Ex-SEAL may be 'endangering our own,' experts say
The former Navy SEAL behind a firsthand account of the daring raid that killed terror leader Osama bin Laden risks endangering his ex-comrades and violating a revered code of silent service, some in the intelligence and special warfare communities say.
“I do hope the author did not disclose any classified information because he did not get it prescreened” by the government, said Steve Howard, former chief of training for the Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. “The special operations community takes a dim view of members who go public with information that they have promised not to disclose.”
The Defense Department warned author Matt Bissonnette and his publisher, Penguins Putnam, last week that his book “No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden,” violates nondisclosure agreements he signed while he was a SEAL.
Bissonnette did not allow Pentagon officials to inspect the book before publication to determine if it contains classified information about the May 2, 2011, raid by SEAL Team 6 in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
“Some of the things I've heard about the book, he could have some people looking for him, and I'm not talking about Americans. I'm talking about the other side,” former SEAL Don Tocci told WBZ-TV, a CBS-affiliate TV station in Boston.
Jihadists on al Qaida websites have posted purported photos of the author, calling for his murder.
Bissonnette wrote under a pen name, Mark Owen. Fox News first revealed Mark Owen to be Bissonnette, and it was later confirmed to The Associated Press.
An excerpt from the book appears to differ from some initial reports about bin Laden's death released by the White House. Some critics have said the book is intended to influence the outcome of the presidential election which, in a “60 Minutes” interview, the author denies. CBS is continuing to protect the author's identity by referring to him by his pen name.
“The book is not political whatsoever,” he said in an interview to be broadcast at 7 p.m. Sept. 9. “This is a book about Sept. 11, and it needs to rest on Sept. 11. Not be brought into the political arena, because this — this has nothing to do with politics.”
The book is a best-seller on Amazon.com. It's scheduled to be released on Tuesday, moved up a week from Sept. 11 to meet demand.
But Brandon Webb, a former Navy SEAL and a friend of Bissonnette's, said the book will be used for political reasons.
“The big issue is there was no formal review and that — you get into a situation with the timeliness of this and even though you hear, I'm sure he believes in his heart, that he didn't want to make the book political, but then you have a publisher trying to drive book sales and they're well aware of that, releasing a book of this nature right before the election in November,” Webb, the author of “Red Circle,” said on “CBS This Morning: Saturday.”
Bissonnette, 36, earned five Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. He left active duty in April.
A lawyer for Bissonnette said on Friday that his client was careful not to divulge secrets and has “earned the right to tell his story.”
“There are several former special operations men from Army, Navy and Air Force who are persona non grata today because of these types of activities and writings that didn't get cleared,” Howard said. “It's bad enough that this administration has been leaking highly classified info, but when one of our own might be leaking info that the public might not need to be privy to, he's endangering our own.”
Pentagon spokesman Gregory Little on Friday commended those who participated in one of “the most successful military and intelligence operations in history,” but said that doesn't absolve anyone of the responsibility to observe secrecy rules.
“Even those who participated in such a mission have a serious and enduring obligation to follow the process and to help protect classified information,” Little said in published reports.
The government could seize profits from the book and sue Bissonnette if the material is deemed too sensitive, according to Michael Finnegan, a professor of criminal justice and intelligence at Point Park University.
He noted the case of a veteran CIA agent who published an unauthorized book about the agency in 2008 under the pseudonym Ishmael Jones. The government successfully sued Jones claiming that he violated secrecy regulations and sought to seize profits from the book, which Jones had donated to charity.
“When you sign on and take the training to become a SEAL, you're not an independent contractor. You work for the United States government, and you sign a nondisclosure statement. I don't see how you get around that,” Finnegan said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.