Monday, May 28, 2012
Wanna-Be SEALS & "Special Ops" Pretenders
When 65-year-old David Silbergeld was found dead in a quiet Delaware park -- the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head -- few familiar with his case were surprised. Silbergeld had become much maligned in the small Pennsylvania town where he had been an adjunct community college professor and something of a local celebrity. Silbergeld was fired from his job and found himself the target of federal scrutiny when it was revealed that his long-time claims of having been a Navy SEAL were fraudulent. Moreover, Silbergeld was receiving full V.A. disability as a result of ongoing symptoms stemming from his special-forces service in Vietnam.
In fact, Silbergeld, like thousands of other special-forces pretenders, had never enrolled or graduated from any military special forces school or program. Although he claimed to have killed eleven enemy troops in hand-to-hand combat, no evidence of any combat experience existed. At some point along the path in Silbergeld's grandiose fabrication, those familiar with real SEAL training became suspicious and David Silbergeld had the grave misfortune of becoming the focus of a veteran’s organization devoted to uncovering SEAL fakes. In short order, Silbergeld's lies were made public, his heroic house of cards collapsed, and he took a walk with a revolver rather than face the consequences of his sham.
In recent years, several special-forces watchdog groups have sprung up to combat the problem of phony SEALS and fraudulent medal winners. Wall Street Journal writer, Amy Chozick, recently showcased the work of two of these groups, AuthentiSEAL.org, and VeriSEAL.org. Both groups are run by genuine SEALs, mostly veterans who are sick and tired of hearing wannabe's claim membership in their elite fraternity. Both groups boast remarkable success in identifying frauds and their websites often contain extensive lists, even photos, of those they have outed as imposters. At times, these watchdog groups are tenacious in exposing the fakes to their families, employers, and communities. At present, AuthentiSEAL.org claims to have uncovered about 20,000 SEAL fakers. The tone of these organizations suggests a broad assumption that all fakers mean to diminish the glory of genuine SEALS and that all should be tracked down and humiliated. There is no record of the personal aftermath for their victims nor any body count ticker for suicides. It is unlikely that David Silbergeld was the first. He certainly won’t be the last.
The purpose of this short treatise on faux Navy SEALS is not to stick up for special-forces fakers, nor am I interested in questioning the motives or methods of those who hunt them down. As a former naval officer, I object to any deceit related to one’s military record and I hold particular admiration for colleagues who have what it takes to make it in the SEALS.
My objective is merely to broaden our perspective on the why question. Why fake a special-forces background? Too often we might assume that all fraudulent SEALS are malignant sociopaths bent on milking the SEAL ruse for all it’s worth. If we see these men as deliberately exploitive, lacking any conscience or remorse, and fundamentally criminal in the sense of using the fraud for immediate and tangible gain (e.g., cash, benefits, employment) then they might indeed meet diagnostic criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder (sociopathy) and severe consequences are easy to justify.
But experience suggests there are other "types" or clusters hidden in the population of would-be SEALS. In addition to old fashioned sociopathy, I propose that there are at least three other prominent motivations leading to SEAL (or Special Ops) faking.
First, there are the Narcissists. The Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by extreme egotism, arrogance, an unquenchable need for tribute and admiration, and an ongoing wish to be seen as special or unusual. True, the Narcissist is lying about his SEAL record just like the Antisocial, but his reasons are different. The Narcissist is using a SEAL persona to gratify profound needs for attention and may be uninterested in any tangible gain. Think of the Narcissistic fake SEAL as making a desperate attempt to compensate for his own sense of inadequacy; yes, Freud would say the man has SEAL envy. This type is so convinced of his own worthlessness that only perpetual adulation will ease the pain -- enter the SEAL.
A second, though considerably less common variety of faker is the traumatized veteran. Here we see a service member who actually did time in the service, and may have been involved in combat. He suffers from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and may have related memory difficulties or in rare circumstances, psychotic symptoms. Very gradually, his service-related stories morph to incorporate affiliation with special-forces, unusual missions, or other false information. What part of this is deliberate and what part is more unconscious and linked to traumatic symptoms? In some cases, this is not at all clear.
A final profile among the ranks of faux SEALS is that of the utilitarian fibber. I suspect this may constitute one of the largest groups of special-forces frauds. The utilitarian fibber adopts a false SEAL persona only in isolated circumstances -- at least at first -- to get jobs, get friends, or to get laid. (this would apply to Barber, Thomas & Haberman)
One would not be surprised to see younger, less mature folks in this group. In this instance, the deceiver slings on the SEAL story like a cape, hoping to use the elite persona to leverage access to career advancement, social status, or perhaps just the sack. In contrast to the antisocial or the narcissist, expect this fake to fess up more readily when confronted; he has less to lose by coming clean.
Posing as a member of the special-forces is clearly illegal, not to mention upsetting for all of us who respect and admire the real thing. But remember that SEAL fakers are a varied bunch. While some are malignant; others are just pathetic. ...we should hold all of them accountable...
(This applies to our exposed predators: Phil Haberman, Nathan E.B. Thomas, Jr., Joseph Cafasso and William Michael Barber. (see list on upper right column of this blog and click the name for more information) While some didn't say they were SEALS, they did lie about their military involvements. Thomas even implied he was CIA and fighting the Taliban. LOL
Barber used his special military training to con his way into a job as a criminal investigator. Cafasso got the media to buy him as a "Terrorism Expert!"
The only terrorism these guys know is the emotional and mental lies they visit upon their hapless victims! - EOPC)