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Pentagon: SEAL Violated Publication Agreement


The Pentagon has sent a letter, warning author Mark Owen that he could be in trouble. Owen is the author of "No Easy Day," an account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden by one of the Navy SEAL's who killed the al-Qaida leader. The Pentagon says Owen violated agreements to submit any publications for review. And joining us to discuss this, is NPR's Larry Abramson.

Larry, good morning.

LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: Good morning, David. How are you?

GREENE: Good. Could you first remind us a bit about this book, because for one thing the name Mark Owen is actually a pseudonym, right?

ABRAMSON: That's right. His name is Matt Bissonnette. He's a former member of SEAL Team six, the most elite squad. Penguin Books recently announced that it was publishing his account of his role as a member of that SEAL team when they raided the bin Laden compound in May of 2011.

Now, he changed his name, and he changed the name of all his comrades, but he didn't submit the book for pre-publication review to the Pentagon. And the Pentagon said, well, that's what you were supposed to do. His publisher, Penguin said, well, we ran this by a lawyer. But that's not quite what he was supposed to do.

GREENE: OK. So now Owen has gotten this letter from the Pentagon. What exactly does it say?

ABRAMSON: It's from Jeh Johnson, the general counsel of the Department of Defense. And it says, basically, that Owen violated a contract, a legal document that he signed to submit this manuscript or any manuscript for review, and of his promise not to release any classified information. It says you are in material breach of the non-disclosure agreements. And any further dissemination of the book, which would be publishing it on Tuesday as scheduled, will aggravate this breach.

GREENE: Well, have you been able to read the book?


GREENE: I mean, what is - are there details in there that may have crossed the line, do you think, with lawyers from the Pentagon?

ABRAMSON: It's hard to tell. But there is a huge amount of detail in this book, David. It tells what kind of aircraft they used in some cases, talks about some of the surveillance they used and exactly how the raid was executed.

Now, a lot of this information has already been discussed by administration officials and in other journalistic accounts of this raid, but only the Pentagon gets to decide what is classified and what isn't.

GREENE: Ok. Well, if the Pentagon decides that there's classified information that was revealed or if they have trouble with it in other ways, what are their options? What could they do?

ABRAMSON: The Pentagon might be just trying to slow the publisher down. They only got a copy of this book last week, which was only given to them after the publication date was announced. And maybe they just say, you know, we want a few more weeks before we can put it out. But remember that Penguin has 400,000 copies ready for delivery next Tuesday. So it's going to be difficult for them to slow this train down.

They could also try to get an injunction to stop the release of the book. But, you know, you remember the Pentagon Papers, right? That is a really high bar to reach. The government has bought back copies of books that were in dispute before. That's another possibility. But, again, this is a lot more copies of books than they've ever had to buy back.

They also could sue him and try to get some of the royalties for the books. And that would come to a huge amount of money, which Bissonnette has said he intended to donate to the families of SEALs who were killed in action.

GREENE: I mean, the killing of bin Laden also has been something that President Obama has talked about as an accomplishment. And aside from all the legal issues here, I mean, this book has been politicized in this election year.

ABRAMSON: That's right. One former SEAL, Scott Taylor, who's an outspoken foe of the Obama administration, he's blamed the White House for creating a climate of leaks. And he says that this book wouldn't have been published if the president hadn't been so loose with details about this raid and about many other things.

GREENE: All right. We'll see where this story goes. NPR's Larry Abramson, thanks very much.

ABRAMSON: Thank you.


GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Larry Abramson is NPR's National Security Correspondent. He covers the Pentagon, as well as issues relating to the thousands of vets returning home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.