Navy SEAL drinking, drug scandals prompt broad review of ethics, culture

Originally Published: 12 AUG 19 13:34 ET

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent

(CNN) -- In the wake of several high-profile scandals, including allegations of sexual assault and cocaine use against Navy SEAL team members, the four-star general in charge of all US special operations has ordered a review of the culture and ethics of the elite units.

"Recent incidents have called our culture and ethics into question and threaten the trust placed in us," Gen. Richard Clarke, head of Special Operations Command, said in a memo to the entire force.

While the memo did not mention specific incidents, it comes after an entire SEAL team was recently sent home from Iraq following allegations of sexual assault and drinking alcohol during their down time -- which is against regulations.

Another recent case involved an internal Navy investigation that found members of SEAL Team 10 allegedly abused cocaine and other illicit substances while they were stationed in Virginia last year. The members were subsequently disciplined.

Special Ops

Clarke oversees the training, equipping and operational matters of all special operations, including covert operations conducted by the Army's Delta Force and the Navy's covert unit popularly called SEAL Team Six.

Clarke has ordered a two-part effort to be completed in November. An outside team, including former retired senior special operations personnel and some civilians with expertise in issues such as military ethics, will look at problems from a top level.

Another review team of military personnel will go to individual units. In an effort to try to find out why ethical failures occur, Clarke has ordered the review to examine a broad range of issues, including how recruiting into special operations units take place, how troops are educated on ethics, training and whether failures are dealt with appropriately.

There are currently 72,000 personnel, including 6,700 civilians in the Special Operations Command. While the majority of troops behave appropriately, the high-profile nature of recent scandals has received significant public attention.

In March, a self-assessment by various units was made public, but it has had limited impact on the force. Clarke's review is taking a different tack, sending senior personnel directly into individual units. "I expect you to expend every effort to facilitate access and support the review team's efforts," Clarke said in his memo.

SOCOM will make the latest review public after sending it to Congress and removing any classified information. It declined to name any of the outside experts until the review is done.

CNN reported earlier this month that the top US Navy SEAL recently sent a blistering letter to the force, writing in boldface type, "We have a problem," following several high-profile incidents of alleged misbehavior by the US Navy's elite service members.

In that letter -- dated July 25 and exclusively obtained by CNN -- Rear Adm. Collin Green gave commanders until August 7 to detail the problems and provide recommendations on how they will ensure troops are engaging in ethical and professional behavior.

"I don't know yet if we have a culture problem, I do know that we have a good order and discipline problem that must be addressed immediately," Green said.