Matt Bissonnette as he appeared on "60 Minutes" a few years ago. (Screen grab courtesy of CBS News)
After a four-year legal battle, Matthew Bissonnette, a former member of the elite SEAL Team 6 who participated in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, has agreed to forfeit to the Justice Department all of the proceeds from "No Easy Day," his first-person account of the raid written under the pen name "Mark Owen."
"I acted on the advice of my former attorney, but I now fully recognize that his advice was wrong," Bissonnette wrote in a formal apology, as reported by NPR. "It was a serious error that I urge others not to repeat."
"No Easy Day," co-written by military journalist Kevin Maurer, was the first public account from someone who actually participated in the high-profile raid to kill the al Qaeda leader. That impact was enhanced by the fact that not only did it deal with the killing of the terrorist mastermind, but it was written by a member of SEAL Team 6, the one of the nation's top special operations units whose methods and techniques are highly classified and seldom written about.
The book was a bestseller, and that as much as anything is what got the author in trouble with the Pentagon. Officials claimed that Bissonnette had violated a non-disclosure agreement he'd signed as a Navy commando and also failed to have the book's manuscript reviewed by proper authorities before it was published.
"Ironically, Matt didn't want the book to be about him," co-author Maurer said in an exclusive interview with WATM. "He always intended for it to be a tribute to his teammates and one that would allow readers to truly understand what SEALs do. It was also supposed to be a nod to the CIA, helicopter pilots, and Rangers — all the elements of these sorts of missions."
"No Easy Day" co-author Kevin Maurer filing a story in Afghanistan. (Photo provided by Kevin Maurer)
Maurer, who sat down with Bissonnette in Virginia Beach five days a week for a month recording the story before writing it out, said the former SEAL was focused on security.
"He was never cavalier about the details," Maurer said. "We talked a lot about things we weren't going to include. It was a conscious decision."
After experiencing firsthand the hew and cry from veterans — as well as members of the special operations community displeased that one of their own had broken ranks by socializing their tactical world on a grand scale — Maurer said he understood the Justice Department ruling. But he added that "the real travesty is that the money [estimated at more that $6 million according to court documents, as reported by NPR] is now going to the government instead of veteran charities as Matt had always intended."
Bissonnette's current lawyer, Robert Luskin, hinted that his client had been made a scapegoat by government officials embarrassed by the information that has come out about the bin Laden raid and other operations in the wake of "No Easy Day" landing on shelves.
"The government has a right to keep its secrets and to enforce procedures that are designed to protect them from inadvertent disclosure," Luskin said in a statement. "But it is shameful that — of all the people who leaked, talked, whispered and backgrounded about the mission — Matt Bissonnette, who risked his life to make it a success, is the only one to pay a price."