On the week of Veteran's Day, Fox News aired a two-part interview with the former SEAL who said he shot and killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in 2011. The stories he's told since that mission have landed him at the center of a criminal investigation, according to a Navy official.
Former Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Robert O'Neill is under criminal investigation for possibly sharing classified information, NCIS spokesman Ed Buice confirmed to Navy Times.
Buice could not elaborate on when or how O'Neill disclosed information, only that NCIS received an allegation and initiated an investigation to run it down.
Based on what they find, there's a chance the Navy could recall O'Neill and send him to court-martial, a former SEAL commanding officer told Navy Times in a Dec. 30 phone call.
However, O'Neill may not have revealed anything classified in his account of landing at bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, infiltrating his house and working his way upstairs to the bedroom where bin Laden was killed, said retired Capt. Dick Couch.
"Surprisingly, very little of what SEALs do is in fact classified, as far as their tactics," he said. "They execute basic infantry tactics."
Couch has written dozens of fiction and non-fiction books about Navy special warfare since leaving active duty in 1972. He retired from the reserves in 1997.
His books have all been written with DoD's stamp of approval, he said.
In the Fox News interview, O'Neill explained in detail how members of Seal Team Six methodically moved through each level of the house, clearing each room before heading up another flight of stairs.
"So what they did, how they did it, kicking the door in here, all that type of thing – I think it was inappropriate, but whether it violated any classification or not... I would guess that at the very least he signed a non-disclosure agreement," Couch added.
The Daily Beast, which first reported O'Neill's investigation Dec. 23, reported that O'Neill claims to not have violated his NDAs.
O'Neill did not respond to requests by email and Twitter for comment.
Beyond any legal violations, Couch said, it's O'Neill's violation of the SEALs' "quiet professional" creed that cuts deepest for current and former special operators.
"There are still people out there serving, these young men coming into the teams, working very hard to prepare themselves to do their job, and who are wanting to put their gun in the fight and are looking for that one good mission to go on," he said.
While he trusts that sailors going through SEAL training still understand their code, former operators taking credit for missions or telling their stories could keep SEALs from big opportunities.
"If somewhere down the road, some joint special operations commander is going to say, 'Well, I've got a really important mission coming up here, and I can put my SEAL element or I can send my Army Special Forces element, or I can send my Marine special operators,' " Couch said. " 'Do I really want to read about this in the papers two or three years from now, or some guy writing a book, going to Esquire magazine? Do I want to hear about it on Fox News?' "
Maybe, Couch added, that commander will decide to send Marines or SF, rather than risk another SEAL tell-all.
O'Neill is not the first SEAL who took part in the bin Laden raid to come out with his story. Former Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Matt Bissonnette, who penned "No Easy Day" under the pseudonym Mark Owen, has also gotten into hot water for releasing details of the mission.
Bissonnette is in the midst of a lawsuit with the Defense Department, for publishing his memoir without DoD vetting.
There have been no criminal charges or NDA violation claims for O'Neill or Bissonnette, but Couch said he favors stronger discipline to discourage future SEALs from similar revelations.
He said he would recommend recalling O'Neill back to duty, sending him to court-martial and letting the military justice system sort it out.
"I think that somewhere along the line, we have to put some teeth into these NDAs," he said. "And just say, 'You talk, and you're going to be on the big, green table and you're going to be answering some very hard questions. You may find your pay being suspended, your benefits being suspended, a less-than-honorable discharge from our service.' "