As you have probably read by now, a former Navy SEAL has written a controversial book about the May 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Not surprisingly, the Pentagon is not happy about it. Just a few days ago, the U.S. Department of Defense’s general counsel sent the author of the book entitled “No Easy Day” a letter in which he attacked the Navy SEAL, whose real name is Matt Bissonnette, over the looming publication of the book. The book was written under the pseudonym Mark Owen. The Pentagon accuses Bissonnette of revealing classified information which could pose a danger to servicemen. The publisher is Dutton Penguin.
Bissonnette’s account of the events the fateful night when the Navy SEALs finally located and killed Osama bin Laden, the architect of 9/11, differ significantly in certain respects from the official version of the events set forth by the Obama Administration and the Defense Department. One of the most significant differences is that Bissonnette claims that bin Laden was unarmed when he was gunned down. According to the official version of events, bin Laden “resisted” before he was gunned down.
Initially, the Defense Department (“DOD”) had not responded to news of Bissonnette’s book. The DOD was not provided with an advance copy of the book to review for security breaches, as is customary. However, the Defense Department soon changed its tune–the general counsel for the DOD informed Bissonnette, who hails from Alaska, that writing the book constitutes a violation of a 2007 nondisclosure agreement he signed with the U.S. Navy. Bissonnette has since left active duty. In the letter, the DOD threatened to use “all remedies legally available”. The letter also hinted at a criminal prosecution for Bissonnette because of his disclosure of classified information and the DOD threatened to seize the royalties from his book and to prosecute the book’s publisher as well. The DOD warned him against “further dissemination” of the book.
Dutton Penguin claims that a lawyer who was also a former special operations soldier vetted the book before publication to make sure that no confidential information was revealed that could be used against the United States. It is unclear whether Penguin at this point has retained outside counsel to deal with the threat of legal action.
Mark Owen for his part claims that he sought out legal advice before agreeing to publish the book. He also claims to have reviewed the book very carefully before publication to ensure that it did not disclose material information that would put his fellow Navy SEALs at risk or breach any agreements. Mr. Owen’s representative also claims that Owen has earned the right to tell his story and that he is proud of his Navy service. Mark Owen’s representative contends that the nondisclosure agreement that he signed with the Navy only pertains to “specially identified Special Access Programs” and not to missions such as the Osama bin Laden raid.
After all the controversy surrounding publication of the book, the publishers moved up the publication date of the book and increased the first run from 300,000 to 575,000 copies due to increased advance demand. Pre-orders for the book have already placed it at the top of Amazon.com’s best-seller list.
The head of the Navy SEALs also expressed shock and dismay over the publication of the book, noting that the Navy SEALs strive to keep their missions and training confidential. He also claimed that the security of the Navy SEALs and their families was put at risk because the book reveals sensitive information which would prove a boon to America’s enemies.
The Pentagon ruled out the option of blocking the book’s release since advance copies had already been circulating in the public domain. The Pentagon is also not making any effort to block the sale of the book at military bases, claiming that it does not decide what is offered for sale at military exchanges.
Dutton Penguin claims that a majority of the book’s proceeds will go to the families of fallen Navy SEALs.