Seven members of US special forces have been slapped on the wrist and had their pay docked for revealing ‘trade secrets’ to a games developer.
According to US TV network CBS, the seven soldiers, all active members of SEAL Team 6*, spent two days last summer telling Medal of Honor: Warfighter creator Electronic Arts about operating behind enemy lines, sneaking into compounds, shooting terrorists - "Filthy hun weasels, fighting their dirty underhand war!" - and such.
The US military found out and has halved the soldiers’ pay for two months and put formal letters of reprimand in their files, the channels said.
One of the unnamed fighters is said to have participated in the successful attempt to kill Osama bin Laden, though the game doesn’t simulate that mission. What it does portray are the kind of operations special forces are tasked with in the popular imagination and which we’ve been glimpsing on our TV screens since the SAS - "Splendid fellows, brave heroes risking life and limb for Blighty!" - went into the Iranian Embassy in London in 1980.
EA says its game was plotted by actual special forces members while deployed overseas and called on other service personnel to help give it verisimilitude. Or as much veracity as any form of home entertainment can be said to have.
Not that EA will be in any way unhappy with the extra publicity the story will have brought Warfighter, which was released last month.
Special forces are, of course, not supposed to discuss their shadowy lives, but it’s becoming increasingly hard to retain any level of secrecy given how highly SEALs, Deltas, the SAS and such now figure in popular culture. There’s no shortage of books written by former operatives, some more colourful than others.
Assuming, of course, drones don't put them all out of work in the near future.
And the US Department of Defense can’t complain too much about its troops getting involved with videogames, having itself created the freeware first-person shooter America’s Army in the 1990s as a recruiting tool. ®
*The "Tier One" SEAL unit, which can only be joined after making one's mark among the ordinary frogman-commando SEAL teams - themselves a rest-of-the-best lesser elite. It is actually formally titled the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NAVSPECWARDEVGRU, NSWDG, DevGru etc) - though strictly speaking it is not acknowledged to exist - but is more popularly referred to by its old name SEAL Team Six. The unit's name was changed and there was reorganisation following some controversy around the unit accounts and the activities of its colourful inaugural commander in the 1980s, Richard Marcinko.
It was of course operators from Team-Six/DevGru who made up the bulk of the raiding party which killed Osama bin Laden at his hideout in Pakistan in an operation dubbed Neptune Spear.
It is also thought to have been a Team-Six SEAL who accidentally killed British hostage Linda Norgrove with a grenade during a bungled rescue operation in Afghanistan in 2010. It subsequently emerged that members of the unit afterwards tried to cover the mistake up, and that they failed to disclose to their superiors that a grenade had been thrown.