Published November 09, 2012
WASHINGTON – Seven members of the secretive Navy SEAL Team 6, including one involved in the Usama bin Laden raid, have been punished for allegedly disclosing classified information, two senior military officials tell Fox News.
They were accused for their role working as paid consultants for a video game company producing "Medal of Honor: Warfighter." The official says four other SEALs are under investigation for similar alleged disclosures, but are still on active duty.
The seven received what the military calls "nonjudicial" punishment on Wednesday. They were given letters of reprimand, which is often, but not exclusively, a career ending punishment -- it depends on the commander's discretion and whether or not he chooses to make it part of the offender's permanent service record. In addition, the seven SEALs were made to forfeit half their pay for two months.
The deputy commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, Rear Adm. Garry Bonelli, issued a statement acknowledging that nonjudicial punishments had been handed out for misconduct, but he did not offer any details.
"We do not tolerate deviations from the policies that govern who we are and what we do as sailors in the United States Navy," Bonelli said. He alluded to the importance of honoring nondisclosure agreements that SEALs sign.
He said the punishments this week "send a clear message throughout our force that we are and will be held to a high standard of accountability."
The two main complaints against the SEALs were that they did not seek the permission of their command to take part in the video project and that they showed the video designers some of their specially designed combat equipment unique to their unit, said a senior military official. The official was briefed about the case but was not authorized to speak publicly about it.
Because the SEALs failed to ask permission to take outside, paid jobs, commanders were not able to approve or vet jobs, and that amounts to a violation of orders.
SEALs, including some of those involved in the bin Laden raid of May 2011, have been uncharacteristically prominent in the news this year.
The nonjudicial punishment was handed down within recent days, but revelations of the scandal came about during around the time Matt Bissonnette wrote a firsthand account under the pseudonym Mark Owen of the bin Laden raid.
Bissonette, who participated in the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, but later retired from the SEALs, landed in hot water with the Pentagon even before it was published in September. The Pentagon accused him of disclosing classified information in violation of the nondisclosure agreements he had signed as a SEAL. He disputes the charge.
Although Bissonnette was not one of the 11 under scrutiny for the video game breach, it has has been widely reported that Bissonnette was one of the original paid consultants working for the gaming company, Electronics Arts. The Pentagon says he can not be punished for that because he had already left the service, but the Pentagon is considering legal action in return for Bissonnette's decision to write the tell-all book.
The SEAL mission to capture or kill bin Laden, while stunningly successful, encountered a number of unexpected obstacles, including the loss of a stealthy helicopter that was partially blown up by the SEALs after making a hard landing inside bin Laden's compound.
The head of Naval Special Warfare Command, Rear Adm. Sean Pybus, responded to the Bissonnette book by telling his force that "hawking details about a mission" and selling other information about SEAL training and operations puts the force and their families at risk.
SEALs, both active duty and retired, possess highly sensitive information about tactics and techniques that are central to the success of their secret and often dangerous missions overseas. That is why they are obliged to sign nondisclosure agreements when they enter service and when they leave, and it is why the Pentagon seeks to enforce such written agreements.
The punishments were first reported by CBS News.
Fox News' Justin Fishel and the Associated Press contributed to this report.