* Pentagon reviewing copy of book by former commando
* Publication of book moved to Sept. 4 (Updates with “60 Minutes” excerpt)
By Tabassum Zakaria and Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON, Aug 29 (Reuters) - A U.S. Navy SEAL who has authored a first-hand account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden says the al Qaeda leader was shot in the head as he peeked from a bedroom door, an account that diverges from the Obama administration’s original description of the incident.
The book, “No Easy Day,” says bin Laden was unarmed when Navy SEALs found him during the raid on his Pakistan compound, according to a source who read the book, which is due to be released on Sept. 4.
The book’s author, writing under the pseudonym “Mark Owen,” says bin Laden was looking out from his bedroom door when he was shot in the head, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In the confused hours after the raid, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan had said originally that bin Laden “was engaged in a firefight” with the Navy SEALs.
The White House amended that account a day later, saying he was not armed but had resisted capture inside an upper-floor bedroom in the compound.
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor declined comment on the book.
“As President Obama said on the night that justice was brought to Osama bin Laden, ‘We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country,’” Vietor said.
Colonel Tim Nye, spokesman for the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, said he and other Defense Department officials received copies of the book late last week from the publisher, Dutton.
U.S. officials said last week they were surprised by the book, which was not vetted by government agencies to ensure that no secrets were revealed.
Pentagon officials now are reviewing its contents to see if it contains classified information and to determine if further steps can or should be taken against the author, who should have submitted the book for pre-publication review under the terms of his service in the Navy SEALs, Nye said.
Two sources familiar with official U.S. government reporting on the bin Laden raid said it was unsurprising that there were discrepancies between the book’s account of how bin Laden was killed and previous official versions.
In any combat situation, participants in the operation would normally come away with different accounts and perceptions of what happened, the sources said.
Officials familiar with the contents of the book questioned whether there was anything significant in it that could be considered classified.
One official who has followed the issue closely said it could be difficult for authorities to bring legal action against the book’s author because the Obama administration had itself released so much detailed information about the bin Laden raid.
Owen said he had no desire to compromise national security in writing the book. It originally was due to be released on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, but was moved up a week due to high demand, Dutton said.
In an interview with the CBS program “60 Minutes,” the author said the book’s release was not intended to influence the election, but rather was timed to the Sept. 11 anniversary.
“This book is not political whatsoever. It doesn’t bad-mouth either party, and we specifically chose September 11th to keep it out of the politics,” he said in an excerpt of the interview released on Wednesday.
“You know, if these — crazies on either side of the aisle want to make it political, shame on them,” he said. “This is a book about September 11th, and it needs to rest on September 11th — not be brought into the political arena, because this, this has nothing to do with politics.”
CBS said a professional make-up artist was used to disguise his real appearance in the interview, which is to run in full on Sept. 9.
Earlier, Owen said in a statement from his publisher that the book was written “with respect for my fellow service members while adhering to my strict desire not to disclose confidential or sensitive information that would compromise national security in any way.”
The author now faces threats against his life. An official al Qaeda website last week posted a photograph and the real name of the former Navy commando, calling him “the dog who murdered the martyr Sheikh Osama bin Laden.”
Reuters has not published his real name, given concerns about his safety.
One of the sources familiar with the official U.S. account of the bin Laden operation said that as U.S. commandos went up the stairs to the third floor of his hideout, the al Qaeda chief popped his head out of the room where he was hiding, and that commandos shot at him and missed.
That account is not dissimilar, although not identical, to the account given in the new bin Laden book. (Additional reporting by Phil Stewart, Andrea Shalal-Esa and Susan Heavey; Editing by Warren Strobel and Peter Cooney)