SEAL Team Six, Bin Laden Op & Movie Censorship, Part 2
SEAL Team Six, Techno-Thrillers & Movie Censorship
In Part 1, I talked about the tightrope I constantly walk in doing posts for this site. The tightrope? Alway having to balance the need to educate and inform both my overt and covert readers, while not getting people hurt, captured or even killed, singly and in groups! Time and again, I've either had to rein in my desire to explain, so as not reveal too much, or have had it reined in by my highly sensitive spook sources. They're trying to protect the operators, themselves and me. What I say, how I say it, when I say it and what I do or don't say all play into this. This is at the level of personal, private censorship, applied only to me. What I'm talking about here, though, is government mass manipulation of public perception, of a hidden censorship applied to the mass media. Can there be any justification for doing such a terrible thing?
SEAL Team Six, Cold War Subs & Altering Public Perception
Control perception. Shape reality. The making of “The Hunt for Red October” provided the U.S. Navy with the opportunity to do for the Silent Service (the practically invisible in public awareness U.S. submarine community) what “Top Gun” did for naval fighter aviation. On the one hand, the Navy pulled out all the stops to support the film. On the other, the Navy limited what was shown, what was said and controlled how both the U.S. and Russian submarine forces were depicted. That story is detailed here, and it confirms something I read in Armed Forces Journal back then which said the Navy technical adviser had been specifically assigned to the film in order to a) make the Navy look good and b) protect the secrets of U.S. Navy submarine warfare. In this, he was largely, but not entirely, successful. See “Cold War implications” at the preceding link for the exotic details. Luckily for the Navy, what got through was pretty obscure and in no way noticeable to anyone but an insider or a confidant thereof. The linked Wiki does a nice job of fleshing out just how extensive the Navy's cooperation and direct involvement in the film were. So, you thought you were watching the film version of the book, but it was ever so much more–and so much less–than it might've been.
“The Hunt for Red October,” though, was minuscule in import and potential effects compared to the the still highly controversial film “Zero Dark Thirty,” whose working title was supposedly the blunt “Kill Bin Laden.” Originally intended to portray a failed attempt to get Bin Laden at Tora Bora, it was reportedly hastily rewritten while the planned film was already in preproduction. After SEAL Team Six Jedi did, indeed, unexpectedly kill Bin Laden, that plan went out the window, forcing a massive rewrite. The first film led to a relationship with the CIA which later reached such extraordinary proportions, depth and breadth that it triggered a continuing national security investigation and scandal which engulfed the CIA, White House and Pentagon on one end and Oscar™ winners director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal on the other. People need to understand the issue is not the depiction of torture, of Bigelow's and Boal's position thereon, but of operational matters of the highest importance. You see, as originally put forward, the film would've reportedly compromised a series of things which, in aggregate, would've wreaked havoc on the ability of the SEALs, and those who work with them, to plan, train for and execute the covert, high risk, high leverage missions which characterize the Teams. Superbly informed spook contacts were worried, nervous and incensed at the prospect. In this, they precisely reflected the prevailing, though publicly unspoken, outraged views of the SEAL community. Happily for the covert warfare community, the plan to get the reputedly pro-Obama film out before the election failed in the face of public, and, doubtless, behind the scenes, outcry. That bought time. Critical lifesaving time. So, how did the SpecOps (Special Operations) community in general and the SEALs in particular avoid immolation via cinema?
SEAL Team Six, A Censored Blockbuster & Yet More SEAL Outrage?!
Having just seen “Zero Dark Thirty,” I was able to issue a mix of good news and bad news to some of my contacts. Part of it brought real relief, while the other part was, I fear, up there with putting Tabasco™ sauce in an ever widening cut! What I can say is that the film was most definitely censored, with the order coming, per my spook contacts, from SPECFOR (Special Forces Command). How was the censorship actually implemented? That, I wasn't told! To better understand the wholly legitimate major upset in the SpecOps and related communities, it's helpful to know what really happened. Search my site under “SEAL Team Six” and you can read for yourself what I mean.
The good news was that, despite scrutinizing the enormously long paean to the CIA (small nod to NSA's Echelon, but everyone else involved pretty much ignored), I couldn't find any evidence of the greatly and justifiably dreaded OPSEC (Operational Security) compromise. So complete was the excision of OPSEC material from the film that I could see nothing SEAL op specific. Nothing!
The closest thing to a full scale mockup and training there was a desktop model of the compound. Where the SEALs do full scale combat workups is never mentioned, let alone shown. SEAL mission planning isn't shown, either. There is a visit to Area 51 to see the wrongly characterized (faceted type F-117 Stealth Fighter tech, not the smoothly curved B-2 Stealth Bomber tech) and way too loud (said in film to have “decibel killers” AKA active noise cancellation) Stealth Hawks, express doubts about whether the Stealth Hawks or the mission will work and play horseshoes and clean guns at Bagram until told the op's on. Uh huh.
And what of the precious, irreplaceable pair of Stealth Hawks? It's a wonder the film's Stealth Hawks flew when needed, since they were blasted in the sun (helicopter internal temp ~140 degrees Fahrenheit; try that with your computer), left amid swirling, Stealth coating degrading, intrusive dust, without so much as a camouflage net. The monkeys had a net in the film; the only two Stealth Hawks in the world? None! In reality, the Stealth Hawks were brought in after dark from Area 51, secretly unloaded into a concrete floored hangar, which was then closed and guarded. Why? Anyone ever heard of spy satellites?! The U.S. apparently also has high tech drones with pathetic resolution. Not quite as bad as the PacMan™ handful of pixels, but close to that when zoomed in. Compare the film's depiction with the kind of sharp, crisp surveillance means shown (below in the clip) in National Geographic's “SEAL Team Six.” Much closer to reality and vastly more credible.
While I thought at first the four-tube NVGs (Night Vision Goggles) were the product of an overly enthusiastic art director's imaginings, not only were they properly depicted, but I've located patent drawings and found this piece and accompanying pics of a set in a post on what the well-dressed Jedi wore and carried into battle showing what I believe to be the real deal in now ex- and shunned former Jedi Matt Bissonnette's (AKA Mark Owen, author of the bestselling No Easy Day) field locker. My sources confirmed the reality of four-tube NVGs and the benefit, better SA (Situational Awareness), because of much wider angular coverage than standard NVGs have. I also expected black outfits, but they were instead wearing desert camouflage. Matt Bissonette's field locker display shows special desert cammies (may or may not be the classified pattern worn in the op alleged to be similar to MARPAT (Marine Pattern) Desert). That same photo sequence revealed lots of other “high speed” (latest and greatest) weapons and gear.
Make no mistake. The fully kitted out Jedi looked good in the film. Too good. Why? SEALS on that kind of op habitually wear balaclavas to hide their identities, as well as provide face protection against both thermal hazards and flying debris. Okay. The Jedi of the film looked good, if a bit underdressed! So, then, how was the elite of the elite portrayed as a military unit?
Cut to the actual mission depiction of Operation Neptune Spear, the snatch or kill Bin Laden mission, an eye blink in almost three hours of film (no intermission). The Bin Laden op, cool as the visuals may be, despite chem lights and visual and near IR lasers, is a throwaway, the SEALs themselves mere ciphers. Rather than being the almost telepathically harmonized team of superlative warriors who know each other more intimately than even their wives and children, or girlfriends for the few bachelors. Despite the 200 run throughs really done before the op took place, the hapless film Jedi came off looking frighteningly close to these guys.
Making enough racket on the completely misrepresented landing to be heard on the other side of Abbottabad, the assault begins. The men seem to be almost blind, judging by their movements. I think I know why. The director and/or the cinematographer screwed them. How? Those ridiculous white map lights blazing away in what should've been blacked out helicopters! This absolutely wrecks night vision, as has been known since at least World War II. Any lights on in the passenger compartment should've been red. The Stealth Hawk cockpit looked fine, with MFDs (MultiFunction Displays) and the coolly professional expert pilots of the U.S. Army's elite 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment), the “Night Stalkers,” going about their business in dimly lit cockpits viewed through their NVGs.
Pity the Jedi, though. Not only are they blind, but they have no radio discipline. Not that it'd matter, given the wild abandon with which C4 breaching charges are used (try carefully determined keys, lock picks, pry bars and small, quiet explosives as door and gate busters), the firefight that never happened, the opposition not encountered or, for that matter, the Abbottabad locals streaming to the attack site and being held at bay by a SEAL(?) bellowing bullhorn warnings to them in their native language and later, English. The high point of their activities? The Jedi who, cat like, gracefully and quickly ascended an outbuilding, then used that to pop over the compound wall before, unseen in the film, quietly blowing the gate open. Sad, isn't it? Still not gagging in disgust? The weapons in the film, though supposedly suppressed, were quite loud. Here's what a real H&K 416 sounds like, with the suppressed weapon's being the relatively quiet one in the foreground and the unsuppressed one loudly heard, but unseen, somewhere behind the shooter.
But if you think the above is bad, the whole thing falls apart thereafter. The film makes a complete hash of the storming of Bin Laden's house, how he died and was field identified. The last is a grisly anecdote I alone reported. It then compounds these by showing SEALs flinging down computer CPUs onto concrete so they can quickly extract the vital hard drives! Nor was the removal of gear and files haphazard. The Jedi went in armed with Hefty™ trash bags into which went hard drives, CDs, disks, files and more. Lots of bags. Whatever's beyond an intelligence gold mine.
Taken in toto, I felt embarrassed for the SEALs. Based on what I saw, I think they're entitled to be absolutely furious over their portrayal in “Zero Dark Thirty.” Not a recruitment booster ! Can't say I blame them, especially with all the other horror visited on them even before that.
President Obama nearly destroyed their mission right before takeoff from Afghanistan when he pulled the planned F-18C Super Hornet fighter cover, in turn making the all but acoustically silent Ghost Hawks (also covertly brought from Area 51) unsurvivable. Vice President Biden blew SEAL Team Six OPSEC after the mission, a process continued by the revelations of Matt Bissonette, the apparent engineered murder of most of the SEALs involved in Operation Neptune Spear, plus ongoing and severe combat fatalities–in a very small community pushed to the ragged edge by far more missions than there are SEALs. And while seven Team Six SEALs were swiftly charged, tried, convicted and sentenced for being overly candid while supplying unauthorized, even classified, information to video game company Electronic Arts, notice has emphatically been taken of how no one, starting with the President himself, has so much as been charged with a crime for the deluge of OPSEC information reportedly provided by the White House, the CIA and the Pentagon.
This is why “Zero Dark Thirty” was censored between the planned pre-election release and when it actually was released. While I hate censorship, I hate infinitely more the looming specter of SpecOps disasters, of operators and their support teams being wounded, killed or captured and tortured, maybe publicly executed, because their playbook was handed over to filmmakers, at the behest of pols, who may or may not know better, and spooks, military or civilian, who assuredly DO know better!
(End Part 2, End Post Series)