A highly-decorated Navy SEAL operator assigned to SEAL Team 6 is facing a possible court-martial over an alleged catfishing incident.

Special Warfare Operator 1st Class (SO1) Aaron Howard is suspected to be the man who used false identities to entice three women to send nude images of themselves. The incident took place in 2017, and the three victims include two civilians and a sailor.

The term “catfishing” refers to the phenomenon of online predators who devise fake identities to entice unsuspecting people into emotional or romantic relationships for sexual and/or monetary benefit.

SO1 Howard is charged with violating Article 134 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. The Article is concerned with:

“All disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces, all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces, and crimes and offenses not capital, of which persons subject to this chapter may be guilty, shall be taken cognizance of by a general, special, or summary court-martial, according to the nature and degree of the offense, and shall be punished at the discretion of that court.”

Michael Waddington, the defense attorney for SO1 Howard, insists his client is innocent, and that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is chasing the wrong person while the real perpetrator is on the loose.

SEAL Team 6 operator convicted for catfishing

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In the press, Waddington emphasized that SO1 Howard was put through a polygraph test twice, which he passed both times; and that NCIS agents didn’t find any nude pictures on his cellphone. The defense attorney also argues that the sole connection between SO1 Howard and the text messages is San Diego. Whoever sent the messages wrote that he was stationed in San Diego, which is the home to the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training facility and also to Naval Special Warfare Group One, which includes SEAL Teams 1, 3, 5, and 7.

However, as a member of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU)—another designation for SEAL Team 6—SO1 Howard would have been stationed in Dam Neck, Virginia.

Interestingly, SO1 Howard seems to have been left on the void by his command because he sought legal advice—as if his seeking legal help was breaking an internal, unspoken pact. According to Waddington, DEVGRU’s leadership has discouraged fellow operators from assisting him in the defense case, and he’s intending to accuse the command of unlawful command influence. It’s an unfortunate reality that the unit suffers from a history of cultural disciplinary and ethical issues that can be traced back to its inception.

Naval Special Warfare declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.