The Pentagon is now threatening to take legal action against former Navy SEAL Mark Owen over his yet-to-be-publicly-released book No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden. Reuters report that top Pentagon attorney Jeh Johnson wrote to 36-year-old Owen (whose real name was revealed by Fox News as Matt Bissonnette): "In the judgment of the Department of Defense, you are in material breach and violation of the non-disclosure agreements you signed. Further public dissemination of your book will aggravate your breach and violation of your agreements." According to the Associated Press, Johnson reminded Owen that "he had signed two nondisclosure agreements with the Navy in 2007 that obliged him to 'never divulge' classified information."
The Pentagon has obtained a copy of the manuscript; however, Owens did not submit the book to the Department of Defense for review as the nondisclosure agreements he allegedly signed require him to do. (A sample version of that nondisclosure agreement is available here, thanks to the FAS Project on Government Secrecy.)
The pertinent text of that sample document reads: "I hereby agree that I will never divulge anything marked as SCI [Sensitive Compartmented Information] or that I know to be SCI to anyone who is not authorized to receive it without prior written authorization from the United States Government department or agency." Pentagon attorney Johnson did not say what sensitive information Owens revealed, or how much.
“If the U.S. Special Operations Command finds that an active-duty, retired or former service member violated that agreement and that exposure of information was detrimental to the safety of U.S. forces, then we will pursue every option available to hold members accountable, including criminal prosecution where appropriate," wrote Admiral William McRaven, the leader of the U.S. Special Operations Command, in an open letter. McRaven also expressed his disdain for former military members “using their ‘celebrity’ status to advance their personal or professional agendas.”
Dutton, a publisher of Penguin Group, originally scheduled the book's release for September 11, but announced Tuesday that it's moving up the release date to September 4 on account of the public's “overwhelming excitement." The book's first printing was also bumped from 300,000 to 575,000 copies.
Now those pages are in jeopardy. The Pentagon is pissed, and may seek a court injunction to halt the book's release. As for Owen, he may have exposed himself to liability by virtue of submitting the manuscript to the publisher. The violations enumerated in the nondisclosure agreement Owen may have signed carry a fine up to $10,000, imprisonment for "not more than ten years," or both.
According to the AP, the publisher said Owen intends to give the "majority" of the book's proceeds to charity. And those proceeds might be quite significant: The book has already trumped Fifty Shades of Gray for the top spot on Amazon. But those funds will only materialize if the book, or a redacted version of it (like Valerie Plame Wilson's Fair Game), actually reaches the public.