SEAL Team 6: A Secret History of Quiet Killings and Blurred Lines” reads the headline in last weekend’s New York Times. My name is listed as a contributor at the end of four pages of derring-do. Because I worked for the Times last year and have no interest in joining the Shit-on-the-New-York-Times Brigade, I have nothing to say about the article itself except to say I’m glad, especially for the reporters, that it finally saw the light of day.

Before I get to SEAL Team 6 itself—those magnificent men in their rubber boats adrift in the muck of the war on terror—let me just say that regardless of what you think of the Times and the mainstream media, the article and its bounce, even though it says… well, not much… demonstrates that obituaries are premature. Even though so much more could have and has been revealed, even though much of the article derived from books and other materials already published, even though the quiet killings story has been written a dozen times and for a dozen years, now the Gray Lady has spoken and thus among a certain set, the hand-wringing will begin; and among another set, the criticism will flourish.

Enough of that.

Everyone – the military, the Times, Hollywood, right and left – benefits from the mystique of the SEALs. From Demi Moore’s portrayal in G.I. Jane in 1997 and even before, it’s been clear that we just love super men (and women), that we want to believe that muscles will ultimately win out, that endurance will endure, that training (and now technology) will help us prevail. If a terrorist is killed, if a hostage rescue succeeds, if an embassy is saved, if a lost nuke is found in our dreams, we celebrate the eleventh hour recovery. We show our gratitude to the super men by allowing them to toil in secret; we get out of the way.

When those same special operations fail, or they end up being not so Hollywood-happy-ending tidy, we tend to blame it on micro-managing or weak-willed politicians, or on a penurious Congress. Whatever the recriminations – in the killing of bin Laden, in the brouhaha of Benghazi – when the long knives come out, the true target and purpose of the tattling and the telling is never really clear. Because of official secrecy, which in the end remains amazingly effective, those writing about the subject always end up being captive to the story-tellers/sellers: Anti-Obama, anti-media, action versus diplomacy, CIA versus military, Army versus Navy, white versus black special ops, SEAL team versus SEAL team. The deeper one digs, the more the story becomes impossible to adjudicate; complaints and details end up more and more in the weeds.

It took a year and almost a dozen reporters and contributors to tell the SEAL 6 story, and then to simplify it for public consumption because of that very complexity. The public is served sure but in the simplifying, the myths are maintained. I’m not talking about: they are not supermen because no one is. I’m talking more about the myth of autonomy, the same myth that hampers the NSA debate. I don’t believe for a moment that those at the top don’t know – didn’t know – anything, but one thing is for sure: after endless briefings and constructed models and presentations, they know so many details they themselves get lost in the weeds. And then the mission becomes the mission – policy and objectives in our world of perpetual killing gets lost.

Is there some way to pull SEAL Team 6 out of the weeds? In our dumbed-down media I’m not so sure. But I know that things are not always what they seem and here are some questions and issues:

  • SEAL Team 6 exists but it is only part of a larger Naval Special Warfare Development Group (colloquially called DEVGRU). DEVGRU is a gigantic entity and one that has ballooned since 9/11, both to accommodate more operators (the SEALs) but also because getting those SEALs into action demands ever more exacting and complex everything from intelligence information to clandestine communications and travel. So when the suggestion is made that “SEAL Team 6” has built its own air force, I think first that is the only way to operate in such secrecy – to have your own. And then I think that that gigantism created by secrecy perpetuates the world of tattling and telling because so many are left on the outside not really knowing what DEVGRU is doing. And then on top of that, what DEVGRU does becomes outsized as the sensitivity demands more intimate involvement by decision-makers, even if that involvement is often for trivial things.
  • DEVGRU is a part of something called the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC, pronounced jay-sock) but even that is unclear. Yes, of course, JSOC is the subordinate command of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), but it does not directly command SEAL Team 6 or DEVGRU operations, except when it does. But more precisely, any operations demands the creation of a customized and modular task force, and that task force, because of the gravity of the mission, can call upon skills and capabilities everywhere. So while there are a core of SEAL Team 6 operators, any mission undertaken is augmented by an even greater number of spies, linguists, logisticians, communicators, analysts, pilots, etc., who are not formally assigned to SEAL Team 6, and many of which come from the Marine Corps, Army and Air Force. They are all “task force” members but in our way, we only recognize the stars.
  • For certain missions, DEVGRU and JSOC also appear to be parallel and equal commands; that is, that DEVGRU is designated a “Tier One National Asset Command” which means it works for the President directly for certain mission sets. Documents and resumes of DEVGRU members refer to their activities as ultra-sensitive, low- visibility, “no fail” Special Operations air and ground missions of national importance. I didn’t learn anything new from the New York Times investigations as to what all of those words when put together really mean. I suspect the truth is less sexy.

And now the boring details for the aficionados:

DEVGRU, according to my research, is made up of at least the following units (in addition to the units like Black Squadron mentioned in the Times):

  • Squadron 1
  • Squadron 2
  • Squadron 3
  • Squadron 4
  • Squadron 5
  • Naval Special Warfare Tactical Development Squadron One
  • Tactical Development and Evaluation Squadron
  • Aviation Unit
  • EOD Squadron (also known as EOD Department)
  • Gold Squadron (which may or may not be one of the numbered squadrons)
  • Green Team (boat operations)
  • Technical Surveillance Equipment Cell
  • UAV Platoon, flying Sentry, Neptune, Scan Eagle and Swift drones.

At least 26 contractors have worked directly for DEVGRU since 9/11, giving a sense of the size of the command:

  • Able Communications Technology Corporation, Fairfax, VA
  • Assessment and Training Solutions (ATS)
  • BAE Systems
  • Booz Allen Hamilton
  • CALIPER, Inc.
  • DMG Federal
  • EOIR Technologies, Inc.
  • Federal Staffing Resources
  • General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT)
  • Gryphon Group Security Services
  • Jacobs Technology
  • K-2 Solutions, Inc.
  • L-3 Communication Inc.
  • L-3 Communications, Joint Operations Group, Alexandria, VA
  • L-3 Communications Intelligence Solutions Division
  • L-3 Communications STRATIS
  • Mantech International
  • Northrop Grumman/AMSEC
  • Orion Management, Virginia Beach, VA (construction)
  • ProSol
  • Radio Reconnaissance Technologies, Inc.
  • Risk Mitigation Government Services (RMGS, Inc.)
  • SRA International, Inc.
  • Tate Inc.
  • Technical Solutions Group International (TSGI) (sub to Battelle)
  • World Wide Services Inc.

Sexy? Hell yes? But a bureaucracy and a business nonetheless, one where only the most limited issues of sources and methods demand such ridiculous secrecy. Otherwise, they are just another sub-element of a ridiculous number of secret American armies.

[Image from AP.]

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