Books & Review
Updated: Sep 04, 2012 09:59 AM EDT

navy seal

In a recent interview, Owen said that in the heat of battle, the SEALS on the ground weren't going to take any chances with their target.
(Photo : Reuters)

For a Navy SEAL, you'd guess everything after the retirement party is cliché boilerplate: Go get an average job, assimilate back into civilian life, fall back into the heard. But, for former Navy SEAL Mark Owen, the author of a first-hand account of the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, "No Easy Day," retirement has been anything but average.  

After word first broke of the book's controversial contents, and a publishing world ensued, "No Easy Day" accomplished what no other book this summer could before it even hit the shelves. Just last week, while only available for pre-order, Owen's book knocked E.L. James' "Fifty Shades of Grey" series from the number one slot on Amazon's bestseller list.

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"No Easy Day" is still a hot commodity. That's likely why the publisher moved up the book's release from its intended poignant Sept. 11 release date, to today.

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.

Just last week the Defense Department's top lawyer, sent "Mark Owen" -- a pen-name used by retired SEAL Matt Bissonnette -- and his publisher, Penguin Putnam, a letter advising them that the book, "No Easy Day" had been published in violation of non-disclosure agreements Bissonnette signed while a SEAL.

The letter advised the author that he was in "material breach" of such agreements and that the Pentagon was "considering" legal action against the former SEAL and "all those acting in concert with you."

However, Bissonette'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."

Bissonnette "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."

U.S. defense and intelligence officials familiar with internal government deliberations about the book acknowledged that legal and factual issues surrounding the book's content were complex.

As a consequence, they said, it is still unclear if the U.S. government would proceed with legal action against the author or publisher, which is owned by Britain's Pearson Plc. Even if such action were launched, the officials said, it might well fail.

Acknowledging the possibility of political fallout from any legal action against someone who could be portrayed as a hero for his role in the bin Laden raid, Little said: "I would note that we of course applaud anyone who participated in one of the most successful military and intelligence operations in U.S. history."

But he added: "Even those who participated in such a mission have a very serious and enduring obligation to follow the process and to help protect classified information."

Representatives of both the book's publisher, as well as the author's lawyer, have asserted that the book was carefully reviewed before publication to ensure it did not contain any secrets. But U.S. officials said the book was not submitted for official pre-publication review, and that the author therefore had exposed himself to potential legal risks.

While the Defense Department is taking the lead in investigating the book's contents, the Central Intelligence Agency, which played a major role in laying the groundwork for and in carrying out the bin Laden raid, is conducting its own review. Some officials said Bissonnette may technically have been operating under the authority of the agency during the operation, further complicating the legal picture.

Government intelligence agencies aren't the only ones concerned. "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.

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