An internal email by Admiral (SEAL) McRaven, sent August 24, 2012, and later published openly, reads:
As the Commander of the United States Special Operations Command, I am becoming increasingly concerned about how former members of the Special Operations community are using their “celebrity” status to advance their personal or professional agendas.
While as retired or former service members they are well within their rights to advocate for certain causes or write books about their adventures, it is disappointing when these actions either attempt to represent the broader SOF community or expose sensitive information that could threaten the lives of their fellow warriors.
[SOFREP note: “…actions either attempt to represent the broader SOF community…” likely refers to the Special Operations Group “OPSEC”, and the latter points to No Easy Day.]
It should also be noted that the current Commander of US SOCOM, Admiral McRaven, is a published author. “SPEC OPS” – Case studies in Special Operations Warfare, Theory and Practice.
Few senior SOF officers have benefited more from reading about the exploits of our legendary heroes than I. My thesis at the Naval Postgraduate School was based on a rigorous examination of the available literature, without which I could never have written my book on “The Theory of Special Operations.”
Most of these books were wonderful accounts of courage, leadership, tough decision-making, and martial skill, all of which benefited me as I tried to understand our past and how it could affect missions in the future.
Movies that portray the heroics of service members are also well worth watching and often provide the public insights into life in Special Operations or the service that can’t be garnered anywhere else.
Personally, I was motivated to join Special Operations after watching the movie, The Green Berets, starring John Wayne. To this day my Army brethren still wonder where I went wrong… Countless stories have been told through the medium of film that needed to be told and I am thankful that they were.
However, there is, in my opinion, a distinct line between recounting a story for the purposes of education or entertainment and telling a story that exposes sensitive activities just to garner greater readership and personal profit.
[SOFREP note: Again, most likely referring to No Easy Day.]
Every member of the Special Operations community with a security clearance signed a non-disclosure agreement that was binding during and after service in the military. If the U.S. Special Operations Command finds that an active-duty, retired or former service member violated that agreement and that exposure of information was detrimental to the safety of U.S. forces, then we will pursue every option available to hold members accountable, including criminal prosecution where appropriate.
[SOFREP note: Several of our sources indicate that the community is trying to keep the author at arm’s length while attempting to seriously look into prosecution.]
We say that this will be very difficult to do, given that by all purposes the author is an American hero. The sitting Commander of US SOCOM, Admiral McRaven, is himself an author. The book is titled Spec Ops. (A quote from the back of the book reads: “In SPEC OPS you learn the secrets of the trade…”). The book doesn’t divulge any secrets as far as we’re concerned but it should be noted for context.
[SOFREP says good luck fighting it out in the court of public opinion with an American hero.]
As current or former members of our Special Operations community, authors have a moral obligation, and a legal duty, to submit their works for pre-publication security review. We are fully prepared to work with any author who is looking to tell his story and wants a straightforward assessment of the potential security impacts of their work.
I am also concerned about the growing trend of using the Special Operations “brand,” our seal, symbols and unit names, as part of any political or special interest campaign. Let me be completely clear on this issue: US SOCOM does not endorse any political viewpoint, opinion or special interest.
I encourage, strongly encourage active participation in our political process by both active duty SOF personnel, where it is appropriate under the ethics rules and retired members of the SOF community.
However, when a group brands itself as Special Operations for the purpose of pushing a specific agenda, then they have misrepresented the entire nature of SOF and life in the military. Our promise to the American people is that we, the military, are non-partisan, apolitical, and will serve the President of the United States regardless of his political party. By attaching a Special Operation’s moniker or a unit or service name to a political agenda, those individuals have now violated the most basic of our military principles.
As private citizens, they should voice their concerns from the highest hilltop, but as former Special Operations warriors, when they claim to represent a broader SOF constituency, they do a disservice to all of their SOF teammates who serve quietly and respectfully in support of this great nation.
Our reputation with the American people is as high as it has ever been.
The sacrifices of our men and women down range have earned us that respect. Let us not diminish that respect by using our service in special operations to benefit a few at the expense of the many.
A Split Community
“I really think the book needs to be read in context prior to passing judgment. I really don’t think that there are actual secrets divulged. The part about OBL being unarmed was eye-opening, but not totally surprising. Like he wouldn’t get smoked anyway. It is my opinion that if Bissonnette didn’t do it, some other less informed bubba would have. I don’t hate Matt for doing it. If this book was not as played up with the subtitle Firsthand account, it would not have been as big a deal.” – active duty U.S. Navy SEAL Chief
“Hollywood, politics and money were not present at any of our successes, but they will be present at our decay.” – Admiral (SEAL) Olsen, former U.S. SOCOM Commander
“My take is simple. Anyone who voluntarily serves his or her country in a manner that is honorable deserves to share that story. As long as the story and the information therein does not pose an inherent risk to our forces currently serving, they should be able to do so without being judged.”- former U.S. Navy SEAL
“Mark is a legend. He’s the operator’s operator. He’s a leader and a perfectionist. He’s the quiet professional, completely dedicated to God and country. Which is why it makes what he’s done so devastating.” – former U.S. Navy SEAL
Ultimately it is up to the leadership of any organization to take responsibility for its member’s actions. We believe that over the last two decades the SEAL community has developed an unhealthy relationship with Hollywood. The US SOCOM Navy SEALs video game and the recent release of the movie Act of Valor are two examples of Naval Special Warfare-sponsored projects.
The SEAL leadership should start practicing what they preach and set clear guidelines as to what former operators can and cannot write about. Policy change is coming, but more on that next.
(Read Chapter 6, The Ultimate Consequence)