- Associated Press - Thursday, August 23, 2012

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 terrorist 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 no classified material is revealed.

The book, titled “No Easy Day” and scheduled to be released Sept. 11, the 11th anniversary of the 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 Obama of revealing classified details of the mission and turning the killing of bin Laden into a campaign centerpiece. The group complains that Mr. 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.

Gen. Dempsey said 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 was identified Thursday as Matt Bissonnette, is using the pseudonym Mark Owen. He retired from the Navy last summer.

Mr. Bissonnette was first identified by Fox News. One current and one former U.S. military official confirmed the name, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss military personnel matters.

Penguin Group (USA)’s Dutton imprint, the publisher, asked news organizations Thursday to withhold his identity.

“Sharing the true story of his personal experience in ‘No Easy Day’ is a courageous act in the face of obvious risks to his personal security,” said a statement by Christine Ball, Penguin Group spokeswoman. “That personal security is the sole reason the book is being published under a pseudonym.”

In a news release from Dutton, Mr. Bissonnette 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, Mr. Bissonnette may be in the clear. But special operations forces often 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.

Ms. Ball 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,” Ms. 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 nonactive 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 that 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 whistleblower 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 Mr. Jones, who published the book before the review process was completed, said it contained no classified information.

Dutton, which announced the bin Laden book’s pending release Wednesday, is planning a major first-print run of 300,000 copies, Ms. 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.

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