- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2012

While top military leaders publicly bash a former Navy SEAL for his book about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, his foxhole comrades convey their displeasure in a more subtle way.

From now on, rogue author Matt Bissonnette will be ostracized by the fraternity. No invitations will be sent to annual events for retired and active SEALs who keep the secretive community of special warriors a closely knit band of brothers, former Navy officers told The Washington Times.

Don’t look for Mr. Bissonnette at any sanctioned SEAL reunions or memorial events, including those at his old unit, the low-profile Naval Special Warfare Development Group, known better as SEAL Team 6.

“The guys who run their mouths are typically not invited back to these things,” a retired senior Navy officer familiar with the SEAL culture told The Times.

“These guys are not really welcomed in many places in the ‘spec’ war community. The entire SEAL community has made these guys unwelcomed at their gatherings.”

The officer asked not to be named because he maintains contacts with the special operations, or “spec,” community.

“The ‘Dev Gru’ guys are giving him the cold shoulder,” said a second senior retired officer also with ties to the community, referring to a nickname for SEAL Team 6.

“They’re not going to buy the book. Most of the guys are pissed off [by] the fact that he would disclose the operation.”

A code of silence

They say Mr. Bissonnette, who this week launched “No Easy Day,” his insider account of the bin Laden operation, violated the basic SEAL creed.

It states: “I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions. I voluntarily accept the inherent hazards of my profession, placing the welfare and security of others before my own.”

At the top of the military hierarchy, leaders are going beyond shunning Mr. Bissonnette. They are coming close to threatening him with legal action on suspicion of violating an agreement not to disclose classified information. He also failed to submit the book for Pentagon review before publication.

“In recent months, a number of people associated with Naval Special Warfare have violated this part of our Ethos,” Rear Adm. Sean Pybus, who heads the Naval Special Warfare Command, wrote in a letter obtained by the Associated Press.

“As the Commander of NSW, I am disappointed, embarrassed and concerned. Most of us have always thought that the privilege of working with some of our Nation’s toughest Warriors on challenging missions would be enough to be proud of, with no further compensation or celebrity required.”

George Little, spokesman for Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, told reporters this week: “When it comes to sensitive special operations missions, such as the operation that took down Osama bin Laden, it is important that those who are involved in such operations take care to protect sensitive and classified information.

“And if I had been part of the raid team on the ground and I had decided to write a book about it, it wouldn’t have been a tough decision for me to submit the book for prepublication review. That is common sense. It’s a no-brainer. And it did not happen.”

‘I saw nothing there’

The Times talked with several people connected to the SEALs who said they saw no classified information disclosed in “No Easy Day.”

“I didn’t see anything in there that disclosed any sensitive tactics, techniques, procedures or sensitive sources and methods. I saw nothing there,” said the first retired officer quoted in this article.

“The main objection to the book is, it exists. Somebody has written about a SEAL Team 6 operation, which is basically a sellout as far as the rest of the ‘spec’ war community is concerned.”

He added that Navy SEALs don’t have time to obsess over the publication of the book because they must prepare for their next mission.

“They’re leaning forward in the foxhole all the time for what missions may be coming up and what do they have to do to prepare for them,” the retired officer said.

Washington lawyer Robert Luskin, who represents Mr. Bissonnette, said in an Aug. 31 letter that Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson has accused the author of being in “material breach” of a nondisclosure agreement with the government.

Mr. Luskin, who refers to the author’s pen name, “Mark Owen,” said, “Mr. Owen sought legal advice about his responsibilities before agreeing to publish his book and scrupulously reviewed the work to ensure that it did not disclose any material that would breach his agreements and put his former comrades at risk.”

Mr. Luskin said the agreement did not explicitly require that the manuscript be submitted for prepublication review.

The Development Group, based in Little Creek, Va., is a specialized counterterrorism SEAL team under the operational control of U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, which also directs the Army’s Delta Force. As in the bin Laden raid, the special operations command takes on the most secretive and demanding manhunting missions, using stealth, intelligence and direct fire to kill or capture high-value targets.

An Army special operations officer told The Times: “The book represents insights into an organization whose secrecy is part of its strength as a deterrent force. The mystique is, or was, critical to our nation’s ability to use them in a counterterrorism role. We generally pity the SEAL teams right now. They are still in shock and sorting out what just happened and the implications.”

Mr. Bissonnette is not the first former SEAL to write a book about wartime operations. Marcus Luttrell wrote a best-seller about a failed mission in eastern Afghanistan to hunt a Taliban chieftain. A former SEAL sniper also penned a best-seller on killing insurgents at far range.

“No Easy Day” is being published at a politically sensitive time. Republicans accuse the Obama administration of leaking classified information on the bin Laden raid to garner favorable press coverage for the president’s re-election campaign. Amid the charges, the Pentagon cracked down on leakers, sending out a memo warning Pentagon employees about unauthorized contacts with reporters.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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