SEAL Team 6 Responds to The Intercept’s Investigation of Its War Crimes

The commander of SEAL Team 6 advised his unit not to read The Intercept and to “maintain the highest OPSEC posture and limit the spread of the article.”

A view of Seal Team 6 headquarters at Dam Neck Naval Annex, Virginia Beach, Va. Photo: Google Earth

The commander of SEAL Team 6 has circulated a memo, obtained by The Intercept, to members of the command in response to The Intercept’s two-year investigation into the unit’s war crimes and subsequent cover-ups. In the memo, the commander claimed the article was “full of grievous, accusatory claims” and allegations that had been “previously investigated and determined to be not substantiated.”

“The article alleges involvement of ST-6 personnel in law of armed conflict violations, including accusations of cover up by senior officials,” the memo continued. “The 41-page online article goes into great detail on various operations naming specific people and operations dating back to 2002 up to 2011.”

“While this article appears damning on many members of our team and most likely evokes strong emotions,” the commander wrote, “we must be mindful about what a journalist can do who latches on to unfounded claims and is willing to print based on limited evidence.”

The commander’s letter does not dispute any facts or details in our January 10 report, which describes, in detail, accounts provided by former SEAL Team 6 leaders of what they believed were war crimes committed by members of the unit in Afghanistan and Iraq that were largely ignored or covered up by senior officers.

The memo obtained by The Intercept advised military personnel to avoid commenting on or acknowledging “The Crimes of SEAL Team 6,” even “among yourselves or with others via personal electronic devices,” in order to “maintain the highest OPSEC posture and limit the spread of the article.”

The current commanding officer of SEAL Team 6 is a longtime member of the unit and was the senior officer on the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The Intercept is not publishing his name because he is an active-duty member of the unit.

The Intercept’s investigation was the result of interviews with 18 former and current members of SEAL Team 6, as well as other military and intelligence officials who served with or investigated the unit. Some of those accounts described a form of desecration known as “canoeing,” in which some SEAL Team 6 members fired bullets into dead or prone militants in an effort to split their skulls into a “V” shape. According to two former SEAL Team 6 leaders, the practice was often documented in post-operation photos stored at the unit’s Virginia Beach headquarters.

SEAL Team 6’s leadership has failed to hold its command and itself accountable for war crimes during the post-9/11 wars, according to former SEAL Team 6 leaders. The former and current SEALs also described other serious misconduct that occurred more recently.

According to a former SEAL Team 6 leader and a SEAL Team 6 consultant, the unit caught a senior officer at the command committing travel fraud. The officer, Cmdr. Richard Diviney, claimed weekend trips to spend time with NFL quarterback Drew Brees, a college classmate, as work and training trips. Diviney, who was the officer in charge of the unit’s operations department, was quietly allowed to retire, rather than face punishment. Diviney declined to comment.

In December, The Intercept reported that Republican representative Ryan Zinke of Montana, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to be secretary of the interior, committed travel fraud when he was an officer at SEAL Team 6, but received no formal punishment.

One former commanding officer of the unit maintained an affair with a female intelligence analyst while both were deployed to Kenya, according to two former SEAL Team 6 leaders. The SEAL officer later promoted the analyst to a senior position in SEAL Team 6’s intelligence squadron, despite what several SEAL Team 6 leaders said was a lack of qualification. The analyst was later dismissed and lost her security clearances after revealing classified information to government employees not authorized to receive it.

A spokesperson for the Special Operations Command did not reply to a request for comment.

The internal SEAL Team 6 letter included a message from Gen. Scotty Miller, the commanding officer of the Joint Special Operations Command, to which SEAL Team 6 is assigned. Miller described The Intercept report as an attack on the officers named in the report and said that “unfortunately I note that our PA [public affairs] machine is not geared to respond and attack back except in rare cases.”

Top photo: A view of SEAL Team 6 headquarters at Dam Neck Naval Annex, Virginia Beach, Va.

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