A FORMER NAVY SEAL who shot Osama bin Laden and wrote a bestselling book about the raid is now the subject of a widening federal criminal investigation into whether he used his position as an elite commando for personal profit while on active duty, according to two people familiar with the case.
Matthew Bissonnette, the former SEAL and author of No Easy Day, a firsthand account of the 2011 bin Laden operation, had already been under investigation by both the Justice Department and the Navy for revealing classified information. The two people familiar with the probe said the current investigation, led by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, expanded after Bissonnette agreed to hand over a hard drive containing an unauthorized photo of the al Qaeda leader’s corpse. The government has fought to keep pictures of bin Laden’s body from being made public for what it claims are national security reasons.
The retired SEAL voluntarily provided investigators with a copy of his hard drive as part of an agreement not to prosecute him for unlawfully possessing classified material, according to the two people familiar with the deal.
The two people who spoke about the case, and other former SEALs The Intercept interviewed about Bissonnette, asked that their names not be used because they were describing an ongoing investigation and classified matters.
“I can confirm that the criminal investigation of Mr. Bissonnette for alleged wrongful handling or disclosure of classified information was closed through declination by the DOJ in August 2015,” said Robert Luskin, an attorney who represents Bissonnette.
Luskin said that he had negotiated a deal in 2014 with the Pentagon and the Justice Department to hand over to the government some of the millions of dollars in book profits Bissonnette had received.
He would not confirm Bissonnette’s possession of the bin Laden photo or whether any investigation still remains open.
Ed Buice, spokesperson for the NCIS, confirmed the ongoing investigation into Bissonnette, but declined to elaborate. “NCIS does not discuss the details of ongoing investigations,” Buice said.
During their search of his hard drive, investigators subsequently found emails and records dealing with Bissonnette’s work as a consultant while he was on active duty at SEAL Team 6. Those records, which were not part of the non-prosecution agreement, led to the widening probe. Federal investigators then became interested in whether Bissonnette’s business ventures with companies that supply military equipment — including companies whose products were used by SEAL Team 6 — were helped by his role in the elite unit’s procurement process, according to one of the people familiar with the case.
Element Group, a company Bissonnette helped set up in Virginia Beach about five years ago, is among the companies NCIS is said to be investigating. According to a former SEAL Team 6 operator familiar with Element Group’s business arrangements, the firm, which has since been shut down, designed prototypes for, and advised, private companies that make sporting and tactical equipment.
According to several former SEAL Team operators familiar with the company, Element Group also did business with at least one Defense Department contractor that sold equipment to SEAL Team 6. The defense contractor, Atlantic Diving Supply, or ADS, has military supply and equipment contracts with SEAL Team 6, according to several former SEAL Team 6 operators, as well as other parts of the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Federal investigators have been looking into the business relationship between Element Group and ADS.
ADS did not respond to a request for comment.
The Navy discovered Bissonnette organized a group of fellow SEAL Team 6 operators to consult for the video game Medal of Honor: Warfighter, and participated in the filming of promotional videos for the game in 2012, according to multiple former SEALs. In 2012, in a non-judicial process called a captain’s mast, the command punished seven active duty SEALs for revealing sensitive information and using Defense Department equipment. At least two SEALs were removed from the unit, and another two were forced to retire as a result, according to several former members of SEAL Team 6.
Bissonnette’s former SEAL Team 6 colleague who was interviewed by federal investigators said he hasn’t spoken to him since the publication of No Easy Day.
“He’s brought a lot of trouble to people who trusted him,” the colleague said.
You can read the rest of the Intercept’s report here.
(Main photo: SO3 Matt Bissonnette attached to Seal Team 5, San Diego, Calif., scans the area as they practice a beach incursion during Northern Edge, March 24, 2001)
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