‘No Easy Day’ Book Author Ex-Navy SEAL ‘Should Be Prosecuted’ Says Defense Secretary
Adding to the swell of criticism that's surrounded "No Easy Day" since the public first got wind of the book, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is suggesting that the retired Navy SEAL author be punished for writing the book that gives an insider's account of the U.S. raid that killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
Asked in an interview with CBS if he thinks the writer should be prosecuted, Panetta said, "I think we have to take steps to make clear to him and to the American people that we're not going to accept this kind of behavior."
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Panetta was of course referring to "No Easy," a firsthand account of the U.S. Navy SEAL raid that led to bin Laden's killing in May 2011 in Pakistan. The book was written by a retired SEAL Chief under the pseudonym of Mark Owen. Fox News later identified the author as Alaskan Matt Bissonnette.
In the interview, broadcast Sept. 12 on "CBS This Morning," Panetta told co-host Norah O'Donnell that if the Defense Department failed to take any action in response to the book, "then everybody else who pledges to ensure that that doesn't happen is gonna get the wrong signal, that somehow they can do it without any penalty to be paid."
Asked if the revelations could put future such operations at risk, Panetta said, "I think when someone who signs an obligation that he will not reveal the secrets of this kind of operation, and then does that and doesn't abide by the rules, that when he reveals that kind of information, it does indeed jeopardize operations and the lives of others that are involved in those operations."
The secretary stopped short of accusing the author of revealing classified information, but said Pentagon officials "are currently reviewing that book to determine exactly, you know, what is classified and what isn't, and where those lines are."
Panetta said the book, which displaced "Fifty Shades of Grey" in the number one slot on Amazon's bestseller list for the first time all summer, raises troubling national security questions.
"Well, I think when somebody talks about the particulars of how those operations are conducted, it tells our enemies, essentially, how we operate and what we do to go after them," he said.
Owen's lawyer, Robert Luskin, who represented former President George W. Bush's adviser Karl Rove in the Valerie Plame leak case, claimed that a non-disclosure agreement signed by the former SEAL "invites, but by no means requires Mr. Owen to submit materials for pre-publication review."
Owen "remains confident that he fulfilled his duty," Luskin said in a letter in response to Johnson.
While his client did sign an additional agreement in 2007 requiring pre-publication review "under certain circumstances," it was "difficult to understand how the matter that is the subject of Mr. Owen's book could conceivably be encompassed by the nondisclosure agreement that you have identified," Luskin said.
Luskin also claimed that Owen had "earned the right to tell his story."
Other than conflicting, grandiosely poeticized accounts of the events surrounding Bin Laden's death, we don't seem to have many hard facts on what went down that day, and certainly not from anyone who was there. And of course, that's drawn fire from everyone from the Defense Department, who are still currently reviewing the book's legality, to even former Special Ops vets who see ulterior motives for Owen's actions, some just disagreeing with him on a moral level.
"No Easy Day" now already has a rejoinder from a group of Special Ops vets. Plainly titled, "No Easy Op: The Unclassified Analysis of the Book Detailing the Killing of OBL," the book was co-written by Jack Murphy, Bill Janson, Brandon Webb and Iassen Donov, all of whom apparently served in various covert capacities for the American military. The New York Times first reported on the book, which is being published on Amazon today as well.
More an essay (seemingly hastily-written) than a full book, it is concerned at least in part with special forces internal politics that have little direct reference to Bissonnette's plight. However, the book is revealing - and not very shy in describing - what Bissonnette's intention may have been to publish the book in secret with Penguin imprint Dutton, without seeking Department of Defense approval.
The authors of "No Easy Op" criticize Bissonnette's path to publication, saying that "the author would have been best served submitting the book for an official review, even if this would have meant delaying the book's publication." Since the book makes clear that "Mark Owen" lives in Virginia Beach, where many other members of the military reside, the authors say "This puts a lot of people at undo [sic] risk."
So why did Bissonnette bypass the usual channels to write "No Easy Day?" In what is surely the most damning passage in "No Easy Op," the authors write: "With Bisonnette leaving SEAL Team Six under less than desirable circumstances (a charge his publisher denies frontward and back), there seems to be some bad blood between the author and his former unit. No doubt, this helped him break the code of silence."
It is not clear what soured Bissonnette's relations with his team, which he praises effusively in "No Easy Day." According to the Times, he was "effectively pushed out...after he expressed interest last year in leaving the Navy and starting a business."
The break-up between Bissonnette and the SEALs appears to have been an abrupt one - and some may even feel that "No Easy Day" is a implicit snub of his former employer, the Navy, and its tight regulations on secrecy.
"Many in the SEAL community feel betrayed by the book," they say, even as they acknowledge that the book is "packed with significance" - and is likely to make its author extremely rich.
What do you think? Do Panetta, and Special Ops vets have a point here? Or are they just trying to cover the government's tracks because Owen's story upsets the narrative of the Osama bin Laden raid popularized by the White House?
"No Easy Day" is available now available now.