With the government shutdown, Donald Trump has been looking for ways to distract the public from his failure to BUILD THE WALL, and a trip to Iraq seemed like a publicity slam dunk for his image at a critical time. Surely he couldn’t fuck this up, right?
Unfortunately for the administration, any goodwill among veterans and their families that he may have picked up from the trip has been undermined by the fact that he seems to have revealed the identities of a covert Navy SEAL team. Trump posted a video on Twitter that showed the team’s faces, which, according to Newsweek’s national security expert James LaPorta, is a violation of operational security.
Trump flew out to Iraq on Christmas evening, and landed this morning. He visited the Al Asad Air Base outside of Baghdad, where he spoke to a group of about 100 assembled U.S. troops, the majority of whom were special operations forces. The resultant video, posted on the president’s Twitter account after he left Iraqi airspace, seems to feature several U.S. Navy SEALs who are in Iraq on covert missions.
A pool report during Trump’s visit said the details of the trip were embargoed until the president finished giving his remarks to a group of about 100 mostly U.S. special operation troops engaged in combat operations in Iraq and Syria.
The pool report went on to say that Trump paused to take a selfie with U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Kyu Lee, who said he was the chaplain for SEAL Team Five, based out of Coronado, California. The chaplain said Trump told him: “Hey, in that case, let’s take a picture.”
After Trump left Iraqi airspace, the president posted a video to his Twitter account of his time spent with American forces during his visit to Iraq. Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” plays over the video and shows the president and the first lady posing for pictures with service members that appear to be from SEAL Team Five. The special warfare operators are dressed in full battle gear and wearing night vision goggles
The president has the power to declassify information, which means that posting the video is not a crime. However, revealing the identities of currently serving special forces is a breach of protocol and could endanger the troops, according to former and current Department of Defense officials.
“Operational security is the most important aspect of personnel deployments. The real names, faces, and identities, of personnel involved in special operations or activities, are usually a closely held secret in a combat zone,” Malcolm Nance, a former U.S. Navy intelligence specialist, told Newsweek. “Revealing them casually through an unusual media exposure ... would prove a propaganda boom if any of this personnel are detained by a hostile government or captured by a terrorist group. There would be no denying who you are and what you do.”
“The deployments of special operation forces, including Navy SEALs are almost classified events [sic]... to protect those men and women that are on the front lines of every overt and covert conflict the United States is involved in,” an unnamed Defense Department official told Newsweek. “Even during special operation demonstrations for congressional delegations or for the president or vice president, personnel either have their faces covered or their face is digitally blurred prior to a release to the general public.”
The Naval Special Warfare Command and the White House did not return Newsweek’s requests for comment. The Pentagon referred the reporters to the White House communications department.
As of Wednesday evening, the post featuring the special forces is still on Twitter.
Splinter has reached out to the White House for comment and will update if we receive a response.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article referred to the Navy SEALs in question as “special forces.” They are in fact special operations forces.