The former Navy SEAL who wrote a book about his role in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden will pay the government more than $6.6 million for violating non-disclosure agreements and publishing without getting the document cleared by the Defense Department, according to federal court documents.
Matt Bissonnette, who wrote "No Easy Day" under the pseudonym Mark Owen, will give the US government all profits and royalties from the book or movie rights. The proceeds already total more than $6.6 million. He will have four years to pay the bulk of that.
The payments were outlined in settlement documents filed in US District Court in Virginia.
According to the settlement, Mr. Bissonnette also has 30 days to pay $100,000 from the proceeds of presentations he gave using slides that were not approved by the department.
The book triggered a Justice Department probe, including claims it contained classified material. Bissonnette had signed non-disclosure agreements during his service as a SEAL, and he took part in a number of highly secret operations including the bin Laden raid.
Under the agreement, Bissonnette said he would acknowledge he made a mistake by failing to submit the book for pre-publication review. And in exchange for the payments, the US government has dismissed other liability claims.
As The Christian Science Monitor's Anna Mulrine noted shortly after the book's release, the military didn't challenge Bissonnette's claim to have been present at Bin Laden's death:
While fellow Navy SEALs have taken issue with Bissonnette’s decision to publish the details of the raid in his memoirs, few have taken issue with the details themselves.
A group of former US Special Operations Forces and intelligence operatives offer their own take on Bissonnette’s memoir in their own account, “No Easy Op: The Unclassified Analysis of the Book Detailing the Killing of OBL.”
Their conclusion: The book is “very significant ... written by someone who experienced the event first-hand.... It’s a warrior’s perspective, complete with the raw, nostril-burning stink of death.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas said the agreement doesn't discredit Bissonnette's military service, but reinforces that service members comply with the non-disclosure documents they sign.
Bissonnette has written a follow-up — also under the name Owen — detailing his journey as a member of SEAL Team Six. That book, "No Hero: the Evolution of a Navy SEAL," did go through the proper channels and a few sections were redacted.
The case may have a chilling effect on future military tell-alls, wrote the Monitor's Husna Haq in 2012:
Still, the ongoing controversy over “No Easy Day” has the authors of “No Special Op” predicting Bissonnette’s book may be a game changer in the field. As Americans’ interest in commando culture swells and more retired Special Ops veterans consider sharing their accounts in books, movies, and more, the Pentagon will likely crack down on tell-all revelations like this – making firsthand accounts like these rarer, suggests the e-book. “No Easy Day” it writes, “will result in blowback that will drive policy change across the entire Special Operations community regarding operators’ ability to write books in the future. Hollywood and media access will be virtually impossible for the foreseeable future.”
Not only is it illegal to violate a non-disclosure agreement, it also goes against a core ethic for special operators, noted the Monitor's Brad Knickerbocker in 2014:
In a letter last week, the admiral and senior enlisted man who run the United States Naval Special Warfare Command reminded all present and former SEALs that a critical tenet of the organization’s ethos is: “I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.”
“Violators of our Ethos are neither teammates in good standing, nor Teammates who represent Naval Special Warfare,” Rear Adm. Brian Losey and Force Master Chief Michael Magaraci wrote. “We do not abide willful or selfish disregard for our core values in return for public notoriety and financial gain, which only diminishes otherwise honorable service, courage, and sacrifice.”