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Ex-Navy SEAL pushes back on Pentagon warning over Bin Laden book

By David S. Cloud, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON—The former Navy SEAL who wrote a first-person account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden launched another attack Friday as his lawyer disputed the Defense Department’s claim that he was required to obtain Pentagon approval before publishing the book.

The lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, said in a letter to the Pentagon that the Classified Information Non-Disclosure Agreement signed by the author, Matt Bissonnette, “invites, but by no means requires” him “to submit materials for pre-publication review” for potential leaks of classified information.

Another legal document that Bissonnette signed in 2007, the Sensitive Compartmented Information Nondisclosure Statement, “does require pre-publication security review under certain circumstances,” Luskin acknowledged. But, he argued, “that obligation is expressly limited to certain highly classified programs” that are not in the forthcoming book, “No Easy Day.”

In response, the Pentagon stood by the letter it sent to Bissonnette on Thursday that says he violated his pledge to guard classified information.

Luskin is “just wrong,” a Defense official said. “The Classified Information Non-Disclosure Agreement does indeed require him to submit (a manuscript) for review.” The official asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly respond to Luskin’s letter.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said the department has not decided yet whether to take action against Bissonnette, who wrote under the pen name Mark Owen.

“I’m not aware that we have reached any final conclusions about, or conducted or finalized a security review of the book. … We’re reviewing all the options. … I’m not ruling in or out any future action. That’s not for me to determine today,” he said.

Luskin said the requirement to submit a manuscript to the Pentagon applied only if it mentioned highly classified “Special Access Programs” that were “specifically identified” in the document Bissonnette signed in 2007. “Accordingly, it is difficult to understand how the matter that is the subject of the book could conceivably be encompassed by the nondisclosure agreement that you have identified,” he said.

“No Easy Day” is the first account by a participant in the assault on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011. It is being published by Dutton, part of Penguin Group, which is planning to release the book next week despite the legal dispute.

The account includes descriptions of tactics, planning and meetings that appear to involve sensitive information. But the Pentagon has not described what information, if any, in the book is classified.

On Thursday, after reviewing an advance copy of the book, Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson asserted that Bissonnette was “in material breach and violation of the nondisclosure agreements” and threatened him with legal action.

Neither the Defense Department nor Bissonnette’s lawyer have released copies of the nondisclosure agreements.

Bissonnette, 36, who was awarded five bronze stars, left the Navy in April. He “takes seriously his obligations to the United States and his former colleagues,” Luskin said. “He remains confident that he has faithfully fulfilled his duty.”

“He has earned the right to tell his story,” Luskin added.

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