Squeal Team Six – by Michael Peck

Filed under: Navy |

It’s hard to believe that a video game is as big a threat to
national security as the CIA director cavorting with a mistress. Yet just like
David Petraeus, seven members of SEAL Team Six have had their careers ended.
Their crime? The Navy accused
them of divulging classified information to the game designers, and slapped them with letters of reprimand
that torpedo their prospects for promotion and their future prospects as
SEALs.

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Did the punishment fit the crime? One would not expect a
game with the highbrow title “Medal
of Honor: Warfighter” to contain a nation’s deepest secrets. Perhaps
one day we’ll discover that the Super Mario Brothers were smuggling nuclear
blueprints to Iran
under their hats. But where spies mostly deal with data points that they try to
assemble into a meaningful picture of the enemy’s mindset, video games aren’t
looking for carefully considered, fact-checked realism. What is included in the
game has to make the game fun.

The harsh punishments raise questions about why the Pentagon
took such a hard line. For example, it’s not clear whether the Navy authorized
the SEALs to act as game consultants. Presumably it didn’t, but if that’s the
case, then we have to believe that these men belonged a unit that could be
trusted to kill Bin Laden, yet couldn’t be trusted not to blab to game
designers? One intriguing angle is that Mark Bissonnette, the former SEAL Team
6 member who is under investigation by the Pentagon in his book on the Bin
Laden raid, No Easy Day, was also
involved with the “Medal of Honor” game. Perhaps disciplining the SEALs was
a message that after Bissonnette’s tell-all, special operators who want to keep
their jobs had best keep their mouths shut.

But where could these SEALs have possibly got the idea that
it was all right to consult on a video game? Perhaps from the Oregon
National Guardsman who won a Silver Star in Iraq in 2004 and became both a
video game avatar and a plastic action figure. Or maybe it was this year’s
action film Act of Valor, for which
the Pentagon helpfully provided real SEALs. Congressional staffers raised
concerns that having SEALs displaying their combat skills and tactics in a Hollywood film meant that classified capabilities had
been exposed
on the big screen for the world to see. Then there’s the controversial Zero Dark Thirty, an
action film about the Bin Laden hit scheduled for release next month, for which
conservatives
accuse the Obama administration of leaking classified information on the
raid to the filmmakers.

The Pentagon loans equipment and personnel to these films
because it’s good press. For example, the Department of Defense’s liaison with
Hollywood — yes, there is a Pentagon liaison with Hollywood — told
NPR that there is anecdotal evidence that 1986′s Top Gun produced a spike in recruiting. When asked how the Pentagon
selected films for military cooperation, he replied, “Our criteria is very
broad. Basically, we are looking for an opportunity to better inform the public
about the U.S. military and also, as a byproduct, perhaps help military
recruiting and retention. But obviously these are very broad criteria so
there’s a lot of subjectivity in determining just how those are met.”

The irony here is that SEALs who consulted on the video game
certainly would have highlighted the positive attributes of their unit, because
a video game designer doesn’t want to hear that SEALs think Obama’s Afghanistan
policy is a shambles.
They just want to learn what will enhance the coolness of their game.

So just what
secrets could a Chinese or Russian spy hope to obtain from a video game? Not
very much, because video games are meant to entertain, and any resemblance with
real combat tends to be coincidental. I haven’t played “Medal of Honor:
Warfighter,” but judging by the reviews,
it’s not exactly a high-fidelity combat simulation. Nor should we expect it to
be. War — even special operations — is mostly dull and dirty, two attributes
that don’t sell video games. If the SEALs did discuss classified equipment or
tactics, they would only have been included in the game if they contributed to
the game’s fun factor. Considering the tactics encouraged by many shooter games
(“Let’s charge the enemy. If we get hit, we’ll just respawn!”), I
wouldn’t count on a sneak peek into real SEAL tactics.

If in fact the
seven SEALs were paid to act as game consultants without authorization, and
divulged classified information in the process, I don’t have a problem with
them being disciplined. The problem I have is with contradictory message sent
by punishing a few low-level commandos while the Pentagon embraces the
military-Hollywood complex and senior officers leave the service and become
highly paid defense industry consultants. My guess is that those SEALs saw all
this and decided there was nothing wrong in using their expertise and
reputation to pick up a little cash, perhaps as recompense for years of
grueling special operations. It may have been wrong, but not so wrong that they
should have their careers quashed. It’s a painful lesson in how an ugly game is
played.

Article source: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/11/16/squeal_team_six

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