August 31st, 2012
09:32 AM ET

Pentagon warns former SEAL about bin Laden book

From Barbara Starr

The Pentagon general counsel threatened legal action Thursday against a former Navy SEAL who wrote a revealing book about last year's Osama bin Laden raid, warning him he has violated secrecy agreements and broken federal law.

In a letter addressed to "Mark Owen," the pen name of book author Matt Bissonnette, General Counsel Jeh Charles Johnson wrote the Pentagon is considering pursuing "all remedies legally available" against the former SEAL and his publisher, Penguin Putnam.

"In the judgment of the Department of Defense, you are in material breach and violation of the nondisclosure agreements you signed. Further public dissemination of your book will aggravate your breach and violation of your agreements," Johnson wrote.

Read: Pentagon letter to author and publisher

The book is called "No Easy Day" and is a gripping account of the Navy SEAL raid on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan last year that ended in the death of the world's most notorious terrorist leader.

The story sheds more light on the now famous skill and daring of the SEALs. But the book's very existence stoked controversy because members of the elite unit don't usually divulge details of their operations.

The book is one of several accounts about the operation to have surfaced after last year's raid.

Government officials only recently became aware the former SEAL was writing a book, but they were told it encompassed more than just the raid and included vignettes from training and other missions.

They wanted to see a copy, a Defense Department official said, to make sure no classified information would be released and to see if the book contained any information that might identify other team members.

Thursday's letter to Bissonnette came after a department review of the book.

Bissonnette wrote in the book that he was part of a team heading up a stairwell in search of bin Laden, forces led by a SEAL point man.

"We were less than five steps from getting to the top when I heard suppressed shots.


"The point man had seen a man peeking out of the door on the right side of the hallway about ten feet in front of him. I couldn't tell from my position if the rounds hit the target or not."

They went into a room and saw two women standing over a man at the foot of a bed, "hysterically crying and wailing in Arabic."

One of the women shouted in Arabic and moved toward the point man.

"Swinging his gun to the side," the point man grabbed the women and moved them to a corner.

"If either woman had on a suicide vest, he probably saved our lives, but it would have cost him his own. It was a selfless decision made in a split second," Bissonnette wrote.

Bissonnette described how he and another SEAL entered the room and saw the man, clad in a white sleeveless T-shirt, loose tan pants and a tan tunic, twitching and convulsing. The author said he and another SEAL finished him off with several rounds and soon after identified him as the notorious leader of al Qaeda.

The killing occurred even though a government lawyer told the SEALs that if bin Laden didn't pose a threat, he should be detained.

The author found two empty firearms during a search of the area, saying bin Laden apparently "hadn't even prepared a defense" and had "no intention of fighting."

According to an earlier and contradictory account from a U.S. official, bin Laden was shot after the SEALs went into the room. That account said the al Qaeda leader was moving, possibly toward one of the weapons that were in the room, when he was shot. He never had a gun in hand but posed an imminent threat, according to the U.S. official.

Bissonnette said he had mixed feelings about President Barack Obama, who ordered the operation.

"None of us were huge fans of Obama. We respected him as the commander-in-chief of the military and for giving us the green light on the mission," wrote the former SEAL, who was a 36-year-old chief petty officer when he left the Navy as a highly decorated commando in April.

CNN obtained a copy of the book, which will officially be released September 4. It first had a release date of September 11, but Dutton, a Penguin imprint, said the book will come out early because of "overwhelming excitement in the marketplace."

The first printing of the book, already an Amazon best-seller, is now 575,000 copies, according to Dutton.

Filed under: Security Brief
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  62. faithjarrell

    If only closed minded individuals came with closed mouths. For those happy and content to be left in the dark and let other people run their lives without having a voice in it, more power to you, sheep are easier to herd. The writer of the book was not going for glory or fame, or honor, he wrote under a pen name and no one would have known who he was and he did that to protect his troop and the military. He wanted people to know what had happened and he went over and over what he had written before publication to make sure that it would not offend or cause issues for the military.

    September 7, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Reply

      SO HE DIDNT GO FOR GLORY OR FAME, BUT A PAYCHECK! WHO CARES ABOUT A PEN NAME WHEN U ARE STILL GETTING A FAT CHECK AT THE END OF THE DAY. I dont think the vast majority of america needs to know how exactly the killing of bin ladden went. Whats important is that we got him! now this he said she said of how it went down is going on. Why couldnt the author "Mark Owen" follow the same creed of other spec ops operatives in knowing just being involved in high risk missions is all the credit they need. "Operatives" dont join the spec ops fraternity to tell the world what type of badass they were, but rather to be the swords edge of US doctrine. Its like showing your poker hand to the people your playing against.

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    September 7, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  64. faithjarrell

    I don't understand the issue. I could if this information was disclosed BEFORE they killed Bin Laden but a year later it's old news, from what I understand the military and government agencies are like technology and cars in that their methods, training, operations, etc.. are constantly evolving and changing. We're kept in the dark enough about what our government is doing and we have less and less say in what it is doing as is, this is a body that has a hand in virtually every single aspect of our lives from the time we're born until the time we die and we're supposed to complacently be OK with not having a clue as to how it's run or what they've done?? BS. They did an excellent job of keeping it secret as it was being planned and prepared for, they did an excellent job at seeing it through A YEAR AGO!! I see absolutely nothing wrong with a book being written about it today, especially if he used different names for himself and his men, and I doubt there would be as much publicity if the Pentagon had not blown it out of proportion, with out of the publicity virtually no one would have even known about the book. I sure didn't before all the news stories started covering it because the Pentagon had their panties in a bunch about it.

    September 4, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Reply


      September 10, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Reply
      • FaithArcane

        From what I've read no one knew his real name until the Pentagon had a duck about it all over the media.

        September 10, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  65. Rick

    Our enemies will happily buy this book to learn more about our techniques.

    Bad judgement, SEAL dude.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:50 am | Reply
  66. AC

    Most ALL SEALS know whether information is classified or not. The Pentagon just wants to make sure there isn't tactics or crucial information being released without their approval. Even after the military if something is found wrong that a Soldier did they can be charged with it until the day they die.

    @Cindi, not all grunts choose to be grunts. Those that fail out or get hurt in efforts to become Rangers and Spec Forces get sent to be grunts. If you fail or get injuried during training your at the needs of the Military. And they always need more grunts.

    September 3, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Reply
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  68. Kittyg

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    August 31, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Reply
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    August 31, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Reply
  71. Cindi

    This ex Navy Seal seriously knew exactly what he was doing by writing a book, and not getting it cleared by the Department of Defense before the book was released on Amazon. Honestly, he knew better. He will Pay the Piper for all that he has done.

    August 31, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Reply
  72. SDG66

    So it turns out the SEALs are nothing special at all, and in fact they are traitors putting our country at risk.

    August 31, 2012 at 11:55 am | Reply
    • Gary Fischer

      Saying the Navy Seals are traitors is offensive to virtually all America, except the real traitors and fools like yourself. Why doesn’t your DOJ focus on the leeks coming from the White House, instead of from one of the guys who really killed Bin Laden.

      August 31, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Reply
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        August 31, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
      • NoN

        Leeks from the WH? Since when is it a crime to give away a leek, just your garden variety produce.

        September 1, 2012 at 10:29 am |
      • Jhmc0302

        You all are making the Seal number 1. They are up there but, what about the grunts on the ground who are in combat 24/7? Anyone here get shelled for two days and have just wait to die.
        The Seals are drpped in country for a half hour do a job and are extracted.They go in with so much of an advantage in fire power and techniques, let alone surprise.
        The less said about them the better as far as I'm concerned. .;

        September 1, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
      • Cindi

        Wait a minute Jhmc0302. You need to realize that everyone in the military made their own choice to be in the military. My son chose to be in the army, he is a combat engineer, that's what he chose, that's what he likes. Then there's the Seals, all of them chose to become Seals. So, I assuming that grunts choose to become grunts ?

        September 1, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
    • LadyLove

      SEALs aren't traitors, but this guy could use much better judgement. It seems to me he isn't the smartest sailor in the Navy. The fact that he went under a pen name & then showed his face (as if no one was going to recognize him) displayed his lack of discretion and intelligence.

      September 2, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  73. OffTheWorldPolitics

    Damn right they should forgo royalties. I understand it might have been a mistake, but making money from releasing classified information sets a dangerous example. What happened to the quiet professional?

    August 31, 2012 at 11:11 am | Reply

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