MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – Defense Secretary Ash Carter warned the U.S. military’s special operators that classified leaks were not theirs to share, four days ahead of the public release of a new book that reveals secret information about recent missions in the war on terrorism.
Carter’s remarks are the latest in a string of warnings from top national security leaders cautioning troops and intelligence workers not to divulge national security secrets and classified information.
"Obviously, it's not up to any individual who is entrusted with national security secrets to disclose them,” Carter said Friday, when he was asked about the book, “and especially when it would affect the ability to protect our people and our country, our compromised secrets."
The book, “Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command,” by defense journalist Sean Naylor, comes out Sept. 1. In it, Naylor credits “SEAL Team 6 sources” for providing information about the 2011 Osama bin Laden raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Naylor also details special operations missions from Beirut and Panama to Iraq and Tora Bora, all the way up to last year’s drone strike that killed al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane.
Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, is a subdivision of U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM. JSOC runs secret missions of elite military units such as Navy SEALs and the Army’s Delta Force.
Naylor said he was aware of the command’s concerns and took strides to protect endangering others. “I obviously trusted my sources not to give me information for publication as experts with a stake in the matter that know what would be dangerous,” Naylor told Defense One. “I personally kept information out of the book that I thought might pose a risk to specific individuals if published.”
SOCOM spokesman Army Col. Tom Davis said Friday the command is aware of Naylor’s forthcoming book and intends to inspect its contents closely once released. “It would be inappropriate for us to comment until we have had the opportunity to fully review the book,” Davis told Defense One.
"We routinely remind our people that they are bound by any non-disclosure agreements they have signed, and they must follow the same protocols that govern sensitive material regardless of whether or not the information has been publicly released," Davis said.
The military’s special operations community has seen its public profile rise along with its operating tempo in recent years, yet remains famously close-knit and largely closed off from the public. Relatively few reporters cover special operations missions, which the secretive JSOC commands from Tampa, Fla. Those who divulge mission secrets to reporters – even retired SEALs who appear as analysts on television – are often criticized or even ostracized by peers.
The U.S. has investigated, pursued, or said it would pursue several former special operators for talking about national secrets they were entrusted to keep. Last year, the Daily Beast reported that the Navy was investigating former Navy SEAL Robert O’Neill after he publicly claimed to be the one who killed bin Laden.
Most notably, the Defense Department investigated former SEAL Team Six member Matt Bissonette for writing a book, No Easy Day, under the pseudonym Mark Owen detailing the mission to kill Osama bin Laden in 2011 using the pseudonym. Bissonette’s tale made it onto CBS’s 60 Minutes. The former SEAL last year sued his publisher, alleging his lawyer falsely said he was authorized to clear the book for classified information. Bissonette revealed in court documents he had to forfeit $4.5 million in royalties, among other penalties, according to the New York Times.
Naylor’s book is scheduled for release Monday.