August 31, 2012 - If ex-Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette
discloses classified information
in his upcoming tell-all on the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, he could be subject to criminal prosecution under the Espionage Act, as we noted earlier. But even if he doesn't divulge any secrets, he's still got major legal problems. That is, according to a document surfaced by Steven Aftergood, a secrecy expert with the Federation of American Scientists.
That's because Special Forces personnel like Bissonnette are typically required to sign non-disclosure agreements that require them to submit manuscripts to the government before they publish books for the general public. These documents pertain to authors who had access to "sensitive compartmented information," or in laymen's terms, classified intelligence information, which the Osama bin Laden
mission certainly qualifies as. And according to Aftergood, the precedent for the government going after author's like Bissonnette is fairly straightforward. "The government’s authority to enforce a non-disclosure agreement in this way was affirmed by a federal court most recently in the case of USA v. Ishmael Jones," he writes. "In that case, Jones (the pseudonym of a former CIA officer) published his manuscript without completing the prepublication review process." You can see a copy of this type of Pentagon non-disclosure agreement here.
So did Bissonnette sign one of these agreements? It's not completely clear. But an open letter written by Admiral William McRaven, and posted on Wired's Danger Room blog, last week suggests that he did. “Every member of the special-operations community with a security clearance signed a non-disclosure agreement that was binding during and after service in the military,” McRaven wrote. “If the U.S. Special Operations Command finds that an active-duty, retired or former service member violated that agreement and that exposure of information was detrimental to the safety of U.S. forces, then we will pursue every option available to hold members accountable, including criminal prosecution where appropriate.”