Consuming Journalism: Investigation into Death of Special Forces Soldier in Bamako, Mali

On 13 November 2017, the New York Times published an article indicating that two U.S. Navy SEALs named as persons of interest in the death of Special Forces Staff Sergeant Logan J. Melgar are also being investigated for possible theft. According to the article, service members familiar with the investigation claimed that the SEALs were being investigated for possibly stealing money “from a fund used to pay confidential informants”.
Overall, it’s a good article. It builds on previous articles about Melgar’s death, and it explains how and why SEALs (and other special operations forces) would have access to funds for paying people in foreign countries.

I have one complaint with the article, though. After the authors provide a general background on special operations forces paying people for information, the authors mention that money from these funds often goes missing. The authors then make a questionable segue, alluding to SEAL Team 6’s rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips in 2009. According to the article, $30,000 went missing during the rescue, and the SEAL Team 6 members involved were questioned about the money. The article then returns to the case of Melgar.

I can’t figure out their logic for including the information about the 2009 rescue and the missing money. I think it was a poor decision. It is a significant leap to link, even indirectly or inadvertently, a case involving two SEALs in 2017 to another case of possible theft in 2009. Instead, the authors should have provided more evidence or information about possible problems with the handling of funds used for informants and sources.

I’ve included the relevant text below.

Special Operations troops from a range of units can earn qualifications that let them recruit sources for intelligence and pay them. These individuals may handle payments from small cash bags up to storage lockers filled with currency.

Cash from funds to pay informants has a way of going missing, military officials said. Skimming money from funds, which in Mali could be as much as $20,000 at any given time, is relatively easy because the service members are often dealing with sources who are illiterate and cannot sign their names to a receipt. This allows an unscrupulous person to create a bogus receipt with the equivalent of an “X” for a signature, military officials said.

One of the first missions to draw broad public attention to the secretive Navy SEAL Team 6 unit was its dramatic rescue in April 2009 of Capt. Richard Phillips after Somali pirates hijacked the Maersk Alabama cargo ship. Snipers from the unit’s Red Squadron shot and killed three of the pirates in a small rescue boat.

The criminal complaint against the surviving pirate, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, describes how Captain Phillips gave roughly $30,000 in cash from the safe aboard the Maersk to the pirates, money that soon disappeared. Captain Phillips later recalled leaning against a sack with the money inside on the lifeboat. When Navy personnel searched the lifeboat, all they found were guns, ammunition, cellphones and radios. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service gave the SEALs polygraph tests about the missing money but could never prove where the $30,000 had gone, and the case was closed. No SEAL from that mission is involved in the Mali case.