According to Newsweek (and several other news outlets that cite Newsweek), during his trip to Iraq over Christmas, Trump revealed the identities of a SEAL team that was deployed in Iraq.

President Donald Trump and the White House communications team revealed that a U.S. Navy SEAL team was deployed to Iraq after the president secretly traveled to the region to meet with American forces serving in a combat zone for the first time since being elected to office.

While the commander-in-chief can declassify information, usually the specific special operations unit is not revealed to the American public, especially while U.S. service members are deployed. Official photographs and videos typically blur the individual faces of special operation forces, due to the sensitive nature of their job.

I've watched the video Trump tweeted, but I'm not sure how true these claims are. I've Googled what the SEAL team uniform looks like (I think, it's hard to find results that aren't from or about the TV show), and it seems to match up, but I'm a unsure for a few reasons:

  1. From what I can tell, SEAL deployment locations and identities are classified, and as far as I'm aware, Trump (or someone with the relevant authority) didn't declassify the information and if they did, why?
  2. I would have thought that the tweet would have gone through someone first, to ensure nothing sensitive was released
  3. I read in another article that even for presidential displays, the teams cover their faces. If this is standard, why wasn't it done here?
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    I don't understand your first point. If the information is classified, and no-one declassified it, and Trump's tweet disclosed it, that would seem to support the claim. Can you please clarify?
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 28, 2018 at 6:09
  • @Oddthinking well I don't know if there were other circumstances (e.g. if the declassification did happen and was arranged prior to the videos and photos being taken). I guess I'm looking for clarification if it was unintentionally revealed, or if it was okayed as part of Trump's visit.
    – Grayda
    Dec 28, 2018 at 6:12
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    The President is the ultimate authority of what gets declassified, so technically he can't be guilty of revealing classified information because any such revelation must logically be a result of his decision to declassify it. However if he does this negligently in a way that endangers lives then its going to be a political issue. Dec 28, 2018 at 11:29
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    @PaulJohnson Looking further into that, it looks like he can declassify what he wants, when he wants, without needing to follow a process. I'm Australian, so this stuff is new to me, but politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2017/may/16/james-risch/… had some good info RE: declassification. As to whether this puts lives in danger, we'll have to wait and see.
    – Grayda
    Dec 28, 2018 at 11:48
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    @Tim I'd be very surprised if Trump does not directly use that account. Sure, it is probably shared with some staffer, but many tweets are definitely pure unfiltered Trump speech.
    – Bakuriu
    Dec 28, 2018 at 23:45

1 Answer 1


So I think I've found an answer:

No, Trump Didn't Reveal a 'Covert' Navy SEAL Team in Iraq

So "covert" missions are part of US Code Title 50, which come under the jurisdiction of intelligence agencies, like the CIA (with some input from the Department of Defense). US Code Title 10 "is used colloquially to refer to DoD and military operations"

Covert missions are explained as:

covert activities can be characterized as the strategic concealment of the United States' sponsorship of activities that aim to effect change in the political, economic, military, or diplomatic behavior of an overseas target.

With the only example of a covert operation given, being the raid by SEAL Team 6 on Bin Laden's compound.

The article states that the majority of operations are:

non-statutory clandestine operations under Title 10 rather than explicitly (and legally) covert operations under Title 50

So in other words, the SEAL team wasn't on a covert operation, because:

there's no way in hell anyone, including conventional U.S. forces, would likely know they were there

And the article goes on to say:

Simply belonging to a SEAL Team doesn't make your every move "covert," especially if you're hanging out in the DFAC during the commander-in-chief's visit.

The article also mentions:

But make no mistake: Revealing the identities of SOF personnel is still bad news, even if they're not tasked with a real "covert" mission.

So there's nothing legally wrong, but it's still not recommended.

  • 4
    This seems to answer a different claim. Did the video reveal the identity of personnel on a covert mission so secret even most of the military wouldn't know about it? No. But the question is did it reveal the identity of deployed Special Ops members?
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 29, 2018 at 2:25
  • Great answer. I'd bet also that the onus for remaining "covert" or any variant less than that is on individual soldiers and their commanding officers. In other words, if there's a problem, I doubt the CO is blaming the president for posting on Twitter.
    – user11643
    Dec 29, 2018 at 5:09
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    @odd To be more precise, the claim is "Official photographs and videos typically blur the individual faces of special operation forces, due to the sensitive nature of their job." This answer seems to say that's only relevant if they're doing something "covert".
    – user11643
    Dec 29, 2018 at 5:13

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