"Protect, and Isolate, Author of Book on Bin Laden Raid"
Op-Ed, Boston Globe
August 30, 2012
Author: Juliette Kayyem, Lecturer in Public Policy
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
Mark Owen's first and only book will be a bestseller. Owen's "No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden" provides an alternative narrative — namely, his own — of the night when his Navy SEAL Team 6 brethren entered the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The saga over the book's publication is a book in itself: "Mark Owen" is a pseudonym for the author. He never submitted the book's contents for pre-release review with the Pentagon, whose lawyers now have to determine if any classified information was released. If yes, Owen could face criminal charges. Even if not, he violated every conceivable military norm surrounding the secret raid, prompting Admiral Bill McRaven, head of Special Operations, to remind troops of their "moral obligation" to shut up. Former SEALs have expressed horror at Owen's fame. Even a group formed to condemn alleged leaks by the Obama administration has asked the attorney general to block the book's release.
What to do with Mark Owen? Be too tough, and it looks like the government is just beating up on a retired guy who harbors intense resentment toward President Obama. Too soft, and every covert operation is now a would-be writer's fodder. The most appealing solution is to publicize, ostracize, and then protect. Owen has been called a lot of things: a traitor, a hero, a political pawn. But the only name that matters is his real one: Matt Bissonnette.
Bissonnette, a once-brave soldier, is the author. Publications from Fox News to the New York Times have disclosed the name, although others want to protect his anonymity. It is too late. An Al Qaeda website has his photo, calling him "the dog who murdered the martyr Sheik Osama bin Laden." Bissonnette may be getting rich, but he is a man in danger.
Bissonnette can be made an example, without turning him into a cause. Why not graciously and publicly provide him a lifetime of security? Yes, he is self-involved, but he is also a fool. What better magnanimity than for the very government that trained him to now protect him?
Some conservatives, happy to see a challenge to the official account of a raid that casts Obama in a favorable light, are defending Bissonnette on the grounds that the White House has allegedly leaked sensitive information on other national security matters. But Bissonnette is no whistleblower. He is just a guy who is very annoyed that Obama got the credit, and he found a book agent in an election year.
But in doing so, Bissonnette carelessly ignored the consequences of his actions for the SEALs and future military efforts. The book tells a dangerous narrative. As reported by huffingtonpost.com writer Marcus Baram, who got a copy of the book, Bissonnette claims, contrary to previous government reports, that bin Laden was unarmed when killed.
Bissonnette describes what amounts to an assassination, pure and simple. The truth of what happened may never be known for certain, but Bissonnette's account is likely to give ammunition to anti-American fighters in areas where US personnel are at risk. Troops are still deployed. Covert operations are still occurring. US and NATO soldiers are killed daily by Afghan ones.
Bissonnette may have a few moments of fame, but surely they pale in comparison to the difficult life he will lead as a potential Al Qaeda target. There is something appealing about the military showing its valor and offering any assistance to an author despite the trouble that he has given the Pentagon.
In what is clearly the beginning of his own "oops" strategy, Bissonnette is now searching for some allies. In a statement to The New York Times on Tuesday, he insisted that that his only motivation was to give "my fellow Americans a glimpse into how much of an honor it is to serve our country."
But it's difficult to find the honor in a book that puts others at risk.
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