The Intercept, a left-wing digital media outlet that believes the United States is interested only in secrecy, surveillance and censorship, has placed its investigative crosshairs on Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL sniper who was tragically killed by another veteran in 2013. While routinely praising and highlighting the work of Edward Snowden, the so-called NSA “whistleblower” who leaked sensitive U.S. intelligence documents to the world before fleeing to Russia, The Intercept has seen fit to claim that Chris Kyle – a decorated war hero, father and husband – lied about his military record.
“American Sniper” Chris Kyle Distorted His Military Record, Documents Show, blares the headline of a story penned by crack researchers Matthew Cole and Sheelagh McNeill. “American Sniper” is a reference to the Clint Eastwood-directed biopic about Kyle’s life; it shows him to be a complex hero who sacrificed much for his country while struggling to make sense of his work in the context of his family. While he earned the title of being the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history, long before his untimely death, Kyle and his family paid a heavy price for his service.
According to Cole and Sheelagh, a discrepancy exists between Department of the Navy records they obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and Kyle’s account of his combat heroism in his autobiography.
“All told,” Kyle wrote in his book, “I would end my career as a SEAL with two Silver Stars and five Bronze [Stars], all for valor.”
But Kyle, who was murdered by a fellow military veteran several years after leaving the Navy, embellished his military record, according to internal Navy documents obtained by The Intercept. During his 10 years of military service and four deployments, Kyle earned one Silver Star and three Bronze Stars with Valor, a record confirmed by Navy officials.
Oddly, Cole and Sheelagh wait until paragraph nine of their expose before noting that Kyle’s DD214 form, which is the formal military record of service issued when a service member leaves active duty, actually lists two Silver Stars and six Bronze Stars among his decorations. That means that Kyle, in his book, actually understated the decorations he received.
While quoting anonymous sources, The Intercept reporters do nothing to explain why the documents they found should be considered more accurate than the DD214, which proves their own narrative wrong and Kyle’s own story to be correct.
Although a discrepancy exists between the two military records, if Kyle was citing what his DD214 lists then he was certainly not lying about his record. If Cole and Sheelagh were paying attention to their subject and not so interested in pushing a pre-determined narrative, they would notice a couple of interesting facts.
First, the Navy only released information that it could make public about Kyle’s actions. As Erick Erickson writes in his piece on this incident, the Navy letter to the reporters explains that the FOIA response only includes, “A releasable copy of available responsive award citations.”
The second to last paragraph of the letter notes, “your request has been partially denied.” The Navy cited no less than three separate FOIA exemptions as an explanation for why not all potentially responsive records were released.
Second, a new report this month by the Navy Times points out that over 100 Silver Stars were awarded in relative secrecy by the Navy over the last 15 years. The story specifically mentions Kyle’s Silver Star commendation published by The Intercept, but also notes:
“Almost one in five of the military’s most prestigious honors in all the services have been awarded privately since America went to war in 2001 because the missions were classified.”
In 2001, just days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush told the nation:
“Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes visible on TV and covert operations secret even in success.” [Emphasis added]
It is not at all inconceivable that Kyle, as a member of the special operations community, was awarded a second Silver Star for actions that cannot be disclosed.
Kyle is not the only deceased American hero in recent weeks to face criticism for how he characterized his service decorations. Command Sergeant Major Basil Plumley, who was a veteran of WWII, Korea and Vietnam and is featured heavily in the book and movie “We Were Soldiers,” allegedly claimed more Combat Infantry Badges than he was authorized to wear. An amateur researcher hurled the accusations last year, and this month it was reported that the U.S. Army has started to examine Plumley’s records. But what that review will find is unclear since Army personnel records – still hardly perfect – were not all that good during the Second World War.
Members of the military have an obligation to represent themselves and their actions honestly to the American people. But there is a difference between misrepresenting service and unearthing conflicting accounts in often confusing military personnel records.