By HILLEL ITALIE and LOLITA C. BALDOR, AP
Wed Aug 22, 10:43 PM UTC
WASHINGTON — A member of the U.S. Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden has written a firsthand account of the operation, triggering more questions about the possible public release of classified information involving the historic assault of the terror leader's compound in Pakistan.
U.S. military officials say they do not believe the book has been read or cleared by the Defense Department, which reviews publications by military members to make sure that no classified material is revealed.
The book, titled "No Easy Day" and scheduled to be released next month on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, comes amid a heated debate over whether members of the military — both active duty and retired — should engage in political battles.
"I haven't read the book and am unaware that anyone in the Department has reviewed it," said Pentagon press secretary George Little. White House and CIA officials also said the book had not been reviewed by their agencies.
The book announcement comes just as a group of retired special operations and CIA officers have launched a campaign accusing President Barack Obama of revealing classified details of the mission and turning the killing of bin Laden into a campaign centerpiece. The group complains that Obama has taken too much credit for the operation.
Their public complaints drew a rebuke from Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as other special operations forces, who called the partisan criticism unprofessional.
Dempsey said that such public political involvement by members of armed services erodes public confidence and trust in the military.
The author of the upcoming bin Laden book, who has left the military, is using the pseudonym Mark Owen. And in a news release from publisher Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), Owen describes the book as an effort to "set the record straight about one of the most important missions in U.S. military history."
He said the book is about "the guys" and the sacrifices that the special operations forces make to do the job and is written in the hope that it will inspire young men to become SEALs.
If the book sticks to his personal thoughts about the job and the mission, Owen may be in the clear. But often special operations forces must sign nondisclosure agreements. And they are not allowed to release classified information, such as intelligence data or military tactics and procedures used to ensure success of the May 2011 raid.
Christine Ball, a spokeswoman for Dutton, said the work was vetted by a former special operations attorney provided by the author.
"He vetted it for tactical, technical and procedural information as well as information that could be considered classified by compilation and found it to be without risk to national security," Ball said.
Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. James Gregory said that if the book reveals classified information about the raid, the Pentagon would "defer to the Department of Justice."
According to Pentagon regulations, retired personnel, former employees and non-active duty members of the Reserves "shall use the DoD security review process to ensure that information they submit for public release does not compromise national security."
The CIA also could weigh in because the agency ran the secret bin Laden mission.
If there is classified information in the book, the former SEAL could face criminal charges. And even if he donates the money to charity, for instance, that is unlikely to prevent the Justice Department from suing to collect any future book proceeds.
Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled a CIA whistle-blower had to forfeit future money he earned from a scathing book he wrote about the spy agency after he failed to get approval from his former employer before publication.
The CIA accused the officer of breaking his secrecy agreement with the U.S. The former officer, who worked deep undercover, published the book in July 2008 using the pseudonym Ishmael Jones.
The CIA said his book, "The Human Factor: Inside the CIA's Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture," was submitted to the agency's publications review board under a secrecy agreement that covers books written by former employees. But Jones, who published the book before the review process was completed, said it contained no classified information.
In 2010, the Defense Department claimed a former Army intelligence officer's war memoir threatened national security. The Pentagon paid $47,000 to destroy 9,500 copies of the book, called "Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan — and the Path to Victory."
The book was written by Anthony Shaffer, whose lawyer said the Army Reserve cleared the manuscript beforehand but the Defense Department later rescinded the approval, claiming the text contained classified information.
Shaffer and the publisher agreed to remove the material.
Dutton, which announced the book's pending release Wednesday, is planning a major first print run of 300,000 copies, Ball said. The co-author, journalist Kevin Maurer, has worked on four previous books.
Associated Press writers Ted Bridis, Kimberly Dozier and Adam Goldman contributed to this report. Italie reported from New York.