By Thomas B. Hunter
Photo courtesy of Navy
Note: The following text
is an excerpt from an upcoming book from Special Operations.Com
and IACSP on Red Cell. No release date yet.
This article is Copyright 2000
by Special Operations.Com.
Cell - Team Member Profiles
In early 1984, U.S. Navy Cdr. Richard Marcinko, former
commander of the Navy's elite counterterrorist unit
SEAL Team SIX, was summoned to the office of Vice
Admiral James A. "Ace" Lyons, Jr., then-Deputy
Chief of Naval Operations. During the course
of the meeting, Admiral Lyons conveyed to the commander
his concerns over the vulnerability of U.S. military
bases to terrorist attack. Marcinko was then
directed to draft a proposal for a new unit, specifically
tasked with testing the security of U.S. Navy bases.
This would not be the only mission of this new team.
In fact, testing of Naval; security was primarily
a cover for the unit's primary function - covert counterterrorist
missions conducted around the world. In this
way, a portion of the unit would deploy overtly to
a given Naval base to carry out its security mandate,
while a small element would covertly infiltrate a
foreign nation to carry out whatever counterterrorist
activity was required. This "activity"
as to be very much in line with the practice of aggressive
neutralization of known terrorists carried out on
a regular basis by nations such as Israel and Great
In order to provide the maximum educational benefit
for both the installation commander (as well as to
verify Red Cell's claims of penetration - which were
sometimes disputed by base commanders), it was decided
that a video crew using low-light equipment would
have to be incorporated into the planning and execution
of each mission. This was no easy feat, as the
video crew itself would also have to be able to penetrate
the base in order to remain close enough to Red Cell
to video its actions. To remedy this problem,
three former SEAL Team SIX operators were hired to
film every operation. This had a dual benefit
in that not only were these men able to secretly enter
the installation without giving away the location
of the team, but having been trained in exactly
the same techniques as the Red Cell members (some
of whom they had already worked with in SEAL Team
SIX) they could anticipate the moves of the
team, and thus be in a position to provide superior
video surveillance of the events as they unfolded.
In a short time, Marcinko chose the name "Red
Cell" for this new unit (formally designated
OP-06D) and set about selecting personnel. According
to his non-fiction book Rogue Warrior: "There
were fourteen plank owners in the unit, three officers
and eleven enlisted men - one platoon, two boat crews,
seven pairs of swim buddies. It was a classic SEAL
design." (RW, p.
293) Thirteen of
the fourteen SEALs were from Marcinko's former command,
SEAL Team SIX. The only non-SEAL accepted into
the unit was Steve
Hartman, a former member of the USMC's
Red Cell team members were expected to maintain their
SEAL qualifications in diving, parachuting, and demolition.
Beyond this, however, they were given great latitude
in virtually all regards. Marcinko's command
style with regard to physical training conformed to
that of numerous other elite special operations units
around the world, such as the British SAS. There
was no required, formalized fitness program.
Instead, members were expected to train individually
and expected to maintain a high level of physical
Oversight and Early Issues
By Marcinko's own admission, he and his men spent
a great deal of their non-training time drinking and
brawling, a theme carried over from his days as CO
of SIX. This type of activity was certainly
not unique to Red Cell, however the frequency of its
occurrence and numerous mishaps that resulted directly
from drinking have frequently been pointed out as
a failure in discipline and leadership by Naval Special
Warfare and conventional military officers of all
branches. To be sure, this would catch up to
Red Cell several months later, and prove to further
the already poor disciplinary reputation of the unit
within the Navy.
It may be said that this type of behavior was facilitated
by the lack of oversight of Red Cell during its brief
operational history, however this is only partly true.
Indeed, while great attention was given to monitoring
the unit's actions during training exercises, there
existed virtually no supervisory apparatus to which
the team had to answer during its off-duty hours.
This lack of oversight can be said to have given carte
blanche to Red Cell members to act not as disciplined
members of a Navy unit, but rather more as a small
fraternity that viewed themselves as beyond the standards
of acceptable conduct, even for such a unique special
This is not to say, however, that Red Cell operated
completely autonomously and without any regulation.
In fact, Admiral Lyons drafted a "thick book
of guidelines to make sure Red Cell did its job by
the book." (RW, p. 287) Additionally, the
team was assigned a Navy lawyer in an effort to ensure
that they operated within the parameters of the law.
Finally, each scenario could not simply be selected
by Red Cell and acted upon. Instead, the team
was required to present a scenario for a given installation
to the small cadre of senior officers overseeing the
program. Therefore, each scenario (as designed
by Red Cell) had to first be approved by Admiral Lyons,
then by the Vice Chief of Naval Operations and his
staff, and finally by the Commander in Chief (CINC)
of the theater in which the installation resided.
Finally, according to Marcinko's book Rogue Warrior,
Lyons added his own personal warning: "Stray
too far from what we've agreed on, and you and your
boys are history." (ibid.) These words
would prove to be prophetic ones, but not before Red
Cell had its moment in the sun.
Red Cell was frequently partnered with the
160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment
during training exercises (most commonly the MH-6
Little Bird, especially for shipboard assaults),
though they were ferried oftentimes by Air Force cargo
aircraft. They used C-130's for both transport
and for free fall parachute training, C-5's and C-141's
for transportation of the team with its gear, as well
as smaller aircraft as required.
Advanced training for this unit was not as essential
for Red Cell, due to the fact that its team members
had already graduated from the most rigorous military
schools offered by the Department of Defense as well
as those hosted by other nations. Moreover,
all team members had active duty experience with Force
Recon or the regular SEAL Teams and SEAL Team SIX,
all of which offered continual training in advanced
skills such as HALO and HAHO parachuting, advanced
combat diving, close quarters battle (CQB), sniping,
and scores of related techniques. For this reason,
it was most important for Red Cell to maintain its
proficiency in shooting and to develop unique new
techniques such as might be needed by a globally-deployable
counterterrorist unit. For this reason, it is
possible that the team did spend some time training
at the CIA's facility at the Harvey
Point Defense Testing Activity ("The Point")
where such skills are taught to CIA and DOD personnel.
In Spring 1985, Red Cell was ready for its first
field test. The site selected for this was one
familiar to the team members, the Norfolk Naval base
facilities. The location was familiar due to
the fact that Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base (home
to SEAL Teams Two, Fours and Eight as well as SEAL
Team SIX [Dam Neck would become the home of SIX's
successor, the Naval Special Warfare Development Group])
was just a short twenty minute drive to the Norfolk
In practice, as set forth in the guidelines handed
down by the Navy oversight body, the base commander
was to be briefed not only on the fact that Red Cell
would be conducting an active test of base security,
but also which targets (facilities) were going to
be 'attacked' and when the attack would take place.
Umpires were also used on occasion as a neutral party
to determine the casualties and damage inflicted as
a result of Red Cell's incursions.
This procedure was followed at the inaugural three
day event at Norfolk, which involved the use of smoke
grenades, booby traps, and simulated explosives targeting
the Navy's Second Fleet and the Atlantic Fleet Headquarters.
This exercise took place and was deemed a general
success, though it was primarily a test for Red Cell
itself on interacting with base personnel, commanding
officers, videotaping procedures, infiltration parameters,
and similar necessary baseline procedures.
New London, Connecticut
The first true exercise took place in June 1985 at
London, Connecticut, home of the US Navy's
Trident and Ohio-class submarines, a vital component
of the US nuclear 'triad', essential to the security
of the United States. Check here
for information on the base's command infrastructure.
Below is a photo of the Naval Submarine Support
Facility (NSSF), one element of the Naval Submarine
Base New London, and one of Red Cell's targets.
NSSF is a major shore command; the Navy's largest
nuclear-capable FMA. This base provides intermediate
level maintenance, ordnance, and supply support to
three submarine squadrons of 22 nuclear attack submarines,
support vessels and service craft. The upper
portion of the base, seen to the far right, hosts
the base facilities (BOQ, commisary, etc.), while
the lower portion on the river holds
the submarine pens (areas in which the subs are kept
The pre-mission reconnaissance of the base found
numerous lapses in security (RW, 288):