The former governor of Missouri Eric Greitens is running for the U.S. Senate. Perhaps most importantly for SOFREP readers, Greitens was also a Navy SEAL officer. For those who may be unfamiliar with his background, here is a brief primer. He was born in St. Louis, MO in 1974 and attended Duke University with a scholarship. While there he was selected as a Rhodes Scholar and a Truman Scholar. He received his Ph.D. from Oxford University where he wrote his dissertation on how international humanitarian organizations work with children around the world. He was also an accomplished athlete: A gold medalist in the BUSA national boxing championships; a sub-three-hour marathon runner; and a black belt and gold medalist sparring champion in Taekwondo.
He went on humanitarian missions in Africa, Europe, South America, South East Asia, India, and Mexico.
Had he just stopped there in his early 20s he would be a very impressive guy, but he didn’t.
The Navy SEALs and a Drug Scandal
Then he decided to become a Navy officer and a SEAL. He received his commission in April of 2001 and went to Basic Underwater Demolitions School, graduating in 2002 with BUD/S class 237. Generally, SEAL officers are not immediately billeted to a SEAL platoon as there are more young officers for those jobs than there are SEAL platoons to assign them to. So it’s common for new officers to receive lower pressure assignments to help them get their feet wet in preparation for leading a SEAL platoon.
Greitens was assigned as commander of a Mark V Special Operations Craft Detachment consisting of two 80-foot patrol boats and 20 men. He soon found himself in Thailand leading this team as its new commanding officer (CO).
One day, the unit’s chief petty officer came to him and informed him that there was a drug problem in the unit. What was worse, there were allegations that another SEAL officer was selling the narcotics to Greitens’s men and presumably his own as well. The drugs were believed to be ecstasy and cocaine.
It was a real tough spot to be in as a junior officer just taking over a unit. Greitens did the sensible thing: he informed his own commanding officer in the U.S. of the situation and asked for his guidance. The seriousness of the issue was acknowledged by his CO and Greitens was told to proceed with an investigation.
This was a matter that had to be handled with some care.
If it was just an unfounded rumor, it could ruin the career and reputation of a fellow SEAL officer. If he had his men drug-tested and they failed, Greitens would be an officer bringing enlisted men up on disciplinary charges for using drugs another officer had sold them. Officers are supposed to set a high example of conduct in uniform that their own men can emulate. And an officer dealing drugs to junior enlisted men, who in many cases were still teenagers, is, obviously, a very bad thing. Not only does it poison morale in the unit but it also sets a tone of permissiveness that makes it hard for these young sailors to know just what the limits of conduct and behavior are.
What Eric may not have known at the time as a junior officer is that a culture of permissiveness was backed by a culture of “keep it quiet.” There were two problems he was facing. First, the Navy SEALs have a very high public profile and anything that brings disrepute to them is bad for business. Second, accountability in the military does not fall solely on the transgressor himself, in this case, the officer selling the drugs. Rather, the axe could fall several necks higher up too. If a bad thing happens in your command it reflects on the leadership of the entire chain of command. So if you are a lieutenant you don’t want bad stuff to get up to the CO. If you are the CO, you don’t want bad stuff getting up to the admiral. And if you are the admiral, you don’t want bad stuff reaching the ears of the Joint Chiefs. Thus, this created a tendency to try and handle things at the lowest echelon of leadership rather than in the more public and transparent way of the Navy’s disciplinary system.
Greitens was a lieutenant junior grade at the time. A very junior officer.
When young Greitens finished his investigation he found that the command leadership was very reluctant to take official notice of a classic case of an officer abusing enlisted men, in this case selling drugs to teenagers. Believing that an officer selling drugs was a very serious issue, Greitens was compelled to take the side of his enlisted men and push the matter up to higher authority. After all, the lives of other enlisted men were being put in danger when they were put on live-fire ranges with men who were using cocaine.
The result of this would prove disastrous for Greitens professionally. Word got down to the offending officer, Lt. Scott Hobbs, that his SEAL Team One platoon would have to take a urinalysis test. He warned his own men, “We have a rat.” The investigators in the case stated that Hobbs then informed his men on how to beat the test. Ultimately, Lt. Hobbs would be hit with a raft of charges including using cocaine and ecstasy, a count of distributing ketamine, which is a hallucinogenic sedative, three counts of conduct unbecoming an officer, and, using his government credit card to obtain cash.
When the urinalysis was done, Lt. Hobbs and eight others tested positive. As a result, the commanding officer of the Naval Special Warfare Group ordered that everyone under his command also be tested. This amounted to nearly 3,300 personnel. He also asked that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service prosecute the cases of those who failed this now command-wide drug testing. What was originally reported by Lt. j.g. Greitens as an issue related to just one officer in one SEAL platoon had now turned into a full-blown drug scandal. Two SEAL platoons were sent home from Thailand early and numerous other SEALs failed their drug tests. It didn’t take long for word to get around that it was Greitens who tried to protect his enlisted men in the initial investigation that then widened into the command-wide actions taken by the admiral.
Handling Things Quietly
In a culture that wanted to handle things “among the officers” or “inside the teams,” this was disastrous to Greitens’s career as a Navy SEAL officer. He would face the ire not just of the SEALs who were using drugs, but also of the fellow SEALs who were the friends and teammates of those who were caught. In an operational environment, Greitens would have reason to fear for his life. Maybe someone would fumble a grenade or fail to cover him properly on a dynamic entry into a building. Maybe his regulator would fail on a dive. Lt. Greitens found himself in the impossible position of not knowing who he had made enemies of on the Teams for doing what he needed to do to protect his men and the ethics that his commission demanded of him.
What should have happened then was that an admiral should have rewarded the courage Greitens displayed in pressing the Navy to take action. He should have been protected and given a choice about his next steps in another career path. It may not have been possible for Greitens to remain on the teams given a very real risk to his safety but he should have been given options to remain on active duty.
Greitens then returned to his boat unit that was successful in shutting down a terrorist transit site. He was next sent off to Africa to take command of a joint special operations task unit with 50 assigned personnel. There he was praised by his superiors in his evaluations for aggressive action and tactful diplomacy. Their endorsements caused him to be promoted and given command of a SEAL platoon. But Greitens’s next assignment took him in a different direction.
He was selected for the ultra-competitive White House Fellowship program. There he worked at the Bush administration standing up a program for architecture and engineering students to assist in rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He also led a program for special military operations around the world that needed high-level military advisors.
As this assignment concluded, Greitens then volunteered to again go back into a combat zone and was sent to Iraq. He spent a couple of months desk-bound on a staff position waiting for a command assignment. He then was tapped to lead an al-Qaeda targeting cell out of Fallujah. The mission was to capture or eliminate dozens of senior al-Qaeda leaders. For this deployment, Greitens would be awarded a Bronze Star. During that deployment, he would also suffer injuries to his face, throat, and lungs when a suicide bomber, driving a car filled with chlorine, exploded just outside his living quarters in Fallujah. For this, he was awarded a Purple Heart. The searing of his lungs by chlorine would have qualified him for a disability. Nevertheless, Greitens refused to accept it and used physical training to restore his lungs to working order.
Greitens Begins a New Mission
Returning from Iraq and still recuperating, Greitens paid visits to wounded warriors at Bethesda Naval Hospital. He decided then to take his combat pay and combine it with donations of disability pay from two other veterans to form a charitable foundation. The foundation came to be called, The Mission Continues. The total sum of the initial funding was about $16,000.
The idea was to assist wounded veterans to return to useful employment in civilian life. In just a few short years, the foundation had raised millions and helped hundreds of veterans in need. The Mission Continues was considered to be an extremely well-run and effective charity for veterans.
Greitens went on to write four books, Strength and Compassion published in 2008 is a collection of his photographs and essays about his humanitarian volunteer work in Rwanda, Cambodia, Albania, Mexico, India, the Gaza Strip, Croatia, and Bolivia.
In 2011 he published The Heart And The Fist a memoir about his journey from humanitarian worker to Navy SEAL. He followed it a year later with The Warrior’s Heart, Becoming A Man Of Compassion And Courage, an adaptation of The Heart And The Fist for teen readers.
Finally, in 2015 he published Resilience. Hard-Won Wisdom For Living A Better Life. This book is a collection of letters that Greitens exchanged with a fellow veteran in his deepest time of crisis.
While these books do contain his experiences, as lessons learned while serving as a Navy SEAL, they are not “War Porn,’ in any sense of the word. Taken together, these four books appear aimed at furthering the humanitarian goals of his charitable foundation. They sold very well not as memoirs of war but as inspirational and self-help books for people in times of personal crisis. A fair reading of the messages conveyed in them makes it clear that the intended audience was those suffering through tough times.
Greitens became a sought-after speaker, not just because SEALs were often in the news in the years following the 9/11 attacks, but because of his foundation’s work and his credentials as an academic. Still in his early 40s, Greitens already had a very impressive career as an academic, humanitarian, and Navy officer. Greitens had received the president’s Volunteer Service Award for his foundation work and the HOOH Award given to outstanding veterans for their contributions as citizens in public service. He won the “People’s All-Stars Among Us” competition held by People magazine and Major League Baseball. He received the Bronfman Prize and an honorary doctorate from Tufts University. Time named him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world and Fortune named him as one of the 50 Best Leaders in the World. The Navy also decorated him with the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.
None of these awards and acclamations were based on his military record but on his civic and humanitarian work outside of military service. But there was one award very specific to his quality as an officer. In 2011, the Association of the U.S. Navy named Greitens the Naval Reserve Junior Officer of the Year.
Had Eric Greitens wanted to, he had ample laurels to rest upon for the rest of his life.
Greitens Enters Politics as a Novice and Outsider
In 2015, Greitens penned an editorial to FOX News stating that he was a Republican. He had been raised as a Democrat but stated that the Democrats seemed to think that expanding the state and lavishing money on problems would solve them. He saw massive failure in places like the VA when it came to helping veterans. In September of that year, Greitens announced that he would run for governor of Missouri. While he was a novice, in terms of holding political support, his campaign raised more money than his numerous opponents in the Republican runoff elections. And in the general election of 2016, which swept President Trump into office, he beat the Democrat candidate by nearly six percentage points. Greitens’s nearly six-point lead represented a systemic shift in party politics in Missouri since he was an outsider.
Secret SEALs and Political Attacks
As an outsider to politics, Greitens would be viciously attacked by not only Democrats but also those in his own party. And it started when he was running in 2016.
During the 2016 election, one of Greitens’s opponents hired a team to launch attacks on him. They made a video of an anonymous group purporting to be active-duty and former Navy SEALs. The anonymous supposed SEALs released a video claiming Greitens was “riding on the coattails of our valor” by pointing to his own accomplishments as a Navy SEAL and officer. They faulted Greitens for a supposed violation of the Navy SEAL Ethos, which you can read here.
They pointed specifically to this part, “I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions,” claiming that Greitens saying he was a Navy SEAL during his campaign violated this creed. Others in the SEAL community strongly disagreed. We would point to the following inconsistencies in their line of criticism.
First, reading the full ethos it is very clear that it applies to Navy SEALs on active duty and engaged in the “profession” of being a Navy SEAL. Nowhere does it say that someone who retires or leaves active duty cannot ever mention having been a SEAL. This would be all but impossible for any SEAL to do after they leave the teams. Being a Navy SEAL is not like being a notary or a real estate agent. The program that makes SEALs is designed to be transformative for the lives of those who earn the right to wear the trident insignia. Is it reasonable to expect that after leaving the service a former or retired SEAL may not put on a job application that he was a Navy SEAL? Do they violate that ethos by wearing a T-shirt or hat with the SEAL trident on it? Under the literalist standard, these anonymous SEALs were applying, these acts would advertise the nature of their work and seek recognition for being a SEAL. There are, of course, numerous Navy SEALs who have gone on to professional careers after their service reflecting the transformative personal experience of becoming a SEAL. Careers in personal protection, combat shooting, broadcasting, and even writing.
Further, criticism of violating the SEAL ethos is applied very selectively. It is almost never applied by the Naval Special Warfare Command itself as the official organization that has charge over actively serving SEALs but instead is used as a cudgel by former SEALs and some on active duty. Often, it’s done to settle personal grudges by a few people who take it on themselves to proclaim that they represent all SEALs both active-duty and veterans. SOFREP’s own Editor in Chief, Brandon Webb has been subject to such criticism as well, often through the use of the same claims and by anonymous accusers saying that they are SEALs. Since they make these claims anonymously, there is no way to even know if they really are SEALs.
In Greitens’s case, his secret accusers claimed the video they produced was only meant to be shared among people within the SEAL community but that someone broke their “sacred trust” and put it on Youtube. This prompts us to ask some more questions. If this very professionally-made polemic video was only meant for other SEALs within the community, why would its makers feel the need to keep their identities secret from their brother SEALs?
Could these allegedly 16 former and active-duty SEALs plausibly claim that they feared Eric Greitens? He was not yet in office and had no real power to take punitive action against any of them. Even as governor, he would not have such power.
They claimed that they were upset about Greitens breaking the chain of command in the drug investigation in Thailand. Yet, they fail to note that it was the disinterest of that chain of command in pressing the charges that required Greitens to break it. In fact, Greitens did follow the chain of command. His true “crime” was in putting his enlisted sailors’ needs ahead of the desires of his fellow officers. The accusers give a weak acknowledgment that the guilty parties should have been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Still, they insist that staying within a chain of command that showed no interest in prosecuting those responsible was the right way to go about it. That’s a classic ‘Catch-22″ argument.
We would further point out that the claims made in the video about Greitens embellishing and outright falsifying his military service were all false.
In response, Greitens released every one of his fitness reports from his service and all of the citations for every one of his medals. It is, by any standard, an extraordinarily impressive set of military accomplishments.
Further, the accusers mentioned that they were Navy SEALs to append to themselves the reputation of the entire community, which they do not speak for. Since they conceal themselves we are unable to examine their motives or biases in making these claims. We cannot know if these men are the ones caught up in the drug scandal that Greitens discovered. In our opinion, just taking their word for things is a non-starter.
That seems entirely unfair from the start, especially for accusations this far-reaching and extensive. The very basis of any notion of due process is that you be faced by your accuser. These SEALs have stated that they are willing to meet with Greitens in private to discuss the matter with him personally something he smartly declined to do. No doubt they would have insisted upon remaining anonymous in that meeting and with no recording being permitted. This would have allowed them to leave the meeting making any claims whatsoever and still hiding behind anonymity.
To this, we may also add that when the video came out, these anonymous SEALs did not attempt to draw it back within their own community. They sought out the attention of the media in pressing their claims in public. The Missouri Times ran a feature on the video on March 9, 2016, stating that the SEALs who made the video came to them to talk about it.
It is of note that the editor of the Missouri Times is a convicted felon who later admitted to paying people who had made false accusations against Greitens.
Greitens Pushes Back: Enter Drago
Greitens issued a response in a video of his own. We think it effectively refutes the claims made by the anonymous SEALs. He also claimed that the video was the work of John Brunner a Republican opponent in the race for governor. The Missouri Times reporter questioned the anonymous SEALs indirectly by asking if it was a “political video,” which they denied. That is not the same thing as asking the direct question, “Was the Brunner campaign or anyone affiliated with it involved in the making of this video?” The lack of such a direct question seems almost intentional here. The Brunner campaign itself also dodged the direct accusation that it was involved by never directly rejecting it.
One Navy SEAL who saw the video was retired SEAL Thomas “Drago” Dzieran. Drago is well known on SOFREP. He has been featured on our Team Room video series and has been a guest on SOFREP Radio.
We spoke to Drago by phone. He told us that he was initially taken in by the claims made by the video and made some public remarks about Greitens that he now regrets. He said he now feels he was “misled” and “lied to” by the makers of the video. Drago shared with us a letter of endorsement he sent to Greitens,
“I had the opportunity to speak with Eric and further exam his military records and specifically, time served as a Navy SEAL. Following this conversation, I understand his thought process in decisions made and actions taken. Eric served honorably and with distinction on and off the battlefield as a Navy SEAL, with an impeccable record. He is a proven leader who led troops in combat during his deployment to Iraq.”
For those unfamiliar with Drago, he was a former political prisoner in Poland when it was under the thumb of the Soviet Union. He emigrated to the U.S and had a 20-year career in the Navy SEALs with numerous awards for valor in the field. You can watch his story here.
Readers will note that Drago makes this statement of support in public, under his actual name and not behind a curtain of anonymity as these other “SEALs” did in denouncing Greitens.
As governor, Greitens undertook a series of reform measures that were well-received by the voters. Among the most notable were reforms of the state’s foster care system, adding an Amber Alert system, targeting violent felons, forbidding executive branch employees from working for lobbying firms, implementing tax cuts to stimulate job growth, and guaranteeing employment rights of Guardsmen returning from overseas.
Then he touched an invisible third rail in Missouri. He enacted reforms to Missouri’s highly controversial Low Income Tax Credit scheme law. In 2107 Governor Greitens put his support behind his new appointments to the Missouri Housing Development Commission in zeroing out $140 million dollars in tax credits for developers to build “low-income housing.” What Greitens discovered was that audit after audit of the program had found that only about 40 cents on the dollar were actually being spent on housing for the poor. The rest was ending up in the pockets of a powerful homebuilder’s lobby group of insiders who bought and sold the tax credits. That group would take its profits and give the money to politicians on both sides of the aisle to keep it going. Local banks that issued the loans were also benefiting richly from the tax credits. The issue was contentious enough that Greitens’s lieutenant governor broke ranks and voted to retain the tax credits.
Greitens had kicked a very big nest of hornets from both parties. And they stung back hard.
Within days, Missouri Democrats accused the Greitens administration of using a messaging app called “Confide” which, they claimed, automatically deletes messages to circumvent Missouri’s open records laws. An investigation into that by the state attorney general would end up clearing the governor after finding no evidence of wrongdoing.
Then in early January, an accusation was made against Greitens by a hairdresser he had once employed. She claimed that the two had had a relationship and that she was tied up, blindfolded, photographed nude, and threatened with blackmail if she disclosed it. The accusation she made was in the form of an audio recording by her then-husband. This recording was given to a local TV news station.
Greitens admitted to an affair but stated that no violence, photos, nor blackmail ever took place. Prosecutors pressed forward and obtained an indictment on felony invasion of privacy charges. These charges were later dropped for various reasons, not least of which was the prosecution’s failure to ever produce the photograph it needed as evidence to prove the invasion of privacy charge. We would submit they would have needed the photograph to even bring the charges in the first place. But that could not have been the only reason they dropped the charges. The witness herself later admitted that she was not sure if what she claimed had actually occurred or whether it was the memory of a dream she had had…
It does not require a legal degree from Harvard to realize that this case should never have been brought before a judge and jury.
But there is more to this case. The prosecutor, Kim Gardner, hired a private investigator to work on the case forgoing her own department’s investigators. This private investigator would end up charged with six counts of felony perjury and one count of felony tampering with evidence regarding making a false case against Greitens. And his actions point directly back to the involvement of Kim Gardner, who knew or should have known, about what the private investigator was doing in concealing evidence and having secret meetings with witnesses from Greitens’s legal defense team. When a judge ruled that Gardner herself could be called as a witness by Greitens’s defense attorneys in relation to the alleged criminal acts of her investigator, her office dropped the charges rather than let her testify and probably incriminate herself.
A special prosecutor would end up being appointed to look into the way this case was brought and investigated. That prosecutor states that now Gardner herself is the target of a criminal probe.
In connection with this case, it was found that Scott Faughn the publisher of the Missouri Times (they guys the anonymous SEALs went to with their video) had paid the attorney of the ex-husband of the hairdresser $50,000 in cash at the time of her accusations. It was the ex-husband who offered the audiotape of the accusation to the media. Faughn then paid the ex-husband’s attorney another $70,000. Then, in order to avoid having to answer any questions about the nature of those payments, Faughn fled the state. Meanwhile, the Missouri Times continued to cover the Greitens case while failing to disclose the payments to the attorney of a witness intimately connected to the charges. It should also be noted that a major ad sponsor of the Missouri Times was, and remains, Sterling Bank which had created for itself a niche market in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit scheme that Greitens had ended.
As this case appeared about to collapse Gardner brought a new case. She charged Greitens with felony computer tampering in relation to a list of donors to his Mission Continues charity, which Greitens had left in 2014. This case would go nowhere as well.
By now, Greitens was being buried in debt to cover his legal fees, which were not covered by Missouri taxpayers. This appears to have been his opponents’ plan.
Facing the prospect of financial ruin just 15 months into his four-year term Eric Greiten announced he would be resigning.
The final vindication of Eric Greitens would come some 18 months later. In February 2020, the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC) “found no evidence of any wrongdoing” by Greitens personally in the conduct of his campaign. Yet, it required the campaign to update its reports with in-kind contributions from two groups and to pay the commission about $34,000 in fees, which amounts to an accounting error.
In September 2020, Missouri restarted its Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program for builders and lenders. They began applying for the credits again in October and were getting paid again by December.
Any person who came this close to personal and financial ruin at the hands of corrupt politicians, as Eric Greitens did, would return to the private sector and hope to have as little to do with politics as possible for the rest of their lives. But that would not apply to a person with the experiences of Eric Greitens, which he has every right to be proud of and refer to going forward.
SOFREP does not endorse political candidates, but we will go as far as this:
It is our considered judgment, from looking into the information presented to you above, that the people of Missouri were dishonestly and illegally deprived of their clear electoral choice in Eric Greitens as governor of their state. Thus, the voters in Missouri ought to be considered victims of a crime as well.
This corrupt act was perpetrated by entrenched political interests in both parties that appeared to have been directly benefiting from corrupt practices that Governor Greitens sought to end. When they could not stop him politically, they attempted to destroy him personally, put him in prison, and ruin him financially.
Failing in that, these corrupt individuals are now likely to face criminal charges themselves. We believe they deserve it.
Eric Greitens is now running for the U.S. Senate. We would consider his prevailing in this election to be some repayment to the people of Missouri for the representation they were cheated out of when Greitens was forced to resign.
We will continue to follow the campaign of Mr. Greitens with great interest as it moves forward,