Aug. 31 (Bloomberg) -- The Pentagon said a former U.S. Navy SEAL who wrote a firsthand account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden violated an agreement he signed never to divulge classified information and may face legal action.
The former SEAL broke the agreement by writing the new book, “No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden,” Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson wrote in a letter released last night. The letter was addressed to the author, who wrote the book under the pen name “Mark Owen,” care of the book’s publisher.
“In the judgment of the Department of Defense, you are in material breach and violation of the non-disclosure agreements you signed” in 2007, Johnson wrote to Owen. “Further public dissemination of your book will aggravate your breach and violation of your agreements.”
Johnson said the letter was meant to put the author on notice that “the department is considering pursuing against you and all those acting in concert with you all remedies legally available to us.”
V for Valor
The author was first identified publicly by Fox News as Matt Bissonnette, 36, of La Mirada, California, who was a member of the elite counterterrorism SEAL Team Six that killed Bin Laden. Among Bissonnette’s awards and decorations are five Bronze Stars with “V” for Valor device, according to a Navy information sheet released earlier this week. The Bronze Star is the military’s fourth-highest award for bravery.
The 2007 agreement “invites, but by no means requires Mr. Owen to submit materials for pre-publication review,” Bissonnette’s attorney, Robert Luskin of the Washington firm of Patton Boggs LLP, said in a letter today to Johnson.
Although the agreement “does require pre-publication security review under certain circumstances, that obligation is expressly limited to specifically identified” classified so-called Special Access programs spelled out on the date it was signed, Luskin wrote.
“It is difficult to understand how the matter that is the subject of Mr. Owen’s book could conceivably be encompassed by the non-disclosure agreement that you have identified,” Luskin said.
Sept. 4 Release
The book is scheduled to be published Sept. 4 by Dutton, a unit of Penguin Group USA, and is already No. 1 on Amazon.com’s best-seller list. Bissonnette co-wrote the book with Kevin Maurer, who has previously written about special-operations warfare.
Bissonnette said in his book he took steps to ensure that he wouldn’t be inadvertently releasing classified information and hired a former special operations attorney to review the manuscript.
The Defense Department hasn’t ruled out any options for taking action against the author, Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters today. He declined to specify steps the Pentagon may take against the author or the publisher.
“When you write something that may contain classified information, you have to go through pre-publication review and that did not occur in this case,” Little said. The Department also is still reviewing to determine if the book contains classified information, he said.
The Pentagon hasn’t specifically asked the publisher to cancel or delay the book’s publication, Little said, pointing to the text of the letter that says further dissemination would aggravate the author’s breach of agreement.
The Pentagon consulted with the Department of Justice before sending the letter, Little said.
Pentagon and special-operations officials haven’t publicly acknowledged the official designation of the Navy unit known informally as SEAL Team Six and formally as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or Devgru, based in Dam Neck, Virginia.
“The operations discussed in this book have been written about in numerous other civilian and government publications and are available in open sources to the general public,” Bissonnette wrote.
“The events depicted in ‘No Easy Day’ are based on my own memory,” he wrote. “Conversations have been reconstructed from my recollections.”
Luskin wrote that Owen is “respectful of his obligations. But he has earned the right to tell his story; his abiding interest is to ensure that he is permitted to tell it while recognizing the letter and spirit of the law and his contractual undertakings.”
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