A former Navy SEAL who penned a bestselling book about the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden is under criminal investigation for possibly disclosing classified material. The book gave a detailed account of the training the SEALs underwent in preparation for the raid, as well as of the raid itself.
Matt Bissonnette, a former member of the U.S. Navy's SEAL Team 6, who participated in the raid on a complex in Abbottabad, Pakistan, which killed Bin Laden, wrote the book “No Easy Day,” under the pseudonym Mark Owen. According to a New York Times report, Bissonnette's lawyer claims that disclosures in the book are the prime focus of the investigation. However, unnamed sources close to the investigation quoted by the paper suggest that paid corporate speaking engagements undertaken by Bissonnette, including a speech at a golf club in Atlanta, were the focus of the investigation.
Bissonnette caused controversy in military circles and beyond with his book, which he failed to submit to the Pentagon for vetting before publication. This is reportedly standard practice for books of this kind, in order to ensure that classified material or military techniques are not disclosed. According to a report from Foreign Policy, the Obama administration had already been pursuing Bissonnette, attempting to seize hundreds of thousands of dollars that he collected in royalties from the book.
"The department continues to assert forcefully that Mark Owen [Bissonnette] breached his legal obligations by publishing the book without pre-publication review and clearance," a Pentagon spokesman said in July 2014. "Settlement negotiations continue with an intent to pursue litigation if talks break down."
According to the Times report, Bissonnette had rushed the publication of his book in order to get it out before a competing tome by Mark Bowden, the author of military histories “Black Hawk Down,” and “Killing Pablo,” on the war against cocaine baron Pablo Escobar.
Bissonnette's revelations have caused much consternation in the secretive world of U.S. special forces operators. The website SOFREP.com, run by a former U.S. Navy Seal, reported that “accusations were flying on social media forums, lines in the sand have been drawn, and friendships have been ended.” At issue is whether a member of an elite military community, which prides itself on secrecy, should be making public the details of his exploits.
Rear Adm. Sean Pybus was quoted by CNN in 2012, in the wake of the release of Bissonnette's book: “We do NOT advertise the nature of our work, NOR do we seek recognition for our actions," Pybus said, adding that he was “disappointed, embarrassed and concerned" that troops are now openly speaking and writing about what they do.
The news of the investigation targeting Bissonnette comes as Fox News announced that it has secured an exclusive interview with the SEAL who fired the shots that killed Bin Laden. In a move likely to stoke further controversy, the Hollywood Reporter writes that the SEAL will reveal his identity and speak publicly about the incident for the first time. The former SEAL gave an interview to Esquire Magazine in 2013, in which he described the financial troubles he and his family had endured after he left the Navy.