If I ever get a chance to meet the SEAL Team Six operator who allegedly took part in the bin Laden raid and is telling his story in the book No Easy Day (to be released this fall), the first thing I will do is shake his hand. I will congratulate him for being part of the operation that took out bin Laden and for his service to our country. Then I will advise him to pack up his family and move to an obscure part of the country, maybe in the mountains, and keep a low profile. Because by revealing his role in the killing of bin Laden, he’s made himself and his family a target of al-Qaeda extremists. Furthermore, he can expect some disapproval from the SEAL community — especially if his book reveals anything about the tactics, techniques or procedures used on the mission.
I say this from experience. I was a member of SEAL Team Six and I too wrote a book about it. Being a member of SEAL Team Six was the best job a SEAL could ever wish for. I was surrounded with the most experienced fighters in our country’s history, the most well-trained operators and a fun and motivated group of guys. Inside SEAL Team Six, which was published by Little, Brown last December, focused on some of my personal experiences in the SEAL teams and did not reveal any confidential or sensitive material. (The fact that Team Six even existed was top secret until the President revealed their role in killing Osama bin Laden on the night of May 1, 2011.)
Shortly after the bin Laden raid, I was offered large amounts of money from several book publishers to reveal what I knew about the raid and what I knew about how SEAL Team Six operated. I turned those offers down, and made it clear that I would never reveal any secrets that could jeopardize the safety of my fellow SEALs.
I later agreed to talk about SEAL Team Six as part of my longer, personal story (including my troubled childhood and career in long-distance extreme sports), and made it clear to my publisher that anything I wrote would be rigorously vetted by both the government and military, including Naval Special Warfare. It was a long, often painful process and ended up delaying publication of the book for three months. But I felt strongly that it was important and necessary. Only after the military and government publication-review boards had made their redactions did I agree to have the book published.
The important thing for me was to be able to look myself in the mirror and know that I had done the right thing. The way I see it, there’s a big difference between talking or writing about how a particular experience has impacted your life and revealing classified tactics, techniques, procedures and operations. Military personnel should never disclose classified matters to those who do not have a need to know. Our job is to execute missions, which is what the SEALs did so ably and bravely that night in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
As military personnel, all of us are required to sign a nondisclosure agreement pledging never to reveal any classified information. It’s a lifelong commitment, and one that we all need to honor. On Thursday, Fox News and the Associated Press both claimed to have identified the author of No Easy Day as former SEAL Matt Bissonnette. I don’t believe that I ever knew Bissonnette, nor is his name familiar to me. But I sincerely hope he has abided by the same pledge. Yes, we live in a democracy where the public has a real desire to know information, but we also live in a very dangerous world where military secrets need to be preserved for the safety of our military personnel and, ultimately, the safety of those they protect.