The Slatest

Trump Iraq Video Appears to Have Inadvertently Revealed Identity of Navy SEAL Team

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive to speak to members of the US military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26, 2018.
First lady Melania Trump and President Donald Trump arrive at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on Wednesday.
Saul Loeb/Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s surprise visit to Iraq included a celebratory video of the event that the commander in chief posted on Twitter. But the video immediately raised eyebrows because it revealed—apparently inadvertently—that a Navy SEAL team was located there, which is generally considered to be classified information. It is common practice for SEAL team members to have their faces blurred or otherwise obstructed in official videos. But none of that happened in the video the president posted on Wednesday. Although the president has the power to declassify information, it doesn’t seem that he did so before posting the video.

The encounter with the SEAL team apparently happened when the president and first lady Melania Trump went into the dining hall at Iraq’s Al Asad Air Base. That’s when U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Kyu Lee told Trump he is the chaplain for SEAL Team 5, according to the pool report. “Hey, in that case, let’s take a picture,” Trump told him.

Analysts and experts said that by revealing their faces, the president may have increased their value as targets. “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 with experience in Iraq, told Newsweek. “Revealing them casually, through an unusual media exposure even if it’s the commander in chief, 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.”

Retired U.S. Navy Adm. James Stavridis also agreed their faces shouldn’t have been revealed to the public. “It’s important he’s a SEAL,” Stavridis told NBC News. “That’s a part of the force that is historically supposed to be very, very cloistered, very much in the shadows. If it wasn’t a SEAL, it wouldn’t be a big deal. Navy SEAL, that surprised me.”

The Pentagon, however, insists no rules were broken. “The special operators voluntarily participated in this open press event,” the Office of the Secretary of Defense said in a statement. “There was no security violation.”

Trump has also come under fire for signing campaign memorabilia during his trip to Iraq. But he pushed back against the criticism, characterizing it as ridiculous. “If these brave young people ask me to sign their hat, I will sign,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Can you imagine my saying NO? We brought or gave NO hats as the Fake News first reported!” But critics say the problem with the visit went beyond the mere signing of hats because he talked politics with service members in a combat zone. “When that starts happening, it’s like the politicalization of the judicial branch,” Mark Hertling, a retired three-star Army lieutenant general, told the New York Times.