It’s a complicated time to be Matt Bissonnette, a Navy SEAL veteran who took part in the May 2, 2011, raid that killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
Also known as Mark Owen, his pen name, he remains under investigation by the federal government and under fire from fellow members of the Special Operations world for allegedly disclosing classified information in his bestselling 2012 book about the mission, “No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden.” The probe also may extend to things he has said in speeches, the New York Times reported Friday.
Nevertheless, Bissonnette is about to release a new book, “No Hero: The Evolution of a Navy SEAL.” The work is billed as a follow-up to “No Easy Day,” and focuses on missions and moments that didn’t make national news. It also has a crucial difference: The Pentagon vetted it before its publication, he said. Bissonnette didn’t go through that process the first time, leading to the legal quagmire he’s currently in.
“We did ‘No Easy Day,’ and as we all know that caused a huge firestorm,” Bissonnette said in a phone interview. “I never set out to not get it reviewed or do it the wrong way; I had the best of intentions. With the barrage that followed, it has been probably the toughest two years of my life.”
Bissonnette blames bad legal advice for not having the first book reviewed by the Defense Department to make sure no secrets were released, even hinting cryptically “that there is some stuff going on” when asked if he may pursue litigation against his former attorney, who has not been identified. But Special Operations troops have not all bought that argument, saying Bissonnette knew better and alleging that he was chasing a big paycheck. His book has sold more than 1 million hard copies, according to a source in book publishing with knowledge of its sales.
Bissonnette’s face has not been publicized, and he prefers to go by his pen name. Under threat from the Pentagon, he retreated from doing interviews shortly after the publication of “No Easy Day” two years ago when his real name was first publicized. But he has continued to maintain a public persona, interacting with fans through his Instagram account, @markowenseal, and some paid speaking engagements.
He also granted CBS’ “60 Minutes” an interview that was broadcast Sunday night. The network partially disguised his face and voice, in similar fashion to what it did in 2012 when it interviewed him.
Bissonnette said the new book does not go into the controversy that erupted after the publication of ‘No Easy Day.” He wanted to “stay away from the drama” and focus on lessons that he can pass on to readers, he said. He has continued to try and reach a settlement with the government, and remains frustrated about the uncertainty.
“It has taken two years, and here we are with all this kind of coming to a head,” he said. “It’s as big of a deal as it is right now because nothing has been done for two long years. So of course everyone wants to talk about it. There was no ending to the ‘No Easy Day’ piece before ‘No Hero’ was launched.”
The Pentagon press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said Friday that the investigation remains open, but declined to elaborate on what in Bissonnette’s first book led to it.
“I would challenge this assertion that, you know, ‘you guys are dogging him,'” Kirby said. “I mean, there’s an active investigation. And we don’t investigate, we or any other agency, investigate things lightly.”
Settlement talks were first reported by Foreign Policy magazine in July. While they were ongoing, he submitted “No Hero” for review by the Pentagon, and it took between six and nine months to complete, he said.
“They redacted a lot of it,” he said of the new book. “We appealed all of the redactions because we felt like we had justification for every single one to be cleared, and we won about 50 percent of the redactions.”
Bissonnette isn’t the only SEAL to disclose details about the bin Laden raid. In one example, a man who claims to be the one who shot the al-Qaeda chief was profiled by Esquire magazine in its March 2013 issue, sharing details about how the mission came together and voicing his frustration about losing retirement benefits.
Top Navy officials later said that “The Shooter,” as Esquire referred to him, was told he would lose his full retirement benefits by leaving the service before serving 20 years, but did so anyway. The Pentagon also said at the time that it was reviewing the story to see if classified information was disclosed in it, but would not confirm whether the individual profiled was the SEAL who killed bin Laden.
Fox News announced recently that it will air an interview with the Navy SEAL who killed bin Laden on Nov. 11 and 12, and identify him. The network did not say whether it is the same man in the Esquire piece, which reported that he feared becoming a target if he was identified.
Asked about the other SEAL, Bissonnette’s response was blunt.
“Not touching it with a 10-foot pole,” he said.
Adam Goldman contributed to this report.
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