WASHINGTON — A former Navy SEAL's insider account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden contains classified information, the Pentagon said Tuesday, and the admiral who heads the Naval Special Warfare Command said details in the book may give enemies dangerous insight into U.S. operations.
Rear Adm. Sean Pybus said Tuesday that "hawking details about a mission" and selling information about SEAL training and operations put the force and their families at risk. "For an elite force that should be humble and disciplined for life, we are certainly not appearing to be so," Admiral Pybus wrote in a letter to the roughly 8,000 personnel under his command. "We owe our chain of command much better than this."
The letter was obtained by the Associated Press.
The comment escalates a conflict between the Pentagon and the author of No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden.
The author's attorney, Robert Luskin, has said a 2007 pact "invites but by no means requires" prepublication review. The book was set to be published today by Dutton, a unit of Penguin Group USA.
The author, first identified by Fox News, is Matt Bissonnette, 36, of La Mirada, Calif., who was a member of the elite counterterrorism SEAL Team Six that killed bin Laden.
In the book, Mr. Bissonnette says he took steps to ensure he wouldn't inadvertently release classified information and that he hired a former Special Operations attorney to review the manuscript.
George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, said an official review determined the book reveals "sensitive and classified" information. He was not more specific but said the author was required to submit the book to the Pentagon before publication.
"When you have Special Operations units that perform these missions, there are tactics, techniques, and procedures, not to mention human life, that are in play," Mr. Little said. "And it is the height of irresponsibility not to have this kind of material checked for the possible disclosure of classified information."
He said the Pentagon is reviewing legal options. If the Pentagon decides the book discloses classified secrets, the government could bring federal criminal charges against Mr. Bissonnette. The charges and penalties would depend on what type of secrets were disclosed.
Admiral Pybus, in his letter, was more direct: "We must immediately reconsider how we properly influence our people in and out of uniform NOT to seek inappropriate monetary, political, or celebrity profit from their service.
"We all have much to gain or lose," he said. "In the weeks ahead, we will be taking actions to meet this challenge, and I appreciate your leadership and support of our community in this effort."
The book's co-author, Kevin Maurer, said in a statement that Mr. Bissonnette "was meticulous about adhering to his desire to never do anything to undermine the SEALs' mission or put his former colleagues in harm's way."
Mr. Little would not say what damage may result from the book. He said the Pentagon did not try to stop the book's release this week because there wasn't much time. "Prerelease copies of the book were already being circulated around," he said.
The book's initial print run was 575,000 copies, and publication was moved up to Sept. 4 from Sept. 11 amid reports about the book last week.
Bin Laden was killed May 2, 2011, when U.S. Special Operations forces raided the Pakistani compound where the al-Qaeda leader had been hiding. The killing came almost 10 years after bin Laden orchestrated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which killed almost 3,000 people at the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Virginia, and a field in Pennsylvania where the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 crashed.
In the book, Mr. Bissonnette writes of his eight years as part of SEAL Team Six. He says he was in a helicopter that careened almost out of control in the first minutes of the raid on bin Laden.
A point man fired a shot into bin Laden's head, and Mr. Bissonnette joined a third raider in firing more shots into the downed terrorist's chest, the book states.