The Pentagon said Tuesday a new book by a former Navy SEAL on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden contains “sensitive and classified information,” opening the way to possible criminal charges against the author.
The Defense Department has already threatened legal action over “No Easy Day,” which went on sale Tuesday, but officials had previously stopped short of saying whether the book had revealed state secrets.
“We believe that sensitive and classified information is contained in the book,” spokesman George Little told a news conference.
Asked if the US government would take legal action against the author, Little said officials were reviewing all options.
“Legal avenues are available to us. I’m simply not going to get into what we may or may not decide,” he said.
He reiterated the Pentagon’s view that the author violated non-disclosure agreements he signed before retiring that required him to submit his first person account for review by the military before publication.
Sending in the book for review was a simple matter of “common sense” and “a no-brainer” for anyone working on national security operations, Little said.
“And it is the height of irresponsibility not to have this kind of material checked for the possible disclosure of classified information.
“And we have very serious concerns after having reviewed the book,” he said.
The former Navy commando wrote “No Easy Day” under a pseudonym, Mark Owen, but has been identified in media reports as Matt Bissonnette.
In the book, published by Penguin’s Dutton imprint, he describes his role in the famed May 2011 raid on bin Laden’s Pakistani hideout as well as in other operations in Iraq and Afghanistan during his 14-year career as a Navy SEAL.
Last week, Bissonnette’s lawyer offered a rebuttal to the Pentagon, insisting the author had not broken faith with his commitments and that the non-disclosure agreements did not apply to the bin Laden operation.
In an author’s note at the beginning of “No Easy Day,” Bissonnette says that he has gone to great lengths to avoid uncovering sensitive details about tactics or technology, saying he had consulted a former special operations forces lawyer to review the manuscript.
“If you are looking for secrets, this is not your book,” he wrote.
The Pentagon said it did not plan to try to block the sale of the book at shops on military bases, and unlike in some previous cases, there was no sign the government would move to buy up copies of the book and have them pulped.
If a court finds Bissonnette failed to uphold his confidentiality agreement, he could be forced to forfeit any profits from the book. But if a court rules he revealed classified information , the former special operator could face a potential prison sentence and other punishment.
After a wave of publicity, “No Easy Day” — the first eyewitness account of the bin Laden raid — jumped to the top of Amazon.com’s top selling books, with customers pre-ordering the book before its release on Tuesday.
The book, which was co-written with journalist Kevin Maurer, is outpacing the erotica hit “Fifty Shades of Grey.”