailed its origin. However, DEVGRU essentially remained hidden in plain sight for the next two decades until its role in Operation Neptune Spear was divulged and a spotlight of unheard-of intensity shone down on its activities.

The United States Navy has long recognized the power of public relations and controlling the message. From Top Gun to Act of Valor, the Navy has consistently managed to effectively showcase its more glamorous missions. Prospective recruits have been given reason to believe that joining the Navy is not only honorable but frankly cooler than signing on the dotted line for the Army, Air Force, or Marine Corps.i

And as such, the Navy was clever in simultaneously concealing and advertising SEAL Team Six’s triumphs. Even with the recent media blitz concerning the unit, there remains a great deal of confusion among the public at large in discerning ST6 from the non-JSOC, “white” SEAL teams. And prior to May 2, 2011, 99.9%+ of the general population had no idea that SEAL Team Six was appreciably different than, for example, SEAL Team Two or SEAL Team Ten.

For years, television documentaries and stories leaked to the press boasted of the remarkable accomplishments of generically-branded “U.S. Navy SEALs.” Doing so proved a recruiting boon but also successfully sidestepped crediting the operations to a classified unit.ii

That was a tactic the Army could not easily replicate, for example, to boost Ranger recruitment with tales of Delta Force exploits.

As a result, the Navy has either won or lost the battle in the press — depending on one’s viewpoint; DEVGRU and Delta have racked up a similarly expansive catalog of achievements since 9/11, but one unit far outstrips the other in terms of press clippings.