The commander of U.S. Special Operations Command is expressing concern about former members of the community who he said “are using their ‘celebrity status’ to advance their personal or professional agendas,” and warned those who divulge classified information will be held accountable.
Navy Adm. William McRaven raised the issue in an email sent to the entire special operations community following several recent incidents involving former special operators. The latest was the announcement that a former Navy SEAL who participated in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden will publish a first-person account of the operation without first getting the book reviewed by the Defense Department for clearance.
“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 try to represent the broader S.O.F. community, or expose sensitive information that could threaten the lives of their fellow warriors,” McRaven wrote.
At the Pentagon Friday, Spokesman George Little told reporters defense officials have not read the book, but do expect to “assess it for the potential that it contains classified information.” Any possible prosecution over leaked material would be up to the Justice Department, he said.
Adm. McRaven acknowledged the benefit of reading other special operators’ stories. He noted that his thesis while attending the Naval Postgraduate School was based on “a rigorous examination of available literature” and provided background for his own book, “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,” he said in his email.
McRaven also recognized the value of movies that provide insight into the lives of special operations professionals, noting that seeing John Wayne’s appearance in “The Green Berets” influenced his own decision to become a special operator. “Countless stories have been told through the medium of film that needed to be told and I am thankful that they were,” he wrote.
But he drew a distinct line between what he called “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.” It’s a line he said must be respected – even after leaving the military.
“Every member of the special operations community with a security clearance signed a nondisclosure agreement that was binding during and after service in the military,” he said in his email. “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.”
Current and former special operators have both a moral obligation and 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,” he wrote.
Addressing a related issue, McRaven expressed concern over “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: U.S.S.O.C.O.M. does not endorse any political viewpoint, opinion or special interest,” he wrote.
McRaven said he strongly encourages active-duty special operators to participate in the political process, as appropriate under ethics rules, and for retired members to do the same. “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 S.O.F. and life in the military,” he said.
“Our promise to the American people is that we, the military, are nonpartisan, apolitical and will serve the president of the United States regardless of his political party,” McRaven emphasized. “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.”
McRaven encouraged former special operators to “voice their concerns from the highest hilltop” when acting as private citizens. However, by claiming to represent a broader SOF constituency as they do so, “they do a disservice to all of their S.O.F. teammates who serve quietly and respectfully in support of this great nation,” he wrote.
“Our reputation with the American people is as high as it has ever been,” McRaventold the special operations community. “The sacrifices of our men and women downrange 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.”
Article by Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service