Delta Force Vets Dismiss Claims Of 'The Unit' Writer
Published: Apr 11, 2006
Eric Haney has made much out of his time as a member of Delta Force, America's clandestine counterterrorism outfit.
Way too much, according to former Delta Force officers and operators, who say Haney has embellished his résumé and fabricated other parts of his military career on his way to becoming an acclaimed author and a key contributor to the CBS television series "The Unit."
Now, as Haney's star rises in Hollywood and throughout the mainstream media, those who served with him say they've had enough. They're going public with withering critiques, describing Haney as a self-serving pretender seeking fame and money.
"It's always disturbing when a former member of the organization does something that lacks integrity," said retired Army Lt. Col. Lewis "Bucky" Burruss, who was assigned to Delta in November 1977 when the organization was formally activated.
Logan Fitch, Haney's former Delta squadron commander, said Haney's comments and conduct since he left the military more than a decade ago have earned him "persona non grata" status. He is banned from Delta facilities, reunions and commemorative events.
"I don't know of any [ex-Delta troops] who are sympathetic to Haney," said Fitch, who joined Delta shortly after Burruss did.
"I have no problem with him capitalizing on his experience, but he should be factual. I view him as a crass opportunist interested in personal gain," he said.
"The Unit," which premiered March 7 and has received solid Nielsen ratings, is based on Haney's autobiography, "Inside Delta Force." The show airs Tuesday evenings, and Haney is the program's supervising producer, technical adviser and co-writer.
Published in May 2002, "Inside Delta Force" advertises Haney as a "founding member" of the organization.
The book is filled with gripping accounts of Delta's brutal physical and psychological training regimen, the tight bonds forged among the troops, and top-secret missions to desolate locations, including the failed 1980 attempt to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran.
One of the most compelling episodes involves a Nicaraguan-born Army Green Beret whom Haney befriended while both were trying out for Delta in the fall of 1978. Five years later, Haney wrote, he would encounter this U.S. soldier-turned-Sandinista commando on a mountaintop in Honduras and kill him with a rifle shot during an intense firefight.
Burruss said he has never read Haney's book and never will. He's certain, though, the episode did not occur.
"It didn't happen. Period," said Burruss, who became Delta's deputy commander in June 1983 and spent nine years with the supersecret organization.
Mel Wick agreed with Burruss. Wick was assigned to Delta in November 1977 and served 16 years with the unit. He spent the last 3 1/2 as Delta's highest-ranking enlisted operator.
"He did not encounter his 'selection course roommate' - or anyone else - in the jungles of Central America and kill him," Wick wrote in a March 8 e-mail to the Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly after Haney appeared on "The O'Reilly Factor."
Haney "consistently takes credit for missions he was never on and things he never did in his book and in his public appearances," Wick's message said.
Wick provided the e-mail to The Tampa Tribune but declined to comment further.
Haney did not respond to a request for an interview, but provided a brief comment through his literary agent, Frank Weimann.
"I have nothing but respect for my former comrades," Haney said. "But I stand by everything in my book."
Weimann, an agent with The Literary Group International in New York, said Haney "doesn't feel the need to engage in pointless rhetoric."
"This is a newer version of Swift Boating," Weimann said, referring to the campaign by Navy Vietnam veterans to discredit 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry's military service.
Before joining Delta Force, Haney was an Army Ranger. William Sears, a retired staff sergeant who served with him in the 1st Ranger Battalion, said Haney is being criticized unfairly.
"Eric is not a liar. He's not anti-American," Sears said. "The fact that he's got a different opinion is what has gotten him into trouble with these people."
To those unfamiliar with the Delta fraternity, Haney casting himself as one of Delta's founding members might seem a minor infraction, a question of semantics. To those present at the creation, however, the claim is blasphemy.
"The only founder of the Delta Force was Charlie Beckwith," Burruss said. "There were no co-founders."
Haney was assigned to Delta in December 1978, according to Burruss, nearly 13 months after the organization was established. Haney would not become a qualified Delta operator until mid-1979.
Beckwith, a charismatic and controversial Army colonel, risked his career fighting for a more flexible special operations organization - one able to adapt quickly to unconventional threats such as an airplane hijacking.
Eventually, top military leaders directed Beckwith to create a counterterrorism team that would specialize in quick-strike, hostage-rescue missions. The hypersecret unit was named 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta. More simply, it was called Delta Force.
Beckwith died of natural causes in 1994 at age 65.
His daughter, Connie Beckwith Howe, has kept close ties with many of the soldiers picked by Beckwith to get Delta up and running. She has never met or spoken to Haney.
"People think he helped my dad start the unit, and he didn't," she said. "I haven't read Haney's book, and I don't care to."
Haney spent eight years with Delta Force, according to his book. In 1986, because of the mental and physical demands of the job, he was wrestling with whether to stay. Then, in rapid order, he received promotions to sergeant major and then command sergeant major, the highest rank an enlisted soldier can achieve in the Army.
With room for only one command sergeant major at Delta, Haney said the decision effectively was made for him. He asked for an assignment with an infantry unit and eventually retired from the Army in 1990.
A page from one of his final Delta efficiency reports is reprinted in his book. Haney is called an "outstanding" member of the organization, a soldier who is "tough, quiet and exceptionally talented."
Who thought so highly of Haney is not known, however, because the rater's name is not included on the document.
Wick said Haney never got above a four-man team leader position with Delta. His promotions to sergeant major and command sergeant major came after he left the organization, Wick said.
"He was a mediocre performer at best and not highly regarded by other unit members," Wick wrote in his e-mail to O'Reilly. "He liked to talk about how good he was instead of living it everyday."
Given Delta's demanding standards, mediocre would have made Haney a star in almost any other combat unit, Wick said, alluding to the caliber of Delta's personnel.
Released less than a year after the Sept. 11 attacks, "Inside Delta Force" received stellar reviews for providing a still-stunned American public with insights about the elite organization that was tracking Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida associates.
With his counterterrorism background and willingness to share details, Haney began appearing on national radio and television news programs, including "The O'Reilly Factor," "Inside Edition" and "Larry King Live."
In 2003, Haney met and began working with writer/director David Mamet on one of Mamet's film projects. That led to a creative collaboration that resulted in "The Unit," according to information posted on the CBS Web site.
The action drama "follows a covert team of Special Forces operatives as they risk their lives on undercover missions around the globe, while their families maintain the home front, protecting their husbands' secrets," according to CBS.
The network has ordered 13 episodes of the program.
20th Century Fox Television is producing "The Unit." Company spokesman Chris Alexander would not say how much Haney is being paid, citing a longstanding practice of not discussing contract compensation.
Beyond the show, Haney has emerged as a sharp critic of the war in Iraq, telling the Los Angeles Daily News last month that President Bush had launched an "utter debacle" and "may well have started the third world war."
Fitch, the former Delta squadron commander, said Haney's credibility to make such statements is undermined by inaccuracies in his book.
When Delta Force landed in the Iranian desert in April 1980 to stage the rescue of more than 50 Americans taken hostage months earlier, the Americans encountered a bus full of civilians traveling down a dirt road.
The bus was stopped and boarded by Delta operators. According to Haney's account, Fitch led the way. As he neared the rear of the bus, a young Iranian "jumped up and punched Logan in the nose," Haney wrote.
That never happened, Fitch said.
"If someone had hit me, I probably would have shot him," he said.
"I read 'Inside Delta Force' once, put it down in disgust and haven't picked it up since," Fitch said.
Dick Davis spent 15 years in Delta Force, succeeding Wick as the unit's command sergeant major in 1994. Davis said Haney has been trying to profit from his Delta experience since the mid-1990s, when he tried to claim copyright to the organization's emblem, a sword overlaid by a triangle-shaped thunderbolt.
Other individuals were responsible for the logo design, Davis said, and Haney's claim was rejected.
Haney's book revealed too much about the organization's inner workings, potentially putting people and programs at risk, he said.
"I don't have a lot time for Eric Haney," Davis said. "What he has done is break faith with the troops."
In a statement to The Tampa Tribune, the top spokesman at U.S. Special Operations Command noted that service members who have access to classified information are required to sign an agreement stating they will not disclose that information.
But Army Col. Sam Taylor would not say whether Haney's book violated that agreement. Military authorities were not given an opportunity to review "Inside Delta Force" before it was published, he said, but the command "and other government entities" did review it afterward.
Those authorities determined, "based on various factors, that no further action was warranted at that time," Taylor said.
"The book may, as with all books that purport to reveal historical events from an individual perspective, be biased, incomplete, contain elements of questionable accuracy or simply be wrong," he said. "Socom does not intend to specifically identify those areas."