By Ray Starmann
The Navy SEALs have been everywhere in the media in the last few years: in films, books, magazines, video games, on news shows and the Internet. While publicity is always good for the military, is this the type of PR you want for a covert special warfare unit? Are the SEALs a special operations group or a circus act in wet suits?
Every time I turn on Fox News, some muscle bound SEAL is on promoting a book like “Manage your company like a SEAL”, “The SEAL Cookbook”, “160 Ways to Garrote a Tango.” If they’re not pumping up a book, they’re constantly opining or shooting a back azimuth to Ainsley Earhardt’s green room.
The bad guys already know that the SEALs are top-notch killers, why the need to constantly self-promote? The SEALs are starting to look like the real estate broker who advertises on the front panel of a shopping cart. “Need help killing the Tangos? Call 1-800-USN-SEAL.” Maybe they could even do a buddy promotion like some real estate teams, “The Bizzy Blondes, Bob and Bud. We kill bad guys so you don’t have to.” “Have Glocks will travel.” “Terrorists check in, but they don’t check out.” “Just a little C4 knocks down the door!”
Next thing these guys will be showing up on late night TV pushing meds and protein shakes with Chuck Norris and his wife. “When nature needs a little push, try some SEAL-LAX.” “Having gravity issues… how about a little SEAL-AGRA?”
On Amazon, just typing in the term, “Navy SEALs” will get you 44,400 results. Typing in “Army Delta Force” will get you 1,213. Is there a problem here, SEALs? That’s one heck of a lot of publicity; everything from movies to books to toys and cleaning products that have to do with a direct action, special recon, anti-terror unit that supposedly operates in secret.
The public’s interest in the SEALs really started in the early 1990’s with the Charlie Sheen movie, Navy SEALs and the publication of the best-selling book, Rogue Warrior, by Richard Marcinko. Demo Dick Marcinko was the original commander and the brains behind SEAL Team Six. Marcinko was and is hated by the military establishment, which is why I like him. He has since gone on to write successful and highly-entertaining novels about fictional SEALs and SEAL operations.
After 9-11, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan underway, the SEALs became the golden, go to boys of the Bush White House and then the Obama administration. If a couple-hundred terrorists needed to be greased, call the SEALs. If some troops on the ground were in a world of hurt, call the SEALs. If some old lady in Baghdad lost her cat in a tree, call the SEALs.
Perhaps more than anything, it was the Bin Laden raid in May of 2011 that really created the SEALs publicity monster. After the Bin Laden Raid, the SEALs seemed to be ubiquitous hybrids of rock stars and NFL Super Bowl champions. The Navy jumped on the bandwagon and whole-heartedly assisted Hollywood with the movies; Act of Valor, Lone Survivor and American Sniper.
Next came Fox News: the SEALs are Prime Rib with A-1 steak sauce for their conservative audience. One of their anchors, Jenna Lee is married to a former SEAL. The rest of the Fox News ladies are more than infatuated with the super troopers. Is it the sun tans, the muscles, the crew cuts; or the fact that they do more real world dangerous stuff in one afternoon than an anchorwoman’s husband will fantasize about in a lifetime?
But, the SEALs are not Top Gun pilots. Their mission is unique and their methods and operations are highly classified.
For instance, after the Bin Laden Raid you had several former SEALs, like Robert O’Neill who claimed to be the SEAL who killed Bin Laden, a fact that was disputed by other SEALs who also claimed to be the guys who whacked Bin Laden. How many SEALs did it take to kill Bin Laden? One, two, three; the world may never know.
O’Neill is not the only one who has come under fire. Former teammate Matt Bissonnette published the initial first-person account about the raid, “No Easy Day,” using the pen name Mark Owen and had to pay millions to the Defense Department from the subsequent profits. The Pentagon also has an open investigation into potential leaks provided to the producers of the blockbuster film, “Zero Dark Thirty.” And a 2012 trailer for a video game in the “Medal of Honor” series includes insights from two anonymous SEAL Team Six members who some accuse of releasing sensitive tactics and procedures.
And, then there’s Delta Force…
Until last week’s non-combat, combat raid, the only Delta the country knew was the airline that lost your luggage. Sure Delta has had a little publicity in the past. There were the Delta Force movies in the 1980’s and “Blackhawk Down” in 2001, but what does the public really know about Delta? Uh…not much. When does the public ever hear or see anyone from Delta? Uh…never and you know why? Because the public DOESN’T HAVE A NEED TO KNOW.
Delta has conducted hundreds of successful operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they don’t send their alumni on Fox News in tight silk suits that are more expensive than Andrea Tantaros’ boob job. Delta knows what OPSEC (operations security) is and they maintain it.
Delta is also a different state of mind than the SEALs. Delta was molded by the late Colonel “Chargin’ Charlie” Beckwith who had done a couple tours with the famous British SAS. Beckwith picked up on their laid back, but deadly ways and transferred the mentality over to Delta.
Not only does Delta have a different attitude than the SEALs, but Delta guys look different. They are very rarely, the testosterone-charged, pumped up, swaggering linebacker SEAL type, but rather regular looking dudes that perform incredible feats. It’s their low-key demeanor that allows them to blend into dark and nasty places all over the world.
Along with Delta remaining mute, when was the last time you saw guys from the Army’s super-secret Green Beret/Human Intelligence collection unit, known as “The Activity” pumping up a book on Fox News. Newsflash – guys from The Activity were on the ground collecting intelligence for the Bin Laden Raid. They were collecting intelligence for the SEALs. But, they never said anything. They never do.
It’s just not their style.
The problem is not really the release of classified information by former SEALs, but the inundation of the public with a myriad of open sources. There is so much information out there about SEAL training, weapons, equipment, methods, operations, utilization of intelligence sources, etc, that it is virtually a field day for enemy intelligence services. Believe me, there are enemy intelligence personnel who have created an excellent picture of SEALs order of battle, capabilities and dispositions just from the plethora of SEALs information that’s out there.
So, what’s the solution? Besides having SEALs sign NDAs, you can’t stop someone from writing a book if it doesn’t contain classified information. You can’t stop people from promoting themselves and trying to make money. That’s what freedom is all about.
But, there comes a time when former SEALs need to think long and hard about what they’re writing and what they’re talking about and if their constant media presence is endangering SEAL operations and personnel worldwide.
If Delta and The Activity can keep their mouths shut, so can the SEALs.
It’s time for the SEALs to return to the shadows with their special operations brothers.