A former Navy SEAL who wrote a best-seller about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden is under criminal investigation for disclosing classified material, according to federal officials and his lawyer.
The lawyer for the former SEAL, Matt Bissonnette, said the investigation was focused on whether Bissonnette had disclosed classified information in the book, “No Easy Day,” published under a pseudonym in 2012.
But other people familiar with the inquiry said investigators seemed more interested in paid speeches that Bissonnette, who says he was one of the members of the Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who shot bin Laden, has given at corporate events.
They include at least one talk last year, at a golf club in Atlanta, in which audience members were asked to turn in their cellphones before he spoke so nothing could be recorded, according to people who attended the event.
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Bissonnette has apologized for failing to have the book vetted through the Pentagon’s required security-review process.
His lawyer, Robert Luskin, said he thought he had reached an agreement in the spring with Justice Department and Pentagon officials to settle the dispute over the book’s disclosures by having Bissonnette forfeit some of the millions of dollars in royalties he had earned. He said he had sought to insulate Bissonnette from any criminal charges in that deal.
But rather than approve the deal, the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation in May or June, and federal agents have since interviewed Bissonnette and others, Luskin said.
Bissonnette plans to publish a second book, “No Hero: The Evolution of a Navy SEAL,” under his pen name, Mark Owen, on Nov. 10.
Luskin said Bissonnette had submitted the manuscript, as well as slides that he prepared for his corporate speeches, for Pentagon review. He said he knew of nothing improper about the speeches and expected the criminal investigation to be “resolved favorably.”
Bissonnette’s disclosures have been denounced by members of the elite SEAL team, who have watched as numerous former teammates have rushed into print with tales of their exploits.
But Bissonnette questions why the Justice Department is singling him out when White House and military officials provided similar details for other books and a Hollywood film, Luskin said.
Brian Fallon, a Justice Department spokesman, said he could neither confirm nor deny the investigation, but that it was well-established that a federal employee who failed to clear a book could “be prevented from profiting” from its publication.
Luskin said Bissonnette had decided to write “No Easy Day” after Leon Panetta, then the CIA director, urged some of the members of SEAL Team 6 to cooperate with the producers of the film “Zero Dark Thirty.” The filmmakers benefited from extensive assistance from the CIA and the Pentagon.
“Matt’s view was: ‘Wait a minute. This is our story, not their story,’ ” Luskin said.
Many longtime SEALs dismissed Bissonnette’s concerns, saying he was bound by oath to keep the raid secret and that the disclosures in his book and in an interview on “60 Minutes” in 2012 could have endangered SEALs.
“It was ingrained in us to be ‘silent professionals,’ ” a retired SEAL Team 6 operator said. “Guys getting out and writing books, going on TV or doing other things this public flies against that core value.”