Pentagon escalates case that former Navy SEAL broke secrecy pledge
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Thursday released new details about a secrecy agreement signed by a former Navy SEAL who wrote a book about his role in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, escalating its argument that the commando violated promises not to disclose classified information.
While declining to make public the non-disclosure document signed by Matt Bissonnette, who wrote under the pseudonym "Mark Owen," a Defense Department spokesman shared with Reuters a secrecy agreement he said was identical to it: here
The spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale, said Bissonnette violated his pledge simply by sharing the original manuscript of the book, "No Easy Day," with his publisher and a lawyer outside of government.
Breasseale said that the decision to seek a review of the manuscript for sensitive material by a "former special operations attorney" - which publisher Dutton has acknowledged - suggested Bissonnette had reason to believe it contained classified material.
Bissonnette and his attorney deny that "No Easy Day," released earlier this week without pre-publication review by the government, contains classified information.
Bissonnette's attorney, Robert Luskin, said he had no comment in response to the Pentagon's latest statements.
In an email, Breasseale said the former Navy SEAL's actions appear "to potentially violate his obligation not to disclose 'the contents of such preparation to any person not authorized to have access to SCI (Sensitive Compartmented Information) until I have received written authorization from the Department or Agency that last authorized my access to SCI that such disclosure was permitted.'"
The spokesman was quoting part of a standard Pentagon secrecy agreement which he said was "identical" to one which Bissonnette had signed.
Breasseale then pointed to a paragraph in the secrecy agreement in which the signer acknowledges that the purpose of a pre-publication review was "to give the United States a reasonable opportunity to determine" if any manuscript contained any sensitive classified information.
He pointed to another paragraph in the agreement which said that if the person signing the agreement was "uncertain about the classification status of information" they were "required to confirm from an authorized official that the information is unclassified before I may disclose it."
PENTAGON CONSIDERING LEGAL ACTION
The Pentagon on Tuesday for the first time said that the book, now at the top of Amazon's best-seller list, does contain classified information, without being more specific. It has announced it is considering legal action against the former SEAL.
"Through 'Mr. Owen's' own statements, he has already disclosed material at least to his attorney and his publisher - without prepublication review (purportedly in an effort to ascertain whether the text contained any classified information)," Breasseale said in the email.
The spokesman's statements appear intended to back up an August 30 letter from Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon's top lawyer, to Bissonnette, via publisher Penguin Putnam, owner of the Dutton imprint.
In that letter, Johnson advised the former SEAL that the Pentagon had obtained and reviewed an early copy of his book and concluded that he was in "material breach and violation of the non-disclosure agreements you have signed."
Johnson's letter included copies of what it said were two such agreements. Breasseale said one of those documents was identical to the blank secrecy agreement that he made available to Reuters.
It is unclear whether Bissonnette signed any further non-disclosure agreements.
In a response to Johnson's letter, Luskin, a prominent Washington defense attorney, wrote that the non-disclosure agreement which the Pentagon lawyer attached to his August 30 letter "invites, but by no means requires, Mr. Owen to submit materials for pre-publication review."
Dutton said the review by the "former special operations attorney" concluded the contents of "No Easy Day" were "without risk to national security." The publisher has not released further details regarding who reviewed the manuscript.