Washington - The Pentagon is considering legal action against a former U.S. Navy SEAL whose book describes insider details of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, but it has not made a final judgment on whether the book actually reveals secrets, a spokesman said Friday.
Pentagon press secretary George Little said author Matt Bissonnette was deemed to be in violation of two nondisclosure agreements that he signed in 2007 by failing to submit the book, “No Easy Day,” for an official security review before it was published.
Little would not say what legal options the Pentagon is considering or when it might take action.
In his book, Bissonnette wrote that the SEALs spotted bin Laden at the top of a darkened hallway of his home in Pakistan and shot him in the head, even though they could not tell whether he was armed. Administration officials have described the SEALs shooting bin Laden only after he ducked back into a bedroom because they assumed he might be reaching for a weapon.
Little declined to describe the Pentagon's assessment of the contents of the book, but he later said it had not reached “any final conclusions” about whether secrets were revealed.
Little suggested that if Bissonnette were to stop the book's official release, scheduled for next week, that might be a remedy. Some advance copies have been circulating, and the Pentagon obtained one last week. It has since been reviewing it for any classified information and to determine what, if any, legal action should be taken, Little said.
In response, Robert D. Luskin of the law firm Patton Boggs wrote to Johnson on Friday that his firm is representing Bissonnette and asserting that he is not in breach of his nondisclosure agreements.
Luskin said the author had “sought legal advice about his responsibilities before agreeing to publish his book and scrupulously reviewed the work to ensure that it did not disclose any material that would breach his agreements or put his former comrades at risk. He remains confident that he has faithfully fulfilled his duty.”
The Pentagon's position was presented Thursday by its top lawyer, Jeh Johnson, in a letter transmitted to the author through his New York publisher, Penguin Group (USA)'s Dutton imprint.
Johnson said Bissonnette's nondisclosure agreements obliged him to “never divulge” classified information. “This commitment remains in force even after you left the active duty Navy,” Johnson wrote. He said the author left active duty “on or about April 20, 2012,” nearly one year after the May 2011 raid.
Johnson wrote that the author was obliged to submit his manuscript for a security review by the government before it was published. The Pentagon has said the manuscript was not submitted for review.
A special operations advocacy group, Special Operations-OPSEC, which has criticized President Barack Obama for alleged White House leaks and for making the bin Laden raid a national security centerpiece of his re-election campaign, said the author should be held to the same standard as others in protecting secrets.
“However, the Obama administration is applying a dishonorable double standard with a lightning-quick threat to prosecute a five-time winner of the Bronze Star while dragging its feet in identifying and charging senior administration officials who have purposefully leaked classified information,” the president of the group, Scott Taylor, said Friday.
The Pentagon did not release copies of the nondisclosure agreements that it said Bissonnette had signed. A spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Steve Warren, said they were being withheld because they include the author's real name and his signature. - Sapa-AP