A Front Page Crime: Outing the Special Forces

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal published a picture on their front page of U.S. Special Forces operators sweating from the heat of battle after helping to quell the rampage that Taliban forces unleashed at a Kabul hotel (in the online version the caption has been changed, and does not mention U.S. special forces).

While the special operations community has been photographed before, this particular picture is different: it shows their eyes. Of the five operators pictured, four are easily identifiable if you're friend, family, or worse, the enemy.

It appears one soldier was quick enough to duck his head before the shot was taken, but the others were not so lucky.

Most of the time when you see a picture of such esteemed and highly secretive personnel their faces are blurred, they're wearing sunglasses, or the the shot is taken from the back or side. Several pictures come to mind in the past where the top secret nature of their work and their personal safety has been respected.

A picture of Delta Force operators in Afghanistan in 2001 chronicled by ex-unit leader Dalton Fury has the men's faces blurred. Another in Panama in 1989 has a black bar placed over their eyes. Yet another picture here shows Army Green Berets wearing sunglasses.

It is disturbing that a newspaper can be so irresponsible. Understandably, the American public is intrigued by these men because they personify the very traits that we all seek to exhibit: courage, selflessness, honor, and fearlessness.

One can also understand a reporter's excitement to snap a photo such as this and the respectability that comes with printing the news as it happens without altering a story or adding a spin just for the sake of a headline.

Tact however plays a role here. This picture endangers the men who are in it. While the chances of any negative repercussions may seem slim there is a very real possibility for harm. Let me paint a picture if I may....

One of the soldiers in the picture has a friend back home who sees the picture and easily identifies him. He then tells his friends and word gets around. These same friends know the soldiers family, where they live, and other personal details about their life.  

This story could easily fall upon malevolent ears. Lest we forget, we have sleeper cells in this country that could make quite a statement by murdering the family or close friends of a special forces operator. That sleeper cell could also provide the name of this soldier and his approximate location, setting in motion plans to attack their base in Afghanistan, plant IEDs nearby, or simply collect intel on their activities.

The indiscretion of the Wall Street Journal to publish such a photo is a tactless move with the potential for serious repercussions. Special Forces operators put their lives on the line to protect this country in ways that most are incapable of. The least we can do is give them a little room to do their job.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Joseph Sarkisian

Joseph graduated with a Master of Science in international relations from the University of Massachusetts Boston and was an intern at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC. He completed his BA at Arizona State University in political science as well as studied Arabic language, terrorism/counterterrorism, and religion. Joseph also lived in Egypt where he studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo in 2007. Joseph was the Secretary of the Executive Committee for the University of Massachusetts Graduate Student Government, a teaching assistant in his department, and teaches a class on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. His main areas of interest are the Af/Pak region, Iran, Syria, and other current foreign policy issues.

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