Osama bin Laden's Life in Hiding

09.10.12

Navy SEAL Goes Dark

Facing threats from the Pentagon and the prospect of reprisal from al Qaeda, the man who dished on the bin Laden raid cancels media tour for his new book, No Easy Day. Eli Lake reports.

Usually, when an author pens a bestseller and promotes it on 60 Minutes, a major publicity tour ensues and, if he or she is lucky, maybe even a bit of literary fame. But for the former Navy SEAL operator who wrote an unauthorized, first-hand account of the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the publication of the book has brought a bunch of problems.

Christine Ball, a vice president of the Dutton imprint that published No Easy Day, said Monday that the author who is using the pseudonym Mark Owen gave his first and last media interview to CBS in an episode that aired Sunday.

“At this point we are not scheduling any further interviews with Mark or Kevin Maurer, his coauthor, for security reasons,” she said. “As anyone who watched 60 Minutes can tell you, they went to great lengths to disguise Mark. We want to take even more precautions now that his name has been outed.” 

Last month, Fox News first reported that Owen’s real name was Matt Bissonnette, a decision that prompted Dutton to cancel a scheduled media tour for security reasons.

“He should go into hiding,” said Don Mann, a former member of SEAL Team Six and the author of the book Inside SEAL Team Six, which explores the world of the elite group behind the bin Laden raid. Mann said Bissonnette will have to “have an identity change, and a name change; he will be a target for the rest of his life. Our enemy will not forget that he was one of the people who put a bullet into Osama’s body.”

Retribution isn’t the only danger the author of No Easy Day faces. The Pentagon has determined that the book discloses classified information and that the author violated the nondisclosure agreement he signed when he became a SEAL.

“Service members who perform heroic acts deserve our gratitude, but those heroic acts do not exempt service members from their obligation to protect classified information,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said Monday. “It's our strong view that the author of the book disclosed classified information, and that he is in material breach of agreements he signed with the United States government.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CBS on Monday that "we have to take steps to make clear to [Bissonnette] and to the American people that we're not going to accept this kind of behavior." Panetta said that revealing information about the bin Laden raid "jeopardizes other types of operations and the lives of others that are involved in these operations…It tells our enemies essentially how we operate and what we do to go after them, and when you do that, you tip them off."

When word first broke that a former Navy SEAL had written an unauthorized account of the bin Laden raid, Admiral William McRaven, chief of the Special Operations Command, sent a letter to all U.S. special forces threatening criminal prosecution if a review of the book revealed information “detrimental to the safety of U.S. forces.” Unlike Inside SEAL Team Six and other books that discuss covert military affairs, No Easy Day wasn’t approved by the Pentagon’s pre-publication review board.

'He should go into hiding ... He will be a target for the rest of his life.'

Mann said he was bewildered that Bissonnette didn’t submit his book for review. But, he added, there was nonetheless some sympathy for the author among current and former SEALs. He cited an email now circulating among SEAL members from a retired senior SEAL officer asking why Bissonnette is being ostracized when the code of silence has already been broken by people much higher up in the chain of command. The email referred to efforts by the White House to help two filmmakers get interviews with top military and intelligence officers for a film about the bin Laden compound (spokesmen for the CIA, Pentagon, and White House have said no classified information was disclosed in those interviews).

According to Mann, the gist of the email is, “Where is the code of silence when the White House and the Pentagon are working with Hollywood movie producers? Why is this guy being ostracized?”

In the 60 Minutes episode, Bissonnette said he has received an outpouring of support from his fellow SEALs. He also said he made sure not to disclose the techniques and tactics of the SEALs in the book. “If a reader is looking for secrets, this is not their book,” he told 60 Minutes.