Everything, it seems, is fodder for the marketplace. Have an affair with your brother’s wife? TV has a place for you. Give birth to 14 children? A reality show is in your future.
Kill the mastermind of the 2001 terrorist attacks on America? There’s a best-seller to be written, millions to be made. Even if, as a member of the elite Navy SEALs, you signed agreements to keep classified information secret and to submit manuscripts to the Pentagon for review before publication.
“No Easy Day: The Autobiography of a Navy SEAL,” released Monday, is already sold out around the country. But it has landed its author in trouble with the Department of Defense, which could prosecute him under the Espionage Act.
The author, writing under the pseudonym Mark Owen, has been identified as Matt Bissonnette. He writes that he was in the room when a fellow commando shot Osama bin Laden in the head. Unlike the official version of the covert operation, bin Laden, he said, made no effort to defend himself.
According to the book, the author fired shots into the al-Qaida leader’s chest to ensure he was dead, then positioned his head to get the best angle for a photograph. On the crowded helicopter ride back to Afghanistan, a SEAL sat on the body because there was nowhere else to sit.
The Pentagon says that publishing such details is “in material breach of nondisclosure agreements (Bissonnette) signed with the U.S. government” by revealing sensitive and classified information. The book, at the very least, places a target on the backs of the SEALs in the raid.
Rear Adm. Sean Pybus, head of Naval Special Warfare Command, noted as much. Selling details of SEAL training and operations put the SEALs and their families at risk, he said. “For an elite force that should be humble and disciplined for life, we are certainly not appearing to be so,” Pybus wrote to the roughly 8,000 troops under his command.
That came after the Bissonnette book, after a rejoinder written by other SEALs, after a swift-boat-style takedown of Obama by a group of retired military folks who dislike Democrats. It came after a movie starring real SEALs and before a movie about the bin Laden death. All of it in some way designed to reduce the killing of the 9/11 mastermind into another point on a political scoreboard.
The charges against Bissonnette, should they come, will be because the SEAL, who is supposed to protect secrets, instead disclosed them. There’s precedent.
As The New York Times reported, a federal court recently affirmed the government’s authority to enforce a non-disclosure agreement in the case of a former CIA officer who published his manuscript without review.
Political opponents have argued that President Barack Obama also divulged classified information about the bin Laden killing and provided assistance for a movie about the raid for political gain. The Department of Defense says no classified information was revealed, that the military often has cooperated with Hollywood in moviemaking.
As Obama noted on the night of bin Laden’s death, “Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who’ve worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice.
“We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country.”
— The Virginian-Pilot