Saturday, September 01, 2012
U.S. Navy SEAL author worried about leaks after bin Laden raid
By Tabassum Zakaria
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former Navy SEAL at the centre of a brewing battle with the U.S. government over his book worried about security after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden to the point that he questioned signing his real name on a framed flag from the mission which was being presented to President Barack Obama.
He wrote about his concern that others would see his name. "How many hands does it pass through before it gets hung on the wall?" the author of "No Easy Day" asked. "Don't they have tours of the White House?"
In the book, penned under pseudonym "Mark Owen," he mused that "the only thing that remained secret was our names."
His real name, Matt Bissonnette, was revealed shortly after news broke that the first-hand account of the daring operation on the al Qaeda leader's compound in Pakistan last year was to be published. Reuters obtained an advance copy of the book to be released on September 4 from the publisher, Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Group USA.
The Pentagon has threatened legal action against Bissonnette for alleged violation of non-disclosure agreements because the manuscript was not submitted for a pre-publication security review. His attorney responded that the subject matter of his book was not covered by non-disclosure agreements he has signed.
Bissonnette wrote that he decided to do the book because details of the raid that were being leaked by others in government were wrong.
"Even reports claiming to have the inside story have been incorrect. I felt like someone had to tell the true story."
His account does differ. He writes that bin Laden was shot in the head as he peeked from a bedroom door, while the White House has said he was not armed but had resisted capture.
Obama and Admiral Bill McRaven, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command, were speaking about the bin Laden mission, he writes. "If my commander in chief is willing to talk, then I feel comfortable doing the same."
Bissonnette grew up in Alaska. His early years were spent in a small village of about 500 which local media reports identified as Aniak, before moving to Wrangell, Alaska.
He grew up with a gun, carrying a rifle by the time he finished elementary school. He was first exposed to Navy SEALs while doing a book report and said he knew he wanted to become one at age 13.
A key lesson learned by SEALs early on is to be "comfortable being uncomfortable," which Bissonnette said he learned as a child checking animal traps with his father deep in the Alaskan wilderness with temperatures near zero.
His parents were Christian missionaries with a "sense of adventure" and he was the middle child, with two sisters.
He found his early years in Alaska were good training for his years as a SEAL. "I excelled at land warfare. It was really no different than my hunting trips as a kid," he wrote.
Bissonnette's parents were not pleased with his plan to enlist. "My mother didn't let me play with G.I. Joe or other military toys when I was younger because they were too violent."
After he left SEAL Team Six earlier this year, Bissonnette made a "long, hard decision" to write the book, knowing that some in the SEAL community would not be pleased. But he believed it was "time to set the record straight about one of the most important missions in U.S. military history."
A person who spoke to Bissonnette since the uproar over his book broke out said the author was surprised and unnerved by the reaction, because he believed he had been very careful to fulfil his obligations to the military and to avoid spilling any sensitive information.
But the book has raised ire among SEALs who pride themselves on being "quiet professionals" and find it unseemly for one of their own to write about a mission, even with the pledge that most of the proceeds will be donated to charities to benefit families of SEALs.
One special operations officer, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, criticized the book and the publicity it has generated.
"Any former special operator who chooses to provide details of operations they have participated in does so at the peril of those who continue to serve," the officer said. "Special operations are inherently sensitive and it is a breach of trust to publicize operational details for personal gain."
SOME ANGER AMONG SEALS
Ron Capps, director of the Veterans Writing Project, said all of the submissions from special operations personnel that were to appear anonymously on the project's journal had been withdrawn in the past few days.
"My sense is that they are concerned that they will be lumped in with the men they consider are selling out and betraying the ethos of 'the quiet professionals'," Capps said.
Don Mann, who retired as a Navy SEAL in 1998 and has authored several books including "Inside SEAL Team Six," views pre-publication review as a "lifelong commitment."
He said he was trying to withhold judgment in this case and was hoping the book did not reveal anything related to tactics, techniques and procedures that could help the enemy fight U.S. forces. His view was that rules should be followed by submitting the book for pre-publication security review.
Mann said he receives a lot of email from the SEAL community and opinions had ranged from wanting to ostracize the author of "No Easy Day" as a sell-out for money and fame to a view that he had the right as an American to tell his side of the story when others were talking about it.
At the crux of the anger from Navy SEALs is a fear that the book might hinder their selection for choice missions.
"If the Pentagon doesn't think that SEALs can keep a secret we don't want to stop getting the missions just because people are out there writing books without getting them vetted," Mann said. "That is at the heart of it."
Bissonnette was apparently so worried about having his real identity known that he appears in an interview on CBS program "60 Minutes," to air on September 9, disguised by a professional make-up artist and with his voice altered.
An official al Qaeda website has posted a photograph and the real name of the former Navy commando, calling him "the dog who murdered the martyr Sheikh Osama bin Laden."
In perhaps the most ironic twist, the book has put Bissonnette firmly in the spotlight, while inside its covers he writes about discomfort over leaks and publicity about SEAL Team Six's involvement in the bin Laden raid.
"We just killed the number one terrorist in the world. The last thing we needed was our names attached to it," he wrote. "We simply wanted to fade back into the shadows and go back to work."
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart, Mark Hosenball and Katharine Houreld; editing by Todd Eastham)