Ethics Quote of the Day: Rear Admiral Sean Pybus

“We do NOT advertise the nature of our work, NOR do we seek recognition for our actions. Today, we find former SEALs headlining positions in a Presidential campaign; hawking details about a mission against Enemy Number 1; and generally selling other aspects of NSW training and operations.  For an Elite Force that should be humble and disciplined for life, we are certainly not appearing to be so.”

—-Rear Admiral Sean Pybus, Commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, in a letter sent to all members of the Special Operations community telling  them to stop revealing information about their secret operations. The letter was sent out as “No Easy Day,” a Navy Seal’s unauthorized account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, hit the book stores.

The letter is said to be the beginning of a concerted effort by the military to discourage an accelerating trend among Navy SEALs of cashing in on their notoriety and exploits.

Good luck. When a culture based on professionalism, sacrifice, discretion and honor meets a larger culture that values none of those things as much as celebrity, publicity, personal aggrandizement and financial rewards, the results are pre-ordained, and the key word is corruption. The SEALs won’t be able to fix themselves unless they can figure out how to fix America, and compared to that, finding bin Laden was a walk in the park.


Facts: NBC

Graphic: By Hero

51 thoughts on “Ethics Quote of the Day: Rear Admiral Sean Pybus

  1. I think that keeping secrets from the American people about how things have really happened is a greater ethical dilemma than breaking ones vow of silence to our own military institutions which mislead the American people with untruths, but “blowing the lid” on such secrets for personal inurement is certainly ethically questionable. Is the matter of betraying vows of secrecy the greater ethical dilemma or is the doing so for personal gain? No doubt that giving up such secrets would make future financial security a challenge at best. Establishing a profitable arrangement as part of the process sort of seems the intelligent thing to do for one’s self and one’s family. Keeping that in mind, this does not seem such an easy matter to judge…

    • I don’t. Secrets are essential to military operations and diplomacy, as well as in other professions. How things happen is key information regarding how things will happen, and blabbing about every success makes the next success more elusive. The ethical issue is not abusing secrecy for ends unrelated to national interest, which gets back to trust. But the proposition that secrecy and confidentiality are professional ethics requirement doesn’t trouble me a bit…of course they are.

    • You jerk. Did you know that during WWII Churchill knew that Coventry was going to be bombed, but that if he had evacuated the city Hitler would have known that we had the codes for their Enigma secret communications system? Should Churchill have blown that info source by telling the people of Coventry to get out? It was NOT for personal gain. It was for the future of Europe…. They’d all be speaking German now if it weren’t for Churchill and his decision-making. Don’t you think he went to his grave with this wearing on his very soul?

      And this was a head of state. Navy SEALS, as much as we admire them, have no right to divulge secret ops to the general public. Why don’t we just tell everyone in advance what we intend to do to safeguard the country?

      in this case, it IS easy to judge: take a vow, and go through hell, to protect your country, and then the filthy lucre makes it okay? Bullshit.

    • Look, to all people out there who don’t understand, Let me put it into terms you can understand. These situations deserve the utmost sensitivity. Due to the nature of an enemy who is determined to wadge war on our way of life, and determined to kill the people who protect it, we have a duty to protect the trade/craft of those who do our will. These operators deserve a life after they serve if they make it that long. And as protected citizens, we owe it to them to let them have a life. They have earned it. If you want to know what it’s like to eat snakes, join up and you will get all you can stand. And you will have earned the right to know.

  2. Rear Admiral Sean Pybus, should address his concerns to the Commander in Chief and the White house staff. They are the ones who first released this information for the sake of a movie allegedly designed to make our current and hopefully soon former president look heroic.

    Addressing his concerns up the chain of command instead of down would of course require moral courage, a quality he seems to lack.

    • How do you know he didn’t? It would be unprofessional to publicize such a contact. I’d be surprised if this hasn’t been discussed with the White House. Of course, the WH political types responsible don’t care.

        • Sorry that’s not the way the military works. You keep you mouth shut unless asked your opinion. THEN you say exactly what you think. There is also the tradition of when asking your juniors their opinion to ask the most junior person first up to the most senior to make sure you get everyone’s honest opinion. Once your seniors make a decision, whether you agree with it or not, you implement it. Also this officer is a Rear Admiral, its not like he was in contact with the President on a day to day basis if ever.

          • I agree with you that talking directly to the President wouldn’t have made sense. The rest? Well, stupid. It might be how it’s done, but that doesn’t make it any less stupid.

            • It may sound stupid but having seen it in action , and implemented it myself, it makes everything run much more effiecent. And remember we are not talking about a business we are talking about an organization that is geared for war. And the first thing that goes out the window once combat starts is your plan. So you have to be able to make decisions quickly and the last thing you need is a hundred people offering their idea unsolicited .

              • What I get out of this is that instead of doing the hard work of leading people, the millitary went for a shortcut. Sounds like we should stop calling officers “leaders” to me.

                • There is a balance here between immediacy and optimal solution. In a military setting the risk attached to slow response are much higher then the risks associated with slow response in any other organization. There are situations where the second best solution implemented now is far less costly in lives lost then the best solution implemented a hour from now. It might not be the best way to run the military, but to ignore the tradeoffs in war between good disciple and chain of command vs. consensus and optimal solution by calling it stupid is naive.

                  Additionally, war situations put people into stressful situations that no amount of training or leadership can prepare them for, only experience can do that. For solders with no combat experience following the orders of their more experienced officers leads to better outcomes on average.

                  It’s not a perfect solution, but the problem they are trying to deal with is no ordinary problem and I doubt has any significant comparison in civilian life. With that said, I am alive today because my grandfather disobey a direct order in WWII which would have gotten him killed.

                  • Where did I say anything about consensus? Where did I say anything about not following orders? Where were we talking about a situation that requires immediacy?

                    • You fight the way you practice it and on a day to day basis the miltary when no involved in combat is getting ready for combat. You cant operate one way outside of combat and then in another way inside combat.

                    • Did I ever say orders shouldn’t be followed? No. I don’t see howhaving a policy of allowing opinions up the chain on a side channel would in anyway lessen preparation of following orders.

                    • I cant reply to your post below so I will reply here.

                      You said:
                      ” I don’t see how having a policy of allowing opinions up the chain on a side channel would in anyway lessen preparation of following orders.”

                      They do have such a channel actually several. In the Navy and Marines you can Request Mast to speak to a commanding officer in your chain of command to voice a gripe or ask for some action on something. You have the right to keep on going up the chain command until you are satisfied but if you come in with something that is frivolous and are wasting peoples time expect to get your ass chewed.

                      You also have the Inspector Generals team that comes around and does a inspection of the unit. At that time you may Request Mast to speak to the IG also.

                      Also after a training exercise or a combat operation After Action Reports are complied and reviewed. Some times they come from the bottom ranks all the way up. But I know when I was in no one ever asked me for my opinion on how something went.

                    • The military has a rigid hierarchy. You think one consequence of this organizational model is stupid, I pointed out two consequences of this model as being if not beneficial at least adaptive. I do not see how you can maintain the rigid hierarchy required to ensure the level of disciple and fidelity to chain of command required in combat while allowing for the opinions to flow up outside the chain of command. They are related as your preferred model of communication undermines that chain of command. To call it stupid is naive.

                    • Bill,

                      So, you’re saying that the military has everything in place that I suggested was appropriate and that you misrepresented how things work with your comment that started this subtopic: “Its not his job to tell anyone up the chain of command how to do their job unless asked and anyone who thinks it is is an idiot.”

                      It absolutely is every service members job to point out where they see problems, and there are procedures in place for this to occur.


                      Read Bill’s last comment. He just admitted that everything I claimed should be there actually is there. My model in no way undermines the chain of command. You should also note what your last post causes. Information must go by chain of command, but the commandee can’t address the commander, so no information can actively flow, and no illegal or bad order can be reported to anyone. It’s a creation of fiefdoms with all commanders completely unaccounatable tyrants over their commandees.

                    • What Bill said, and you objected to, was you don’t state your opinion unless you are asked it. Bill points out multiple ways in which the military has institutionalized a process where the opinion of subordinates is asked. This is not the same thing as allowing subordinates to give unsolicited opinions.

                    • For some reason I cant reply to you other posts.

                      Requests Mast are for enlsited personal only , not for officers and its not to tell someone up the chain of command that they are doing something wrong but to have them look into and correct situations being performed by lower commanders. This Admiral couldnt Request Mast to see the President and and if he saw him and told him what he was doing was wrong he would be shown the door for disrespet and insubordination.

                    • Brian,

                      I think you misinterpreted something. See this:

                      They do have such a channel actually several. In the Navy and Marines you can Request Mast to speak to a commanding officer in your chain of command to voice a gripe or ask for some action on something. You have the right to keep on going up the chain command until you are satisfied but if you come in with something that is frivolous and are wasting peoples time expect to get your ass chewed.

                      Requesting Mast looks like it comes from the subordinate. I could see someone saying that the commanders set up the process, so they’re requesting the info, but that’s exactly what I said should occur.

                      A side note. I’m a bit of an idiot. I knew about the IGs, and should have pointed them out at the beginning. Heck, my ex-wife worked in an OIG for a couple years. Granted it was a non-military branch of the government, but IGs also frequently referenced by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and Rock Beyond Belief.

                    • Bill,

                      As of your further information on Request Mast, I can can say the process is smart, but applied stupidly. Why is it important for enlistees to be able to point out problems but not officers? The specific situation we’re talking about was created by Chris above and involves an officer who believes that military information is being improperly released. If that’s not a concern for an IG, I don’t know what is.

                      Also, there wasn’t a suggestion on my part that the rear admiral should be able to talk to the president, just that leaders encourage information up from below. There’s a chain of command from President to rear admiral, and the read admiral should be able to voice his concerns upwards. I’m not saying that all concerns should be pushed to where the person desires, but there should be a process to bring information from the bottom up when it’s warranted.

                      (P.S.We’re too far nested for more nested comments. It’s either flat comments or start over from the base level and reference back.)

                    • Bill, tgt, Brian,
                      This post is all jacked up and I can’t reply directly. I think you are all arguing around the issue, I am tired so I will try to keep it simple. To allow the opinions that tgt suggested would simply wreck the “good order and discipline” of our military by allowing everyone with an opinion to speak their mind on whatever issue they would like to whenever they would like. Think about how that speech could build a consensus, lead to a rebellion and overthrow the civilian government, I know it seems very unlikely but it really is not that farfetched. It would happen over time and once that ball started rolling it would be very hard to stop.

                      That is not to say opinions and guidance is never to be offered, but rarely would it be acceptable for it to be offered up well past your immediate chain unless solicited.

                      The thought of separate system that would allow unsolicited opinions to go from subordinate to seniors is absurd if you know how the military works; instant obedience of orders, but go ahead and voice your opinion. Would it go like this; hey you! go attack that hill, (walking to hill) sure I will but you suck for making us attack this hill and I don’t think you know what you’re doing. I am sure that would work great!

                      How would you filter the “good opinions” from the bad? How much time do you think would have to be allowed for reviewing the all the opinions?

                      What the admiral did was the perfect way to do it, he made the point, directed to those in his charge and he did it in such a way as to be unmistakable as to his position. In short he did his job, and corrected it at the level he can directly affect. Think the president didnt hear it? Regarless if that was his intent or not what the president does or does not do is not central to his responsibility to correct the problem at his level.

                      Also it is naive to think that a man who has reached flag rank has no ability to put forth his opinion much higher, it is just not done directly in public, it is done such as above or through trusted avenues such as senior officers, senators or congressmen.

                      The last thing I will throw out to you is an officer is not an indentured servant in the sense that the enlisted are, the officer has a choice to turn in his commission, enlisted do not, hence the request mast procedure. It is intended to allow the relatively powerless enlisted a method of identifying abuses of power and the like by their officers.

                    • … and someone else throws out counterexamples that are completely unrelated to what I said.

                      I am not claiming that backtalk should be allowed. I’m not claiming anything about consensus building or democracy.

                      What I am claiming is that leaders do not cut off all avenues of feedback. The only thing that should actually be different between Military and nonmilitary is when it’s appropriate to give this feedback.

                      For instance, if I was in a meeting with project leads and customers, I absolutely cannot contradict our leadership. I’d be kicked off my project immediately. After the meeting, in private, I very much should initiate a conversation with a lead if they said something in the meeting that I don’t think is true or that I think would be problematic for the team. Maybe I’m right and maybe I’m wrong, but the person with power should know of possible issues.

                      The same should go for the military. You don’t refuse orders and you do what you’re told, but you should be expected to approach your superiors later if you think they missed something.

                      You challenge your superior’s authority in front of everyone? You should be smacked down whether you’re right or wrong, but a good leader realizes that people make mistakes and seeks to use all their resources to do their job as well as possible. The minds of a team are excellent resources and shouldn’t be cut off.

                      Obediance and input are not contradictory.

                      Steve actually backs up my point: “Also it is naive to think that a man who has reached flag rank has no ability to put forth his opinion much higher, it is just not done directly in public, it is done such as above or through trusted avenues such as senior officers, senators or congressmen.”

                      This sounds to me like a lower rank initiating a discussion with a higher rank about the lower rank’s concerns. A good leader would welcome this.

                    • Tgt, maybe I am misreading you but I think you moved the goal post, nothing that has been said justifies the admiral offering his opinion directly to the president.

                    • Steve,

                      I have not once tried to justify what the Admiral did. I was taking specific aim at Bill’s statement: “Its not his job to tell anyone up the chain of command how to do their job unless asked and anyone who thinks it is is an idiot.”

                      I countered with a general maxim of leadership: “Any leader who demands that noone below him speak unless spoken to is not a leader.”

                      That has been interprested as me claiming I want the military to be a democracy where everyone has equal say, and where soldiers should ignore orders and talk back to their superiors while charging into battle.

                      If someone denies that there are zero cows in a room, that doesn’t mean they are claiming that the room is wall to wall cows… just that at least one cow is there.

                • Im sorry you dont understand. As I told someone on another board who questioned the sanity of Gen. Mattis USMC “Its a Marine thing, you just wouldnt understand.”

                    • No, it doesn’t make sense to you because you obviously don’t have an understanding of how the military works compared to how civilians work. The military is not a democracy, everyone doesn’t get to have an opinion and some people need to just keep their mouths shut and follow lawful orders. That’s the way it works and works best.

                    • Courtier’s reply isn’t anymore valid when it’s about the military rather than theology.

                      I have never said anything about a democracy and I have never suggested that underlings not follow lawful orders. Do you have a field to put all your strawmen in?

      • .How many times have I heard “Its not my Job” From folks who do not wish to be held responsible for their lack of action in a critical situation. Sorry, that dog will not hunt. I do not know the the whole truth but I do know that the WH spilled the beans first.

          • Whatever beans they spilled in releasing information for the movie. I would also observe that once the beans are spilled they cannot be spilled again. It will be up to a court of law to determine if we are talking about the same beans in this seals book and said movie. That is if the DOD(this administration) proceeds with filing charges against a seal who personally help take out Americas worst enemy during an election year. An unlikely eventuality

            • So, general accusation with no specifics, a (likely false) assumption that the navy wasn’t involved in the information given for the movie, and then a cop out to remove yourself from the responsibility of your words.

              Well done. I now don’t trust anything you say.

        • If one chooses to enter the military and go into secret ops , one has the absolute duty to do his job and shut up about it. We’re not talking about stealing pencils from the GSA here , you moron.

  3. Good post, Jack. (Aggrandizing complete.)

    See how that works? To make greater. Power. Status. Wealth.
    It’s that old give-and-take, the old yin-yang wherein water seeks it’s own level. As do societies. Troubling it is, my friend. Troubling indeed. (Aggrandizing complete.) Secrets shall no longer remain secret – that from a 2012 prognostication /slash/ adolescent meme. What WASN’T predicted is how it all turns out. The gray area is undefined, malleable, and it is here where only the very best of our leaders (not, necessarily, political leaders) can steer our leaky little boat to a better shore.
    Well, good luck with that!

    He looks like a firefighter with a big gun. I guess Ben Laden (and all this time I thought he was Jewish!) didn’t stand a chance against all that fire power. Still, I sure as hell would have liked to have asked him a few dozen questions before we strung him up, but, noooooooooooo, they had to off him right there. The really big question is WHY? If the book answers THAT question then I’m a happy camper.

    Some secrets demand telling, no matter how highly classified. And this, my friend, (Aggrandizing complete.) is one of them.

    Some more background on this story from Reuters…

    • Answered my own question…
      “Bissonnette, in an excerpt of an interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” said the raid was not an assassination operation and it would have been preferable to capture bin Laden alive. “We weren’t sent in to, to murder him,” he said.

      Face value, anyone?

      • Obviously, that’s baloney, and squarely in my category of lies that are made knowing that absolutely nobody will or could believe them. Not that I don’t agree that killing bin Laden was a necessity and justifiable. Did it violate niceties like the Geneva convention and basic American tenets of fairness and justice? Sure. This is ethics incompleteness in action. No rule covers everything, and bin Laden was in a separate and lonely category.

        • I agree it’s baloney. My question is, why kill the guy RIGHT THEN? That just doesn’t make sense to me. This guy was high intel.

          • Simply because the failure to kill him right then opened the door to one of our VIPs being taken hostage and a demand for trade. Also think of the endless procedural hearings that would have occurred, as well as demands from states that sponsor terrorism threating retaliation if he was not released.

  4. Im sorry but the Admiral opened this can of worms when he and the Navy participated in the making of the movie “Act Of Valor” which was made as recruiting tool. Once the SEALS and other Special Ops people saw the money that could be made by selling their services it was going to be impossible to hole them back. Also I have no problem with a former SEAL ,when gets out, getting paid for the skills he learned while in. God knows they get paid shit wages while they are in, and god forbid if they get crippled then they will be discarded and shit on by the VA so they should be able to make money off those skills just as any other service person does with skills they learn.

    • Admiral Pybus wasn’t commanding NAVSPECWAR at the time of the movie being made; that decision was much higher up the food chain and it wasn’t met with joy by the entire community. Special Operators have been offering their services in the private and non-military sectors since the beginning of warfare (yes, they’ve been around that long). I don’t have a problem with anyone using their skills to make money in the private sector, as long as they don’t break the confidentiality clause of their contract. If you bothered checking the payscale for special operators, you’ll find they aren’t paid “shit;” they’re among the most highly paid members of the military (add the jump, dive, and combat zone to basic pay and allowances).

  5. Why are military secrets needed? Why is a military needed? Why are diplomatic secrets needed? Answer: Human nature or, in a word, FEAR. Fear of the OTHER. Until that great gettin’ up mornin’ when fear of the other no longer exists, armies/navies will be needed, to keep the OTHER from killing us, and in order to kill the OTHER. Duty, honor, country.

  6. Leaking classified information probably happens more frequently in Washington than it has any right to. The capital is filled with lobbyists, defense contractors and legislative aides, all of whom probably know more information about America’s defense or intelligence infrastructure than is, strictly speaking, secure. Nevertheless, these leaks tend to be kept under the radar, and happen in places far away from the halls of power in order to minimize institutional culpability.

    And when that leaked information goes public, as it did when journalist Robert Novak outed CIA agent Valerie Plame? Scandals follow in its wake.

    So what on earth was the White House thinking when it invited people in the entertainment industry, whose job it is to publicize information, to not only get leaks, but entire treasure troves of classified information, directly from sources so secret their names are still redacted in documents released to the public?

  7. I would really like to know what leaks everyone is referring too. Is it to encompass all national security information that has been made public knowledge (legally or otherwise) or are we referring to specifically this mission? If it is this mission, what leaks is the White House responsible for? I only know of officially released information that pertains to this mission that the White House is responsible for, ethical, no, legal yes.
    For the SEAL to release anything classified is illegal and unethical as he does not have the authority to. The White House does.
    As for the Admiral, he is doing exactly as he should, address the issue with in his sphere of influence. That message will be received loud and clear beyond it, that’s the correct way to send a message up the chain.

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