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Did 'No Easy Day' author compromise US security on '60 Minutes'?

The author of 'No Easy Day' explained the raid to kill Osama bin Laden in detail on '60 Minutes' Sunday. Some media experts applaud him, while others say he has helped the enemy.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / September 10, 2012

This book cover image released by Dutton shows 'No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden,' by Mark Owen with Kevin Maurer.

Dutton/AP

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America just got a good, long look at one of the men who says he shot Osama bin Laden. Heavily disguised by makeup artists and using the same pseudonym (Mark Owen) he used to write the just-released “No Easy Day,” the former member of the US Navy’s elite counterterrorism unit, SEAL Team 6, described the raid in detail for the full hour of “60 Minutes” Sunday night.

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As such, the episode served as a useful benchmark for where America finds itself on the issue of how to balance the public’s right to know with national security in an era when the need-to-know-now expectations of the Facebook generation are colliding with lengthening wars.

Beside the thorny issue that the account contradicts early official versions of where Mr. bin Laden was shot, there is the question of how much important detail Owen (now identified as Matt Bissonnette) might have revealed by violating the longstanding code of silence for special operators. On the other hand, he has helped acquaint the American public with an increasingly isolated US military.

“To the extent that his book … and interview … provide the impetus for a deepened understanding of the practices, challenges, and sacrifices of our armed service members, his revelations may help to bridge the widening gap between the military and civilian populations,” says Mark Wilson, a professor in Villanova University’s ethics program.

Professor Wilson cites a recent Pew study showing that less than 1 percent of Americans have served in the military during the past decade. 

“The upside of Mark Owen’s candor is the potential to awaken our sense of the human costs of our war on terrorism and to initiate the dialogue that is essential for civic virtue," he says. "A healthy democratic society requires a keen sense of both the common good and the collective challenges that we face, military and civilian alike, in our shared but distinct endeavors.”

But he and many others say there are also moral, political, social, and military hazards involved in publicizing the killing of bin Laden. 

“There may be risks created for future military operations and concerns about how these revelations are viewed in the eyes of the international community,” says Wilson. “There is a temptation to glorify and sensationalize the mission of SEAL Team 6, and while it is appropriate to be grateful for and applaud the success of the mission, we do well, ethically speaking, to avoid celebratory triumphalism.”

There is much speculation about the motivation for this book, pegged to the anniversary of 9/11, Mr. Bissonnette says he intends to donate all proceeds to charity and told CBS, “I’m not trying to be special or a hero or anything. I’m just trying to tell the bigger story.”

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