Special Operations: Secrets To Die From

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September 27, 2016: Since September 11, 2001 SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has been fighting an uphill battle to get its commandos to keep quiet about how they do what they do. Just telling everyone to keep quiet about this stuff has not worked and SOCOM has had to resort to more severe punishments. This escalated to the point where a former Navy SEAL was forced, via recent court decisions, to give up some $6.6 million he made from a book (“No Easy Day”) that described in great deal the 2011 raid he participated in that found and killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Lesser amounts (totaling over a million dollars) have been recovered been other SOCOM personnel who published more detail than they promised (via a non-disclosure agreement they all sign) to keep secret.

SOCOM began going public with this problem back in 2012 when the U.S. Navy publicized the fact that it had issued an official reprimand (the lowest level of official punishment) to seven SEALs for revealing classified information about their equipment and procedures to makers of a video game. As it was explained to the media, these reprimands could be career ending events for the seven SEALs. Not likely, when the military is short of highly trained operatives like this and offer them bonuses of over $100,000 to sign up for a few more years. What the navy media event was doing was getting the word out to everyone in the SOCOM community that when this information is made public that means the enemy gets access to it as well. SEALs and other SOCOM personnel have been quietly told that Chinese, Iranian, North Korean, and Russian special operations troops have been intensively studying SOCOM methods and developing countermeasures. So the more these able foes know, the more dangerous it is for American commandos and their allies.

Surprise has always been a major weapon for SOCOM, and the more potential foes know the less effective special SOCOM equipment and techniques are. Nevertheless, since the end of the Cold War in 1991, SOCOM operators have been increasingly using video games for training and planning. There was also a trend towards buying source code for video games and creating classified versions just for the troops. But at the same time, the military liked the civilian versions to be as realistic as possible, so civilians could have a better idea of what the troops went through and to help recruiters attract qualified candidates for commando units and combat service in general. This seemed like a great approach until reality showed up.

Sometimes the collision of military, media, and video games gets truly bizarre. One example occurred in 2010 when there was an outbreak of political posturing and ignorance of military affairs because a new video game (“Medal of Honor”) had scenarios involving American troops fighting Taliban in Afghanistan. The game allowed users to play Americans or Taliban, a feature much in demand by the troops themselves. Many politicians and media pundits declared this was somehow unpatriotic. Yet, for over a century, U.S. troops have been playing wargames where some of them portray the "enemy" and try to kill U.S. soldiers. These highly realistic video games were no different and they are very popular with the troops, both for entertainment and professional training.

But after September 11, 2001 the intelligence services detected more and more actual (Islamic terrorists) or potential (Russia, China) battlefield foes studying video games known to have been created with the help of SOCOM experts. It was difficult to identify specific unclassified incidents to publicize but there have apparently been a growing amount of evidence that the video games helped friend and foe alike.

The U.S. military had, even before 2001, come up with a solution; have classified and unclassified versions of the game. That never caught on in a big way and civilian publishers continued to offer SOCOM operators big bucks to show the world how it was done.

 


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