The former Navy SEAL Team 6 member and anonymous author of a soon-to-be-released tell-all book about the mission to kill Osama bin Laden had better hire a security guard and a good lawyer: He's just been outed by Fox News. On Thursday, the network's Justin Fishel cited "multiple sources" identifying the author of No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden as Matt Bissonnette, a 36-year-old recently retired SEAL who participated in the raid that killed bin Laden. Fishel is quick to point out the legal quagmire this puts Bissonnette in, given that the bin Laden mission is classified, but the implications for Bissonnette's safety should probably be considered as well.
If you're just catching up to this, the book is a big deal because it promises to deliver the first firsthand account of the bin Laden raid from the perspective of a SEAL Team 6 member. As The New York Times' Julie Bosman reported, the book's publisher, Dutton, a division of Penguin Group, planned on releasing the book under the pseudonym Mark Owen, citing "security reasons." It also planned a big media reveal for the book, scheduled for a Sept. 11 release, which included a range of precautions to conceal Bissonnette's identity, Bosman wrote:
The author will appear in disguise during television interviews to promote the book, and his voice will be altered. At least one major network prime-time appearance has been planned, a publishing executive familiar with the plans said.
But Bissonnette can forget the voice scrambler because his name is now public information, which should raise concerns about reprisals from the many jihadists who still consider Osama bin Laden a holy figure. Still, that may not be Bissonnette's only concern. There's also the possibility that the Justice Department could prosecute him for attempting to disclose classified information.
One of the more surprising aspects of Wednesday's book announcement was that it also caught the U.S. government by surprise. Speaking with Politico's Byron Tau, the White House and the Pentagon said they didn't know of plans to release the book and hadn't vetted it, a precaution it often takes on books dealing with sensitive national security details:
"I haven't read the book and am unaware that anyone in the Department has reviewed it," Pentagon spokesman George Little told Politico ... The White House denied offering any cooperation with the anonymous writer. "We learned about this book today from press reports. We haven't reviewed it and don't know what it says," Tommy Vietor, National Security Council spokesman, told Politico.
And just because Bissonnette is retired doesn't mean he can't be prosecuted by the Justice Department, a point Lt. Cmdr. Chris Servello, a spokesman for the Navy, made clear to Fox: "Any service member who discloses classified or sensitive information could be subject to prosecution -- this doesn't end when you leave the service," Servello said. "There is nothing unique to the special warfare community in this regard."