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Spike in Navy SEAL imposters after bin Ladens death

Spike in Navy SEAL imposters after bin Laden?s death

Elizabeth Haggarty Toronto Star

Osama bin Laden?s death increased the American public?s love affair with the elite SEALs, unfortunately the number of SEAL fakers has increased as well.

In fact, there has been such a surge in Americans pretending to be SEALs that Steve Robinson, a Navy SEAL imposter hunter, was forced to come out of retirement.

?Before I retired I handled 12 to 20 inquiries each day,? Robinson, a retired Navy SEAL who works with the imposter tracking website the P.O.W. Networktold the Toronto Star on the phone in Forsyth, Mo. ?The morning after the President announced the death of bin Laden ? at that point until the beginning of June we were handling 30 to 50 each day.?

While these emails are only queries about possible impostors, Robinson points to past number to highlight the potential number of fakers.

In the last few months of 2001 the SEALs were a constant media presence as they trekked through the mountains of Afghanistan on the hunt for bin Laden.

?In January 2002 I began counting all of the reports that I received: 1,182 individual names ? of all of these only three were real SEALS,? said Robinson.

The number of actual SEALs in the world is relatively small. Today, Robinson calculates there are 7, 600 living men who can call themselves SEALs with 2,400 currently serving on active duty, that?s less SEALs than the number of NASA employees.

Robinson has been exposing SEAL imposter since 2000, after he stumbled upon a faker at a highland games event in Kentucky.

?I saw a man wearing a kilt and a military blouse with tones of military awards, a girl on his arm and a navy seal trident on his shirt,? says Robinson, author of No Guts, No Glory: Unmasking Navy SEAL Imposters. ?I hoped over the wire to meet what I thought was a fellow team mate and as soon as I shook the man?s hand and listened to him speak I new he was not a member of the SEAL team.?

Although the U.S. Defense department does not have centralized records of medal holders across the services, SEAL impostors are easier to catch. Their names can be run through a regularly update online database of all who have trained and served Naval Special Warfare units, which include the SEALs.

?Anyone can request service records through a Freedom of information request? retired Navy SEAL Senior Chief Don Shipley who regularly gets emails about imposter SEALs through the P.O.W. Network and the website for the Extreme Seal Experience training camphe runs.

?Despite what many people believe, it is not confidential information. If people say their file was burned or deleted because it was top secret, that is just a lie.?

U.S. legislation bars individuals from falsely wearing war medals and posing in uniform. In 2005 the Stolen Valour Act was introduced by President Bush to extend offences to verbal claims is currently being challenged in U.S. courts, coupled with doubt over whether resources would ever be given to actually enforce the law.

In Canada, pretending to be a member of the military by wearing a uniform or carrying fake ID is an offence under the criminal code.

?It is rare that cases that brought to our attention,? Karina Holder Captain and Public Affairs Officer with the Military Police told the Star.

But there are seven Canadians on the P.O.W.?s list whose they believe have made false claims about being member of the Navy SEALs, including Gary Speakman, pictured on the site wearing a trident from the elite unit on his shirt. According to the organization, there is no record of Speakman ever attending SEALs training.

While the number of reports of fakers examined by Robinson and his colleagues has spiked since the bin Laden raid, SEAL impostors are nothing new.

Robinson, who was a member of one of the only two SEAL teams in the 70s, remembers being approached by a man in 1973 who proudly informed him he was in SEAL team three.

Then there are the numerous people who write into his organization after a father or grandparent has died, asking how they can find out about their military records, only to find out there are none.

?Never received thank you for burning down someone?s treasure memories,? Robinson told the Star.

Robinson believes modern video game make it increasingly easy for people to pretend to be SEALs, with increasingly accurate weapons and booklets explaining their uses in combat.

From enhancing their bio on a website to trying to appear more interesting to friends, SEALs fakers have ranged from a 14-year-olds posting on discussion boards to the accomplished, like The Biggest Loser trainer Carter Hay, who can?t resist an extra check on their list.

And then there are those just looking for a date.

?Several years ago, one of the major beer distributors asked bar tenders to ID the top ten pick up lines used by guys trying to meet girls in bars ? Number 1: ?I was a navy SEAL.?

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