USSOCOM Report on SOF Culture and Ethics

USSOCOM Culture and Ethics Comprehensive Review January 2020

The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has released a 69-page report entitled United States Special Operations Command Comprehensive Review. USSOCOM was directed by Congress to conduct a review of its culture and report back to it with its findings.

The USSOCOM report, dated 23 January 2020, is the result of a review by USSOCOM “. . . that gathered insights and observations from across the force, at all levels, . . .”

SOF Incidents Involving Crimes

For the last few years the United States special operations community has come under great scrutiny for a number of negative incidents that have put it under the glare. These incidents of misconduct and unethical behavior caused the public and government leaders to question the culture and ethics of the SOF community. The U.S. Congress mandated that United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) conduct a ‘culture and ethics’ review.

There are a number of high profile incidents that have captured the attention of the U.S. public, the media, and Congress. A quick summary of these incidents include:

  • an Army Special Forces Major accused of murdering an unarmed Taliban bomb-maker in Afghanistan
  • two Army Special Forces NCOs convicted of smuggling cocaine from Colombia into the United States
  • a Navy SEAL and two Marine Raiders accused of murder / manslaughter of an Army Green Beret in Mali
  • a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes while deployed with his SEAL platoon in Iraq
  • Navy SEAL platoon having a drunk fest in Iraq on the 4th of July and getting sent home
  • Army Special Forces NCOs stealing money from operational funds
  • numerous incidents of sexual assault, sexual mis-conduct, and drug use

About the Report

There are six Chapters in the report:

  • Chapter 1: Executive Summary
  • Chapter 2: Structure of the Report
  • Chapter 3: Background
  • Chapter 4: Method and Approach
  • Chapter 5: Findings and Recommended Actions
  • Chapter 6: Conclusion

In addition there are several appendices providing information on the Advisory Team and Review Team participants, a Special Operations Forces Culture and Ethics Memo, NDAA 2018 Guidance on Assessment of Culture and Accountability in SOF, Cdr’s Guidance on Ethics, research method, engagement strategy, interview questions and guidelines, results and analysis, and Review Team implementation and recommended actions.

The Review Team was led by a SOF general officer. Assisting on the team was a group of 20 military officers, enlisted, and civilian personnel. An Advisory Team, composed of former SOF, DOD senior leaders, and academia SMEs provided transparency and guidance. [1] Over 2,000 interviews were conducted with all components and at all levels of the special operations forces.


“The Review Team did not assess that USSOCOM has a systemic ethics problem. The Review Team did assess that in some instances USSOCOM’s cultural focus on SOF employment and mission accomplishment is to the detriment of leadership, discipline and accountability.” [2]

The report recommends 16 actions to address the findings by the review. A strong implementation plan is recommended and the adoption of the will to execute it. The report says that if “. . . implemented correctly, the comprehensive review will make USSOCOM better as a more credible, capable and precise force.” [3]


United States Special Operations Command Comprehensive Review, USSOCOM, January 23, 2020, 69 pages, PDF.

Letter to the Force – Special Operations Forces Culture and Ethics Comprehensive Review, USSOCOM, January 28, 2020

Review Finds No Systemic Ethical Problems in Special Ops, DOD News, January 28, 2020.


[1] See page 46 for a list of members of the review team.

[2] See page 4 under “Executive Summary”.

[3} See page 8.

About John Friberg 201 Articles
John Friberg is the Editor and Publisher of SOF News. He is a retired Command Chief Warrant Officer (CW5 180A) with 40 years service in the U.S. Army Special Forces with active duty and reserve components.