Navy Seals: A battle for the conscience
Active duty Navy SEALS at February premiere of "Act of Valor"
September 6th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Navy Seals: A battle for the conscience

By Barbara Starr

(CNN) - Deep inside the military's special operations forces there is a crisis of conscience unfolding. The publication of "No Easy Day," a former Navy SEAL's account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, is forcing many to rethink a fundamental point of military honor. How much should America's commandos talk about what they do?

It's a debate that goes beyond disclosure of classified information, which is a crime. The discussion now centers on honor, ethics and cultural values inside the ranks.

"This is a battle for the conscience of the SEALs," a recently retired senior SEAL told me.

He served for decades in operational positions in the force, and has never told me any of the details of his missions. For years he did what every SEAL has done: Go on raids, find targets and, if necessary, kill them. It's what the nation asks of them.

Buzz ramps up over SEAL's bin Laden book

The question now: Is the SEAL community taking that Tom Clancy superman image and turning it into celebrity? "Was No Easy Day" indeed that last straw?

"It's a generational thing that is happening to some extent," the retired SEAL said. Some younger SEALs who have grown up in the age of the Internet and instant online communications simply feel it's their right to talk about their work, as long as they can claim it's not classified, he said.

This senior SEAL said he and his peers grew up in a generation where "we don't talk about what we do," and he feels it should be kept that way.

In fact, the chief Navy SEAL wrote a scathing e-mail to his 2,500 troops, which began with the fundamental SEAL ethos.

"We do NOT advertise the nature of our work, NOR do we seek recognition for our actions," said Rear Adm. Sean Pybus.

Pybus told the men he is "disappointed, embarrassed and concerned" that troops are now openly speaking and writing about what they do.

"Most of us have always thought that the privilege of working with some of our nation's toughest warriors on challenging missions would be enough to be proud of, with no further compensation or celebrity required.

"Today, we find former SEALs headlining positions in a presidential campaign; hawking details about a mission against Enemy Number 1; and generally selling other aspects of NSW training and operations."

Pybus continued: "For an Elite Force that should be humble and disciplined for life, we are certainly not appearing to be so. We owe our chain of command much better than this."

Every SEAL, indeed everyone in U.S. military special operations units, knows exactly what Pybus is saying. He's warning that fundamental trust is at risk. And the risk is on many levels, from the campfire to the Oval Office.

Matt Bissonnette wrote in his book about casual chatter among SEALs, which he portrayed as less than supportive of President Obama. An Army special operations guy who read that passage was shocked.

"That's just 'team talk' around the fire," he said.

Does anybody expect that to show up in a book? The men on these small covert units literally place their lives in the hands of each other. They trust that they'll keep each others' confidence. And confidence must be unshakeable at the highest levels.

Bergen: Sense and nonsense about Obama and Osama

Pybus' reference to a chain of command is read by some to mean only one thing: the president of the United States. A president has to fundamentally believe when he sends SEALs on a secret mission to kill the world's top terrorist that those in the rank and file aren't going to start talking.

Of course, there has been plenty of chatter about Obama administration officials themselves talking too much about the raid. Now there has been outright admission classified information was exposed.

Pentagon spokesman George Little acknowledged classified information about the raid did get out in the hours and days after bin Laden was killed.

"We were all deeply concerned, not just in this building, but elsewhere in the administration, about the disclosure of highly classified information that made its way out the door," he said. "I don't know precisely who did it, but it shouldn't have happened. And many of us tried to keep some of those sensitive details, particularly those involving sources and methods, from making their way to press reports."

Little was the CIA spokesman at the time of the raid.

But many believe there is a difference between Pentagon officials disseminating information and rank and file members of the military sharing it. If service members want to write a book, the material has to be reviewed before publication. If a service member believes he or she needs to bring wrongdoing to light, there are procedures within the military for whistle-blowing. Bissonnette did not follow the rules, the Pentagon said.

In fact, in the book's introduction, Bissonnette justifies his book, writing "It is time to set the record straight" and, "This book will finally give credit to those who earned it." It's odd phrasing, because so many, including Pybus and Adm. William McRaven, the head of all 65,000 special operations forces across the military, think the SEALs have received plenty of credit around the world for killing bin Laden.

Pentagon: SEAL's book has classified info, didn't follow protocol

Both admirals are agonizing over the emergence of SEALs as celebrities as well as political operatives.

McRaven is aiming squarely at a group of former SEALs actively opposing President Barack Obama. The admiral is referring to the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund, which has sponsored a Web video featuring former special forces officers accusing the president of taking too much credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden and allowing classified information about the raid to become public.

While McRaven said former SEALs have the right to express their opinions, he wants any link to the active duty force to be kept out of it. "By attaching a special operations moniker or a unit or service name to a political agenda, those individuals have now violated the most basic of our military principles," McRaven said in his e-mail message to the troops.

McRaven and Pybus know their worries are raising eyebrows. That's because the Pentagon itself has encouraged worldwide commercial interest in SEAL lore. In one case, top Pentagon and CIA officials offered their support for the upcoming "Zero Dark Thirty," a movie that Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow is making about the bin Laden raid.

Some in Congress have complained that the Pentagon and CIA should not have offered the filmmaker background briefings.

Active duty Navy SEALs also were given permission to perform in the Hollywood thriller "Act of Valor."

Also, Pentagon sources told CNN, SEALs are also working on two other Hollywood movies.

The recently retired senior SEAL summed up the problem for his brothers in arms since the Bin Laden raid: "We swallowed the golden egg. But now we can't get rid of it."

Read excerpts from "No Easy Day"

soundoff (1,510 Responses)
  1. Eye Specialist Near Me

    I blog frequently and I really appreciate your information. The article has really peaked my interest. I am going to take a note of your blog and keep checking for new details about once a week. I subscribed to your RSS feed too.

    May 15, 2021 at 9:47 am | Reply
  2. bucket truck services

    May 15, 2021 at 2:54 am | Reply
  3. BbshVelm

    viagra professional – how long does viagra work how to use viagra

    May 15, 2021 at 1:39 am | Reply
  4. nearest homes for sale

    This is the right website for anyone who wants to find out about this topic. You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually will need to…HaHa). You certainly put a fresh spin on a topic that's been discussed for many years. Excellent stuff, just wonderful!

    May 14, 2021 at 11:38 pm | Reply
  5. accident repair shop near me

    This is the perfect blog for everyone who wishes to understand this topic. You realize so much its almost tough to argue with you (not that I personally will need to…HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a topic that's been discussed for many years. Great stuff, just wonderful!

    May 14, 2021 at 6:22 pm | Reply
  6. RV Repair Orange County

    May 14, 2021 at 12:48 pm | Reply
  7. 2000 Chevy Conversion Van Body Repair Panels

    You're so awesome! I don't think I have read through a single thing like that before. So nice to discover another person with some genuine thoughts on this topic. Really.. thank you for starting this up. This web site is one thing that is required on the web, someone with some originality!

    May 14, 2021 at 11:27 am | Reply
  8. Lebnreext

    best non prescription online pharmacies Voveran

    May 14, 2021 at 8:39 am | Reply
  9. rv repair and service near me

    Having read this I thought it was very informative. I appreciate you taking the time and energy to put this article together. I once again find myself spending a significant amount of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worth it!

    May 14, 2021 at 8:16 am | Reply
  10. Mercedes Sprinter Repair

    This site really has all of the information I needed concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

    May 14, 2021 at 4:00 am | Reply
  11. RV Kitchen Riverside

    Very nice write-up. I definitely love this website. Stick with it!

    May 14, 2021 at 3:07 am | Reply
  12. nearby rv repair

    You have made some really good points there. I looked on the web for more info about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your views on this website.

    May 14, 2021 at 3:05 am | Reply
  13. best rv repair near me

    May 14, 2021 at 2:12 am | Reply
  14. awning repair near me

    May 13, 2021 at 10:46 pm | Reply
  15. Rebffiple

    buy cialis online cheap – cialis black online ed. trusted medstore in cialis

    May 13, 2021 at 9:48 pm | Reply
  16. Rebffiple

    cialis without prescription comparison of 10 mg cialis price

    May 13, 2021 at 9:34 pm | Reply
  17. Jebgreext

    Microzide cialis daily

    May 13, 2021 at 9:11 pm | Reply
  18. semi truck shops near me

    Can I simply say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what they are discussing over the internet. You definitely know how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More people should read this and understand this side of the story. It's surprising you aren't more popular because you definitely have the gift.

    May 13, 2021 at 8:35 pm | Reply
  19. RV Headlights California

    I'm excited to discover this website. I wanted to thank you for ones time just for this fantastic read!! I definitely savored every bit of it and i also have you bookmarked to see new information in your website.

    May 13, 2021 at 7:35 pm | Reply
  20. rv dealers orange county ca

    bookmarked!!, I love your site!

    May 13, 2021 at 7:35 pm | Reply
  21. Anooreext

    is cialis better than viagra viagra side effects heart attack

    May 13, 2021 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  22. bucket truck repair near me

    May 13, 2021 at 5:24 pm | Reply
  23. Lbsofiple

    cialis 10mg generic cialis pay pal

    May 13, 2021 at 4:48 pm | Reply
  24. Best Tucker Sprinter Repair

    May 13, 2021 at 1:34 pm | Reply
  25. Fmrfreext

    cialis cialis without prescriptions

    May 13, 2021 at 10:17 am | Reply
  26. local paint shops near me

    Hi, There's no doubt that your web site could be having browser compatibility issues. Whenever I take a look at your blog in Safari, it looks fine however, when opening in I.E., it's got some overlapping issues. I just wanted to provide you with a quick heads up! Besides that, fantastic blog!

    May 13, 2021 at 8:13 am | Reply
  27. stornobrzinol

    You can definitely see your enthusiasm in the work you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to say how they believe. Always follow your heart.

    May 13, 2021 at 6:18 am | Reply
  28. Mercedes Benz Sprinter Service Locations

    May 13, 2021 at 3:55 am | Reply
  29. RV Windows Near Me

    May 13, 2021 at 1:57 am | Reply
  30. RV Headlights Near Me

    May 13, 2021 at 1:53 am | Reply
  31. van conversions orange county ca

    I was very pleased to find this website. I wanted to thank you for ones time for this fantastic read!! I definitely loved every little bit of it and I have you saved as a favorite to look at new things in your website.

    May 12, 2021 at 11:34 pm | Reply
  32. Van Repair Near Me

    Great web site you have here.. It’s difficult to find good quality writing like yours nowadays. I truly appreciate people like you! Take care!!

    May 12, 2021 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  33. RV Couches Los Angeles

    Howdy! This blog post could not be written much better! Looking through this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept preaching about this. I will send this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

    May 12, 2021 at 3:47 pm | Reply
  34. RV Camera Near Me

    May 12, 2021 at 3:43 pm | Reply
  35. refrigerators orange county

    May 12, 2021 at 3:32 pm | Reply
  36. RV Frame Near Me

    Greetings! Very useful advice in this particular post! It is the little changes which will make the biggest changes. Thanks for sharing!

    May 12, 2021 at 2:30 pm | Reply
  37. Sprinter Van Front Wiper Rust Repair

    May 12, 2021 at 1:02 pm | Reply
  38. 2012 Mercedez Benz Sprinter Repair

    May 12, 2021 at 12:40 pm | Reply
  39. horse trailer repair near me

    May 12, 2021 at 10:22 am | Reply
  40. rv fiberglass repair

    When I originally left a comment I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on every time a comment is added I recieve 4 emails with the same comment. There has to be a means you can remove me from that service? Cheers!

    May 12, 2021 at 10:15 am | Reply
  41. nearest rv store

    May 12, 2021 at 7:31 am | Reply
  42. RV Upholstery California

    I couldn’t refrain from commenting. Perfectly written!

    May 12, 2021 at 6:35 am | Reply
  43. Sprinter Service Repair

    Hi there! This blog post could not be written much better! Looking at this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept preaching about this. I'll forward this article to him. Fairly certain he's going to have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

    May 12, 2021 at 12:59 am | Reply
  44. Fmrfreext

    buy brand cialis online cialis coupons

    May 11, 2021 at 11:39 pm | Reply
  45. Sprinter Repair

    Everything is very open with a clear clarification of the challenges. It was truly informative. Your site is extremely helpful. Many thanks for sharing!

    May 11, 2021 at 11:01 pm | Reply
  46. horse trailer awning installation

    Good day! I just want to give you a big thumbs up for your great info you have got here on this post. I will be coming back to your website for more soon.

    May 11, 2021 at 9:34 pm | Reply
  47. RV Restoration Riverside

    It’s difficult to find well-informed people on this subject, but you seem like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

    May 11, 2021 at 9:15 pm | Reply
  48. rv service orange county ca

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this article and the rest of the site is extremely good.

    May 11, 2021 at 7:10 pm | Reply
  49. Internet Marketing Pros

    The very next time I read a blog, I hope that it does not disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I really believed you would probably have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of moaning about something that you could possibly fix if you weren't too busy seeking attention.

    May 11, 2021 at 6:37 pm | Reply
  50. Content Marketing Videos

    May 11, 2021 at 4:26 pm | Reply
  51. Digital Marketing Associations

    I enjoy reading an article that can make men and women think. Also, thank you for permitting me to comment!

    May 11, 2021 at 3:31 pm | Reply
  52. Social Media Marketing Contractor

    May 11, 2021 at 12:00 pm | Reply
  53. Lbsofiple

    acs cialis brand name cialis

    May 11, 2021 at 4:47 am | Reply
  54. Internet Marketing Teacher

    The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesn't disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, Yes, it was my choice to read through, but I truly believed you'd have something helpful to say. All I hear is a bunch of complaining about something you can fix if you were not too busy searching for attention.

    May 11, 2021 at 4:33 am | Reply
  55. Social Media Marketing Firms Near Me

    I could not refrain from commenting. Very well written!

    May 11, 2021 at 2:33 am | Reply
  56. Internet Marketing Agency Near Me

    May 11, 2021 at 12:09 am | Reply
  57. Digital Marketing Experts

    May 10, 2021 at 9:14 pm | Reply
  58. Video Marketing Pro

    May 10, 2021 at 8:23 pm | Reply
  59. Local Marketing Services

    When I originally left a comment I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now whenever a comment is added I get 4 emails with the same comment. Perhaps there is a way you are able to remove me from that service? Thanks!

    May 10, 2021 at 6:28 pm | Reply
  60. Jebgreext

    Medex med rx pharmacy

    May 10, 2021 at 5:31 pm | Reply
  61. Seo Marketing Deal

    Everyone loves it when individuals come together and share ideas. Great site, stick with it!

    May 10, 2021 at 4:37 pm | Reply
  62. Content Marketing Consultant

    May 10, 2021 at 2:25 pm | Reply
  63. private detectives agency in madrid

    Excellent site you have got here.. It's hard to find excellent
    writing like yours nowadays. I honestly appreciate people like you!
    Take care!!

    my web page ... private detectives agency in madrid

    May 10, 2021 at 12:13 pm | Reply
  64. Content Marketing Consultant

    I wanted to thank you for this very good read!! I certainly enjoyed every bit of it. I've got you book marked to check out new stuff you post…

    May 9, 2021 at 8:37 pm | Reply
  65. Content Marketing Events

    This is a really good tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere. Simple but very accurate info… Appreciate your sharing this one. A must read article!

    May 9, 2021 at 8:22 pm | Reply
  66. Content Marketing Specialist

    Great article. I will be experiencing some of these issues as well..

    May 9, 2021 at 7:54 pm | Reply
  67. Anooreext

    comprar viagra contrareembolso en madrid viagra rezeptfrei kaufen preisvergleich

    May 9, 2021 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  68. Video Marketing Consultant

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing this article plus the rest of the website is really good.

    May 9, 2021 at 2:50 pm | Reply
  69. Internet Marketing Experts

    May 9, 2021 at 2:20 pm | Reply
  70. RV Roof Los Angeles

    May 9, 2021 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  71. RV Beds Orange County

    There's definately a lot to learn about this issue. I really like all the points you've made.

    May 9, 2021 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  72. Video Marketing Jobs

    May 9, 2021 at 11:18 am | Reply
  73. Gtnbclups

    200 milligram viagra reddit viagra

    May 9, 2021 at 11:06 am | Reply
  74. Local Marketing Jobs

    May 9, 2021 at 8:12 am | Reply
  75. BbshVelm

    is viagra covered by medicaid viagra reddit

    May 9, 2021 at 5:44 am | Reply
  76. Social Media Marketing Agencies Near Me

    There is definately a lot to learn about this subject. I love all of the points you made.

    May 9, 2021 at 5:39 am | Reply
  77. Lebnreext

    pharmacy online track order fda approved canadian online pharmacies drug store news

    May 9, 2021 at 2:38 am | Reply
  78. Digital Marketing Agency

    May 8, 2021 at 9:51 pm | Reply
  79. Gtnbclups

    xanax and viagra – how to get viagra without a doctor generic viagra from canada

    May 8, 2021 at 9:35 pm | Reply
  80. Local Marketing Services

    May 8, 2021 at 5:57 pm | Reply
  81. Google Marketing Programs

    This site was... how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I've found something that helped me. Appreciate it!

    May 8, 2021 at 2:50 pm | Reply
  82. orange county collision

    Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Many thanks, However I am experiencing problems with your RSS. I don’t understand the reason why I can't subscribe to it. Is there anybody having similar RSS issues? Anybody who knows the solution can you kindly respond? Thanks!!

    May 8, 2021 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  83. Content Marketing Service

    May 8, 2021 at 9:27 am | Reply
  84. chloroquine hydrochloride

    cloroquin chloroquinne

    May 8, 2021 at 7:32 am | Reply
  85. Social Media Marketing Market

    May 8, 2021 at 2:03 am | Reply
  86. Social Media Marketing Market

    May 8, 2021 at 1:29 am | Reply
  87. rv furniture outlet store near me

    The next time I read a blog, I hope that it won't disappoint me just as much as this particular one. After all, I know it was my choice to read through, nonetheless I truly thought you would probably have something helpful to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of moaning about something you can fix if you were not too busy seeking attention.

    May 7, 2021 at 11:23 pm | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Leave a Reply to North star


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.