Tuesday, October 09, 2012

"No Easy Day" is an exciting read, of the raid that took out Bin Laden

Author: Mark Owen aka Matt Bissonnette, former US Navy Seal, with Kevin Mauer

Title: “No Easy Day: The Autobiography of a Navy Seal

Subtitle: “The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden

Publication: Dutton, 2012; ISBN 978-0—525-95372-2, 316 pages, hardcover, Nineteen chapters with Prologue and Epilogue

Amazon link

Coordinated post: “60 Minutes” interview of author, covered on TV blog, Sept. 10, 2012. That interview had identified the pseudonymous author as part of “Seal Team 6” and second “in the bedroom”.
This is the second consecutive book I’ve reviewed where there was some kind of “conflict of interest” or putative confidentiality violation over its publication. This time, the government claims that the author should have submitted the book through official channels for clearance of possible disclosure of classified information. Owen denies that any such disclosure is possible,  It’s not clear that the government has a legal case against him or will pursue one as of now. 

I’ve had my own experience with book publishing and “conflict of interest”, which I detail on my “BillBoushka” blog Sept. 27, 2010, and on my “GLBT Issues Blog” October 8, 2012.

The author gives quite a bit of detail on training and on how the expedition was carried out.  While it is fairly high-level, it may well be the case that it has disclosed some important aspects of covert operations. 
At the same time, I have to say it is an exciting read.

One of Owen’s important points is that apparently Osama bin Laden did not try to defend himself at the end, and Owen sees that as a contradiction of what he expect to find as part of the enemy’s own idea of “honor”.  In this area, Owen’s detailed account of the raid differs somewhat from other published accounts.

His earlier accounts of training, including that with DEVGRU (United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group)  is interesting, in its intensity and in the fact that single men and those with families were treated exactly the same.  Unit cohesion and teamwork are paramount, but the physical demands are so great that attention is never diverted.  Owen never mentions the controversy over gays or “don’t ask don’t tell”; and the environment is so demanding that it is hard to imagine that it would come up.  It sounds unlikely, though, that the environment is in any way “homophobic”.

The way he found out about the mission is somewhat happenstantial –  he was a day late getting to a training orientation in North Carolina, driving alone through 200 miles of coastal plain pine forest to ponder what was up.

He does discuss the presence of the female CIA analyst, whom he calls Jen (or perhaps “Jenny”, as in “The Swiss Family Robinson”), and her confidence that she had identified bin Laden’s “panic room” was absolute.  The book, however, gives little idea as to how the CIA really works to gather such information, or what a civilian analyst’s job is really like.

I may be going on a limb to say this, but I do have a friend in that agency, and he sent an email about wanting to go out and “club” before an especially heavy weekend, as that weekend started.  When I heard Sunday night that president Obama would come on national TV, I “connected the dots” and thought that Qadaffi  had  suddenly fallen in Libya, because NATO had suddenly attacked the day before (a convenient coincidence and diversion of world attention).   But even a happening like this shows how innocuous remarks in emails or social media could possibly compromise a major mission, because ordinary people (including bloggers) can try to make inferences, and sometimes they’ll be right. It’s amazing how much information people without clearances find out or can infer. 

In his afterword, the author encourages people to work for causes greater than themselves, and particularly to support veterans.  It’s hard to work for “causes” without replacing your own goals with those of other people, however. 

NBC News has a story reporting on the secret CIA training site for the raid, here

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