The Defense Department threw down the gauntlet last night, telling former Navy SEAL author Matt Bissonnette he's in "material breach" of his agreements not to disclose military secrets with his book, No Easy Day, and, as a result, the Pentagon is considering legal action against him.
"In the judgment of the Department of Defense, you are in material breach and violation of the non-disclosure agreements you signed," said Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson, in a letter addressed to Bissonnette under his pen name Mark Owen. Johnson said the Pentagon was also considering legal action against anyone "acting in concert" with Bissonnette, sending a clear warning to his publisher Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Group. No Easy Day chronicles the mission to kill Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Bissonnette is by no means the first ex-Navy SEAL to write a book about his military experiences, but unlike other former SEALs, he failed to submit his manuscripts to the Pentagon for pre-publication review, a requirement in a non-disclosure agreement he signed before leaving the SEALs.
That was a huge gamble, as legal experts explained to The Atlantic Wire on Wednesday, which could subject him to criminal prosecution and entitle the U.S. government to all the book royalties, a sizable chunk of cash considering No Easy Day has already topped Amazon's bestseller list ahead of its September 11 release, dethroning Fifty Shades of Gray from the top spot. Besides hinting at seizing the book's proceeds, the letter also stated that "Further public dissemination of your book will aggravate your breach and violation of your agreements." Flying in the face of such a request, Dutton already expanded the book's initial print run from 300,000 to 400,000 to now a "massive 575,000 copies," as EntertainmentWeekly's Stephen Lee noted Wednesday.
Some observers think legal action would be too politically risky for the Pentagon. "The administration is going after a war hero," Politico's Austin Wright argues. "It’s catnip for Republicans who already have tried to attack Obama for claiming too much credit for the bin Laden mission." While going after Bissonnette, a decorated veteran, may not look great, Republican criticism would be blunted somewhat by the fact that the administration would be cracking down on national security leaks, an issue Republicans ostensibly care a lot about. We reached out to Penguin for a response and will update if and when there's a response.