"Selling the Trident": Navy SEALs describe a culture in crisis, in their own words

U.S. Navy SEAL drug use

The U.S. Navy SEALs are facing a “staggering” pattern of widespread drug use and alleged profiteering, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reported Tuesday. Statements by three current and former SEALs, unedited and published in full below, reveal widespread disillusionment with the force’s leadership and frustration with former SEALs “selling the Trident.”

Read more about drug use among the SEALs here.

Retired SEAL #1

The following is a list of SEAL profiteers, examples of their publications, services and/or products for sale, and reference to the damage or potential harm due to their openly exposing such information and/or tactics.

Profiteers are those SEALs shamelessly promoting themselves, the community and the trident for personal wealth and fame. Their goal is profit, but they’re using the cover of their service and their supposed desire to publicly honor their “teammates” by sharing operational history and details. Make no mistake, their motive is money and they’re endangering Americans and operators by their disclosures.

Of note, and ironically, some with the highest self-promotion and platform are thought to be the most mediocre and even substandard operators. They’re not even profiting off their own performance. Instead they’re profiting off the excellent performance of their brothers, the real heroes, those who follow the code and stay quiet. And those teammates want them to shut up.

  1. Medal of Honor (MOH) Warfighters/SEAL Team 6 Combat Training Series (All episodes) video game and promotional videos.
  • Involved active duty SEALs and Agency personnel openly discussing and showing critical tactics and procedures for breaching, infiltration, fire team movement and shooting, sniping, etc. as well as detailed discussions and examples of equipment and weapons systems.
  • Videos of clearly active duty operations and training were shown involving DOD assets, boats, planes, weapons, etc.
  • Critical entry tactics were exposed.
  • Massive, overt dissemination of spec ops tactics, equipment and methods.

2. Movies and every special on TV—Act of Valor, Zero Dark Thirty, etc.—are exposing every tactic and technique imaginable. The highest level of the chain of command have authorized this, even using active duty SEALs and Navy assets. This is shameful and they should be driven from the ranks without benefit of pay.

  • This—as much as anything—has facilitated the money grab.
  • The admirals made the decision to expose for “recruitment” however a few persons with self-serving motivations were able to detail the program to personal fame and benefit.

The leadership and senior enlisted are aware of these exploitive acts and unfortunately have failed to enact the appropriate discipline to discourage others from exploiting the Teams. As a result, the ethos and integrity of the Teams are being corrupted by an ever increasing culture of what is good for the “me” instead of what is best for the community. 

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Three Navy SEALs -- two retired, one active-duty -- spoke to CBS News about the drug use they saw in their forces. CBS News

Active-duty SEAL

The SEALs that wrote books for personal gain (with the exception of a few) did so with major embellishments of their personal accomplishments, trying to paint a glamorous super hero portrayal of both the Teams and how we operate. Anything from claiming to be the best or most successful at a certain skill set or the hero on a certain operation.

Most every SEAL that still wears the uniform laughs with disdain at the SEALs selling the Brand through books and television interviews. In most cases, the authors or said books were poor performers, lacked integrity, and or knowingly misrepresented the facts.

So much publicity for the Trident has created a counterculture in the Teams where we have been baptized into a community that allegedly embodies “quiet professional service”. It has also attracted scores or millionaires searching for access to SEALs that they can buy time with, creating a literal breed of “SEAL pets’ used and exploited by business and the rush for status and credibility. I have heard countless outrageous stories from wealthy men claiming to know the facts about classified missions, tactics, official DoD policies that are absolutely inappropriate for public consumption, not to mention a bit more than far-fetched.

The Death of our quiet professionalism continues to erode at our ethos, and endangers our Teammates overseas, not to mention our families at home. 

Retired SEAL #2

When I first joined the SEAL teams, I was honored to be part of such an elite and professional fighting force. Everything we did was to make ourselves and our teammates stronger. But in the last 7-10 years, there’s been a corruption within the teams. It started out by a handful of guys doing stupid things like getting DUIs, doing drugs, and starting bar fights and beating up cops. In the past, these particular individuals had always been punished or removed from the teams. At first, it seemed like a couple of these “problem children” got lucky and avoided punishment. But soon, there were more and more of these knuckle-heads not only avoiding punishment, but getting promoted shortly after such incidents that would have previously been grounds for separation. What I started seeing, was that when certain guys did something that would have been grounds for separation, there were a handful in leadership positions that saw these guys as easy prey. If the leadership could get the charges dismissed, they had at their disposal someone who owed them and their career, and in exchange, these “Problem Children” would be willing to do anything for them. In this way, they were able to recruit cronies, people who would not question when leaders were taking kick-backs or making decisions based on publicity and notoriety and personal agendas.

A lot of the good guys got fed up, and ended up leaving the Team of their own accord. The few guys, who spoke up against what they were seeing, were quickly ostracized and not given leadership positions, or passed over on promotion. It was becoming something like the show Sons of Anarchy—like a biker gang within the teams.

Once the corrupt leadership had their loyal followers, they would push contracts to personal friends to buy lesser quality gear and less tactically helpful training. These guys had direct relationships with the vendors who were receiving the NSW contracts. It could easily have been recognized if it was investigated. SEALS have been killed and civilians have been put in danger by the inferior products and training. Instead of investigating the causes of the incidents, the leadership gives out awards to the participants. They change the narrative of the story to highlight the heroism of the SEALs who laid down their lives—rather than investigating what could or should have been done differently to prevent these deaths. I have had a very active career as a SEAL- and I have not lost a single sailor under my supervision. This is because of the tactical decisions I make that prioritize the lives of my men and women. I am still able to get the job done—just in ways that do not lead to RAMP ceremonies [ceremony for a fallen soldier]. But the leadership has changed the narrative to such a point that people—even people in the community—actually believe that if you don’t lose men, you aren’t trying hard enough—you aren’t tough enough. That is bullshit. And it is costing lives. Don’t take this wrong, there have been great men who have died as heroes, but not all of them had to die. If you take, for example the media coverage of operations Redwings and Extortion, you would believe that two different Chinook helicopters were shot down with RPGs. RPGs are not capable of taking out a helicopter as large as a Chinook—or only under very rare circumstances. For it to happen twice should raise questions. It is more likely that the Chinooks were shot down by stinger missiles. That means that either the SEAL leadership did not have good intelligence that the enemy was using such advanced technology, or they had the intelligence, and made the decision to send men into that area anyway. Either way, it looks better for them to change the narrative to make it appear that both missions ran into bad luck. At our level of operating, luck should have very little to do with the equation. We have the resources to know what threats are in the area, and to take the countermeasures against such threats.

I’m willing to discuss this because the drugs are just a sign of the deeper issues happening within the SEAL Teams. These corrupted guys and the poor leadership have expanded their power, and they are hardly ever held accountable within the normal military law and accountability system. Most likely the NCIS were too intimidated, or they just trusted what the SEAL Leadership was telling them. It will take more SEALs stepping-up and pointing out the wrong doing, to clean up the SEAL Teams. I didn’t choose this fight and I have nothing to gain from it. In fact, my speaking up puts a target of my back and makes it harder for me to get contract work now that I am retired. Nobody wants to throw their lot in with a whistle-blower. Despite the personal obstacles, I feel I have a moral obligation to step up and correct the problem, so that future SEALs (My Brothers) are led by the best this country has to offer—the way it was when I first joined the Teams.