Members of Navy SEAL team 6, the Special Operations unit responsible for killing Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden in Pakistan last Sunday, have expressed concerns about their safety and the safety of their families now that details of the mission have been made public.
Speaking to Marines at Camp Lejeune Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the concerns were expressed to him directly a week ago when he met with members of the unit to congratulate them on their mission. Gates said the SEALs were mainly focused on their families and worried they could be subject to retaliatory attacks.
The original plan, Gates said, was to protect their identities completely by not releasing any information about the raid. "Frankly, a week ago Sunday in the Situation Room we all agreed that we would not release any operational details from the effort to take out bin Laden. That all fell apart on Monday, the next day."
Rather than keeping the details secret, intelligence officials and senior administration officials briefed members of the press. It quickly leaked out that the mission was performed by 24 members of the elite and classified counterterrorism SEAL squadron, known as SEAL team 6.Despite that leak, Gates says the government continues to protect their identities.
"There has been a consistent and effective effort to protect the identity of those that participated in the raid and I think that that has to continue." Gates added that the Pentagon is looking at ways to "pump up" their security even more.
Protecting servicemembers is also a major reason that Secretary Gates opposes the release of bin Laden's death photos. He said Thursday there is a legitimate concern among Obama's inner circle, to include Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that if the photos got out they would be photoshopped in a way that could further inflame radical extremists and those sympathetic to bin Laden.
In a more lighthearted moment during his remarks, Gates explained how easy it is to photoshop images these days.
"I have gotten from friends all over the country copies of the picture, this iconic picture taken in the situation room while were watching the operation," Gates told Marines in the audience. "And they have been photoshopped in every way you can imagine. Including - coming after the royal wedding... all of us in one of these big wide brimmed hats from the wedding."
Meanwhile select members of Capitol Hill were invited by the CIA to view the death photos. "It wasn't a very pretty picture," said Sen. James Inhofe, a Senate Armed Services Committee member and the first member of Congress to take the agency up on its offer.