Navy SEAL book released over Pentagon objections
[QUICK NOTE: This could be my last post for the next two weeks. As I mentioned on an earlier post, I am headed to Senegal in West Africa to do a story on the efforts of some USMC Recon Marines in training forces in that country. I leave Sunday morning early, and I have no idea what the internet situation or my OPTEMPO will be.]
Unless this is your first time on the internet in a few weeks and you don't watch any TV, you are probably already aware that "No Easy Day" by Navy SEAL "Mark Owen" was released yesterday to much protest from the Pentagon and others in the Navy Special Ops Community. I did get it delivered to my Kindle, but haven't had a chance to read it yet. But, for some background on the subject of the dispute, I'll turn to The Washington Post:
WASHINGTON — A former Navy SEAL’s insider account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden contains classified information, the Pentagon said Tuesday, and the admiral who heads the Naval Special Warfare Command said details in the book may provide enemies with dangerous insight into secretive U.S. operations.
Rear Adm. Sean Pybus told his force Tuesday that “hawking details about a mission” and selling other information about SEAL training and operations puts the force and their families at risk.
“For an elite force that should be humble and disciplined for life, we are certainly not appearing to be so,” Pybus wrote in a letter to the roughly 8,000 troops under his command. “We owe our chain of command much better than this.”
There are obviously two parts to this specific complaint; whether it was morally right to release the information (which SEALs seem to be split on) and the Legal ramifications of having done so. Let's start with the latter one first. As the Post states:
Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s top lawyer, notified [the Author] last Thursday that the Pentagon believes he is in “material breach and violation” of two nondisclosure agreements and of a related document he signed upon leaving active duty in April 2012.
In response, Robert D. Luskin of the law firm Patton Boggs wrote to Johnson on Friday that his firm is representing [the Author] and asserting that he is not in breach of his nondisclosure agreements.
To be entirely honest, I haven't found anyone yet who thinks Luskin's reading of the legal stuff is right, although for all I know it is. Part of my problem is I haven't seen that disclosure, and to my knowledge I never signed anything like that after my meager war efforts as a regular grunt. But The Hill newspaper had a slight bit more on it:
“Mr. Owen sought legal advice about his responsibilities before agreeing to publish his book and scrupulously reviewed the work to ensure that it did not disclose any material that would breach his agreements or put his former comrades at risk,” the attorney told the Pentagon. “He remains confident that he has faithfully fulfilled his duty.”
The Pentagon said that the book was not submitted for pre-publication review, a requirement under the non-disclosure agreement that Owen signed in 2007. But Luskin said that the pre-publication review was not required in this case. He said the non-disclosure agreement is limited in scope and “it is difficult to understand how the matter that is the subject of Mr. Owen’s book could conceivably be encompassed by the non-disclosure agreement.”
Either way, I haven't found too many Special Operators that are particularly fond of "Mark Owen" right now, including one of the few Navy SEALs I know personally who goes by the name "Froggy" who wrote this:
This book represents a complete failure and abdication of well known and established code of ethics to which every Navy SEAL pledges. To wit:
My Trident is a symbol of honor and heritage. Bestowed upon me by the heroes who have gone before...By wearing the Trident, I accept the responsibility of my chosen profession and way of life. It is a privilege that I must earn every day...I humbly serve as a guardian to my fellow Americans...I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions...Brave men have fought and died building the proud tradition and feared reputation that I am bound to uphold. In the worst of conditions, the legacy of my teammates steadies my resolve and silently guides my every deed.
The Trident is the insignia that designates a SEAL. In every possible way this person has prostituted this Ethos and has brought shame and mockery upon our entire community.
If you want to know what happens during classified SEAL operations, then nut up and join the fight yourself. You should be satisfied that you are being protected and served by exceptional men who are entitled to your respect if not your gratitude. You are not owed the inside scoop on how we do our business. Rest assured our activities receive oversight from your elected representatives, our chain of command, and most importantly the integrity of the vast majority of the operators. We are not gladiators in the arena to entertain you, and by supporting works like this you are helping to validate a very ugly aberration of our most closely held beliefs.
As we like to say in the Teams, "Let your conscience be your guide." Just understand that by purchasing this book you are rewarding a man who has sold out his brotherhood for money. Your money.
Now, it is somewhat hypocritical of me to agree with Froggy if only because I actually bought the book. But I sleep at night knowing that all the proceeds will very likely end up back at the Pentagon when they assert their legal rights to seize all the proceeds if the non-disclosure is as solid as they think it is.
The one argument I hear most in defense of Owen follows the line of logic something like: "The President is releasing secrets, so why shouldn't a Navy SEAL do the same to set the record straight?" Now, while that might be, I would caution against thinking that because remember that the President can make secret things a matter of public record, whereas a soldier, SEAL, Marine or other is not so authorized by law. It's the same as a Private complaining about the route to an assembly area. Sure, he can voice his opinion, but simply having an opinion won't save you from doing the punishment. And publishing a book for millions of dollars will likely result in something more onerous than being dropped for push-ups.
Anyway, what do you think? Should Owen have released this book? Did he break faith with his comrades in arms? Should the Pentagon pursue legal action? Do you think there is anything in there that isn't available in the public realm of information somewhere else?
Be sure to register your opinion not just by commenting below, but also voting in Today's "Big Q."