For a few weeks this spring, America was SEAL-crazy -- everybody wanted a piece of the Special Warfare Development Group, aka DevGru, or "Seal Team Six," as it's colloquially known. After its special operators paid their legendary visit to Osama bin Laden, the public wanted to know everything about them: Who were these guys and how do they do what they do? Reporters in Washington and across the country responded to this demand with story after story about the raid and the SEALs, up to the point that then-Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen pleaded with their own Building, and the rest of Washington, to stop giving out so much information. It might hurt future special operations, they warned.
Fast forward to this weekend, when an Army helicopter crashed in Afghanistan, killing all 38 people aboard, including 25 special operators. Might this spring's coverage of DevGru have played a role in Saturday's crash? Have the SEAL teams' operational security been somehow compromised? Buzz asked a top Pentagon spokesman, Marine Col. Dave Lapan, when he briefed reporters Monday morning. His answer was a qualified no, in part because it's too soon to tell given the ongoing investigations, but he did caution all the reporters in the room to make sure they took the time to get it right:
"I would say that, for this incident in particular, I don’t want to make any linkages to previous operations," Lapan said. "There have been leaks of information early on that resulted in a lot of reporting that was all over the place in terms of facts that turned out not to be accurate. So it’s never helpful when people get out in the immediate aftermath of an incident like this and start providing information that, one, can be inaccurate, and, two, can be speculative about what may or ma not have happened. And opsec is always a concern."
Another reporter pressed him -- the question wasn't about bad reporting. It was about reporting that might be too good, that might have revealed some detail about U.S. special operations that bad guys could use.
Lapan responded: "I don’t know in this particular incident if any of that leaked information causes opsec concerns. I don’t know if any of it provides any information to the enemy. But a lot of it was inaccurate and speculative."
Lapan pointed out that early reports over the weekend said the SEALs were shot down after they'd responded to a call for help from other special operators in a firefight with the Taliban -- not on their way in, as actually happened. He cautioned that in war, first reports, whether they appear through official channels or in the press, are often subject to change.
If the Building did consider the aftermath of the bin Laden raid a mistake, don't look for the same kind of detailed accounting of Saturday's crash, at least not at first. DoD officials still are not officially releasing the identity of the unit that operated the CH-47 Chinook that crashed, although the incoming commander of Special Operations Command, Adm. William McRaven, mentioned in his change of command Monday that he was offering condolences to the aviators with the Army's "10th Mountain Division."
And DoD also announced Monday that the press will be excluded when the service members' remains arrive at Dover Air Force Base, Del. An announcement from a Pentagon spokeswoman, Navy Capt. Jane Campbell, reinforced not only DoD's clampdown on information, but the gruesome nature of the incident:
"Due to the catastrophic nature of the crash, the remains of our fallen servicemembers will be returned to the U.S. via Dover AFB in "unidentified" status, until they can be positively identified by the Armed Forces Mortuary Affairs Office at Dover. Because the remains are unidentified at this point, next-of-kin are not in a position to grant approval for media access to the dignified transfer. Therefore, in accordance with DoD policy, no media coverage of the arrival and dignified transfer is permitted. Families will however, be given the opportunity to be present for the arrival."