US Department of Defense using Medal of Honor to scare SEALs from working with outside consultants

Earlier this evening we learned that seven US Navy SEALs from SEAL Team Six received disciplinary letters stating that they “were being charged with violation of Article 92: Orders violation, misuse of command gear and violation of Article 92: Dereliction of duty, disclosure of classified material” for their involvement with the development of Medal of Honor: Warfighter, according to a statement released to Polygon by the U.S. Department of Defense.

This was precluded by a non-judicial punishment hearing, which resulted in the forfeiture of a half month’s pay for a two month period and a punitive letter of reprimand for all seven SEALs, which will hinder their chances of a promotion. It seems that the U.S. Department of Defense isn’t done with the punishments, as they’re still investigating four active SEALs who have since transferred from SEAL Team Six.

WAVY.com talked to LTC Jim Gregory of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, who confirmed the punishments but did not have anything more to say about the specific violating acts.

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For a game that was so set on accurately portraying the authenticity of situations while also making it a top priority to protect the identities and jobs of those helping them make the title, it seems weird that they would let something like this slip by.

I had my doubts that their punishment had anything to do with the actual events of the game –that just seems too sloppy– so I got in touch with Mark ‘ODG6Actual’ Christianson, former US Army Paratrooper of the 82nd Airborne Division and founder of OffDutyGamers, who helped facilitate information between the SEALs consulting on Medal of Honor: Warfighter and EA/Danger Close for marketing purposes.

Mark wrote for the blog on the Medal of Honor website and even wrote a post titled “Protecting Those Who Protect Us” about this very issue. It discusses the dangers of speaking openly about information that might be security sensitive and how Greg Goodrich and the team were dealing with the importance of the issue.

In an email conversation that I had with Mark after the story initially broke, he made it very clear that whatever they did, it wasn’t intentional. “One thing I am sure of is that no member of the TEAMs would willfully threaten security and put fellow members in danger,” Christianson said. “I suspect that the DoD is not happy with military information (especially potentially classified) coming out through non-sanctioned sources. It would be hard to nail down what information was given by the consulted SEALs and information that could have been dug up through diligent search online,” he continued.

“My thinking is that the information given was more about general procedure than anything specifically mission related. This really feels like the DoD coming down hard on a relatively easy target (troops on a game) which will send the appropriate scare into the other military members and make them all back off any collaboration with outside agencies.” If true, this would make much more sense than the seasoned SEALs making a careless mistake and allowing information to be divulged that was highly classified, even if it was changed for their protection.

This falls in line with what Rear Adm. Garry Bonelli, deputy commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, said in a statement issued earlier this evening, “We do not tolerate deviations from the policies that govern who we are and what we do as sailors in the United States Navy.”

Even so, Christianson thinks that the situation might have turned out differently if the game had done better, “It’s a classic case of ignore the situation until it isn’t a PR win,” he said. If it ended up doing well for EA, the NAVY most likely would not have stepped out about any issues that they had with the SEALs involvement, as it’s good PR for them, but the second that it turns a poor reflection on them, things change.

Despite not relating to real-world events, standard operating procedure is still sensitive information that could give enemy combatants the upper hand. It makes sense that the DoD would come down hard on specifics, but like Christianson noted, it’d be hard to tell definitively what the SEALs told the team at Danger Close, rather than what they found on their own. It certainly isn’t the first time that this has happened, but in an industry where members are afraid to speak out for fear of reprimand, this doesn’t help alleviate any of those fears.

Follow me on Twitter at @alexrubens.

  • Aaron

    Richard Marcinko, the founder of SEAL team Six, wrote a tell all book called Rogue Warrior, and wrote a game by the same name, but mostly unrelated. There’s a movie about the SEAL teams that was recently released. There was information released about them after the assault on Bin Laden’s compound. There has been too much information released about what’s supposed to be a team that works incognito already. That said, this move is nothing but a publicity stunt by the Navy to deter Seamen from working with outside sources, without first going through the Navy’s PR department first.
    If you think that’s too severe, remember these are the guys who railroaded and blackballed the man who started Team Six and was actively proving and trying to improve the Navy’s inadequate security measures (as he had been ordered).

  • Paul

    Bringing up Richard Marcinko as some sort of victim shows an immediate misunderstanding of his history with Special Forces and the Navy. The man is a ludicrous huckster of the highest caliber, a pure joke to current serving members of the Navy and other Special Forces teams. His books are a collection of ridiculous lies mixed with some measure of truth, mostly to self-aggrandize himself to an unknowing public. What he did, and what these SEALs have done, couldn’t be further apart.

    That said, it’s unfortunate that these men were hit with such a harsh punishment. I imagine it’s only the Navy cracking down on leaks, as it seems the Executive Branch has followed that policy. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen, but even among seasoned vets, knowing the difference between a protected secret and an open secret isn’t an easy call to make.