Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta became the highest-ranking U.S. official to speak out against the former Navy SEAL who wrote a firsthand account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, saying the commando broke his promise to America and could have given away secrets that "tipped off" the enemy.
"There's no question that the American people have a right to know about this operation. That's why the President spoke to the American people when that operation happened," Panetta said today on CBS "This Morning". "But people who are part of that operation, who commit themselves to the promise that they will not reveal sensitive operations and not publish anything without bringing it through the Pentagon so we can ensure that it doesn't reveal sensitive information -- when they fail to do that, we have got to make sure that they stand by the promise they made to this country."
"I cannot, as Secretary, send a signal to SEALs who conduct these operations [that] you can conduct those operations and then go out and write a book about it or sell your story to The New York Times. How the hell can we run sensitive operations here that go after enemies if people are allowed to do that?" he said.
The book "No Easy Day" is a first-person memoir written by a former SEAL Team Six member under the pseudonym Mark Owen that includes a detailed account of the May 2011 operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan to get bin Laden. According to the book, Owen was the second man in the room after bin Laden was shot and put a few bullets in the terror leader himself before taking the unreleased pictures of the dead al Qaeda leader.
The book follows Owen's rise through the Navy's ranks to elite SEAL Team Six and describes the various levels of training, walks through some on-the-ground operational tactics employed by the SEAL commandos and gives a minute-by-minute account of the bin Laden raid. Owen left the service in April, less than a year after the mission, according to military records provided to ABC News.
Beyond writing under a pseudonym, Owen said he changed the names of other people involved in the operation, including a CIA analyst, to protect their identities and took pains not to reveal sensitive information. The book's publisher, Dutton, also said the memoir was vetted by a former special operations attorney to make sure Owen wasn't betraying any classified information.
But officials from the Pentagon to the CIA to the White House said they were not provided a copy of the book to review before publication. In late August the Pentagon wrote a letter to Owen in which it said it was considering legal action against him for breaking non-disclosure agreements, sparking a brief back-and-forth between the Pentagon and lawyers for Owen, who said he had not violated the agreements.
While Panetta declined to say whether or not he thought Owen should be prosecuted, he said the government has to "take steps to make clear that we're not going to accept this kind of behavior." Panetta said that leaking such information could "jeopardize other operations and the lives of others that are involved in those operations."
"I think when somebody talks about the particulars of how those operations are conducted, what that does is tell our enemies essentially how we operate and what we do to go after them. And when you do that, you tip them off," he said.
"No Easy Day" was originally intended to be released today, on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, but the sale date was moved up after the book's existence leaked, causing a tidal wave of controversy and demand for the first-ever inside look at the historic raid.
Owen said he plans to give a majority of the proceeds from the book to charities that support the families of fallen SEALs, but at least one major SEAL charity, The Navy SEAL Foundation, already announced it would not be accepting donations from the book sales, citing Owen's possible legal troubles.