WASHINGTON — The Pentagon threatened legal action on Friday against a former member of the Navy SEALs who has written a first-person account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, but the author’s lawyer and the book’s publisher, Penguin, said they were proceeding with publication on Tuesday.
Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters in a briefing that the book’s author, Matt Bissonnette, was ‘‘in material breach of nondisclosure agreements he signed with the US government’’ to not reveal classified information and to submit his book to the Pentagon for review.
Little said the Pentagon was ‘‘reviewing all options’’ against Bissonnette, but he would not specify what those options might be and repeatedly declined to say whether the Pentagon had determined if there was classified information in the book. Bissonnette did not submit his book to the Pentagon for review.
Bissonnette’s lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, responded in a letter to the Pentagon that the author, who wrote under the pseudonym Mark Owen, had ‘‘sought legal advice about his responsibilities before agreeing to publish his book and scrupulously reviewed the work to ensure that it did not disclose any material that would breach his agreements or put his former comrades at risk.’’
“He remains confident that he has faithfully fulfilled his duty,’’ Luskin wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.
The letter also said that the book was not subject to the nondisclosure agreement that the Defense Department said was violated.
That agreement applied only to ‘‘specially identified Special Access Programs’’ that did not include the subject matter of the book, Luskin wrote.
‘‘Mr. Owen is proud of his service and respectful of his obligations,’’ the letter said. ‘‘But he has earned the right to tell his story.’’
Luskin represented Karl Rove when Rove, then a top adviser to President George W. Bush, was under investigation for his role in the leak of the name of Valerie Plame Wilson, a former undercover CIA operative. After months of maneuvering between Luskin and the prosecutor in the case, Patrick Fitzgerald, Luskin announced in June 2006 that no charges would be filed against Rove.
Bissonnette, 36, wrote the book, ‘‘No Easy Day,’’ with a co-author, Kevin Maurer. Fox News identified Bissonnette as the author last week, which the Defense Department and military officials later confirmed. His service record shows that he has five Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.
Little’s comments at the Pentagon on Friday followed a letter sent to Bissonnette through Penguin late Thursday in which Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon’s general counsel, told Bissonnette that he was in ‘‘material breach’’ of two nondisclosure agreements he signed in 2007.
Johnson wrote to Bissonnette that the Pentagon ‘‘is considering pursuing against you, and all those acting in concert with you, all remedies legally available to us.’’
It is unclear whether Pentagon officials will pursue legal action against a decorated veteran who participated in what is considered one of the most successful military and intelligence operations in recent history, or whether they were simply hoping the threats will persuade him and Penguin to delay release of the book and allow them to vet it first.