I-Team investigates impostors posing as Navy SEALs

November 19, 2012 7:35:59 AM PST
Navy SEALs have pulled off several high-profile missions in recent years, and as a result, the number of impostors -- people posing as Navy SEALs -- is soaring. The I-Team tracked down one phony SEAL on the Peninsula.

At first glance, this might seem like a small issue -- some misguided soul trying to impress people. But, to current and former Navy SEALs and to the family members of those who died serving their country, this is very important. They call it "stolen valor".

Members of the Navy's special operations force, the SEALs, launch a daring night-time raid, killing Osama bin Laden. They rescue a ship's captain from Somali pirates, killing three of them with simultaneous headshots fired from boat to boat. Such exploits add to the legend of the navy seals, but they also have sparked a surge in the number of impostors.

"Make no mistake, SEALs are the number one targeted group in this country for impostors," retired Navy Seal Don Shipley said. "Everybody's a Navy SEAL."

Shipley runs a training camp in Virginia. It's a prep course for young men planning to become SEALs, and for others who just want to test themselves. But, Shipley has also made it his life's mission to expose the phonies.

Dan: "This goes deep for you. Why?"
Don: "You go to those memorial services, I'm tired of going to them, they're tough. These are just a cut above guys, they deserve that, we've lost a lot of guys, I'll honor 'em, I'll go after 'ya."

Shipley receives tips about SEAL impostors from across the country, and he checks the names against this confidential database -- a list of all 18,000 men who served as Navy SEALs or who even passed "buds" -- basic underwater demolition SEAL training.

Shipley recently received a tip from the Bay Area about Ike Densmore. The 48-year-old does not appear in the SEAL database, and I confirmed with the Naval Special Warfare Command that he never participated in SEAL training. Yet, Densmore plastered his fake military history on social media sites, including LinkedIn.

Dan: "What do people get out of putting Navy SEAL on a job resume? What does that get them?"
Don: "Respect, it gets them to the head of the line, when you can put those four little letters, S-E-A-L, former, retired, ex on a job resume, it opens doors."

Densmore took it much further, claiming to be a highly decorated veteran of Navy SEAL Team One -- with a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, three Purple Hearts, two Presidential Unit Citations and six Navy "accommodations."

"This stuff starts running straight up my skirt, you throw that impressive resume down there and you add those SEAL claims and then you can't even spell commendation and write down accommodation, I'm not even sure you served," Shipley said.

During one of his training camps, Don Shipley reached Densmore on his cell phone, grilled him about his service, and poked holes in his story.

Ike: "I'll be seeing you soon, Don, I can assure you."
Don: "Oh, hey, look, my website is extremesealexperience.com, I'm right here in Chesapeake, Virginia, I see you're out in California, but I hope you make it out this way."
Dan: "He didn't back down!"
Don: "A lot of them don't and they'll take that to the grave with them."

So, the I-team returned to the Bay Area to investigate, speaking with Densmore's former co-workers in various telecommunications companies. Stan Fong says his colleagues reacted with skepticism to Densmore's tales of being a Navy SEAL.

Stan: "It's like, eh, it doesn't add up, doesn't add up."
Dan: "It doesn't add up."
Stan: "He's not long and lanky like most SEALs, he's short and squat. And this guy looked like he was more of a couch potato than a Navy SEAL."

Fong says it was easy to dismiss Densmore, until he considered the bigger issue, "I just think that he's stealing from legitimate military veterans that could use a job by posing."

When I reached Densmore by phone, he refused to answer any questions or sit down for an interview. So, I tracked him to his Menlo Park home.

Dan: "Ike, I need to talk to you about your Navy SEAL background."
Ike: "Dan, I'm on my way to the VA."
Dan: "Is that true that you're a Navy SEAL? You're going to the VA right now?"
Ike: "I am."
Dan: "Really? Were you ever in the military?"

I followed Densmore to the Palo Alto Department of Veterans Affairs, where he's receiving services -- I couldn't confirm what kind of services because of privacy laws, and Densmore wouldn't say.

My Freedom of Information Act request to the "National Personnel Records Center" in St. Louis confirms Densmore did serve in the military. He's no Navy SEAL -- he never even served in the Navy, but in the Army.

Dan: "Do you apologize for posing as a Navy SEAL?"
Ike: "I apologize for a lot of things, Dan."
Dan: "How about for posing as a Navy SEAL, do you wish that you hadn't done that?"

In all my research, there's one thing I've learned about Navy SEALs -- unless you become good friends, you probably wouldn't know if you ever met one. They don't brag.

"It would take you about five questions to find out I was a SEAL," Shipley said. "You'd ask me, what do you do? Well, I'm retired. Retired from what? I'm retired Navy. Oh, really. What ship were you on? I wasn't on a ship. Where were you stationed at? Eh, Little Creek. What'd you do? I was a SEAL."

Dan: "They believe that you are disrespecting the memories of those who served, fought and died. What do you say to that?"
Ike: "I think they're all good guys."
Dan: "Well, they don't feel the same about you."

Shipley gets anywhere from 20-50 tips a day about fake Navy SEALs, many of them from the Bay Area, and I'm checking more out right now. If you have someone you suspect, call me at 1-888-40-I-Team or email me through ABC7News.com.

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