WASHINGTON: The Pentagon on Thursday threatened legal action against the Navy SEAL who has written a book recounting his role in the raid that killed Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
"In the judgment of the Department of Defense, you are in material breach and violation of the non-disclosure agreements you signed" and the Pentagon is considering "all remedies legally available to us," Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson wrote in a letter to the author, who writes under the pseudonym Mark Owen.
A debate is under way about revealing the real name of the author, with CBS News disguising his identity so it can protect "an American hero" - even though other media outlets have said who he is.
The book, titled No Easy Day was written by one of the men in the room when bin Laden was killed in the May 2011 raid.
Last week, Fox News Channel first reported Owens' real identity as Matt Bissonnette, and The Associated Press also identified Bissonnette after getting independent confirmation. CNN named late him this week.
CBS, ABC News, NBC and news agency AFP are among those outlets not to have revealed his name.
CBS News chairman Jeff Fager said he'd make the same decision to withhold the identity even if the network hadn't landed an exclusive interview with the author.
Scott Pelley's interview with the ex-SEAL will be on 60 Minutes on September 9 and was previewed on the CBS Evening News this week.
"This is an American hero," Fager said. "He risked his life to do this job. Isn't it our responsibility to protect him? To hear his story is one thing, but to reveal his name so he becomes a target? I'd like to think that news people are Americans first. I feel that way."
For the interview, CBS news disguised Bissonnette's voice. A makeup person also concealed the author's looks so effectively before the 60 Minutes interview that Pelley, who had met him three times before, did not recognise the author upon entering the room, said Fager, who is also executive producer of 60 Minutes.
After identifying Bissonnette, Fox News executive vice-president and executive editor John Moody said that "once you write a book, anonymously or not, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy".
The AP decided to use his name because it was already on the internet and on the air, so the expectation of keeping his name out of the greater public was very low. The AP informed Special Operations Command that it was going to use the name, and no government agency tried to dissuade the news organisation. The AP does withhold a name if someone makes a compelling case that its publication would endanger the individual.
Fager said he's not sure what the value of reporting Owens' real name is for the viewer.
"We're not in the business of chasing down people who work in these agencies, whether it's a Navy SEAL or the CIA, and revealing their names to the public," he said.
Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., former director of the National Clandestine Service of the CIA, said it shouldn't be a surprise that the ex-SEAL's real name came out.
"It's almost to be expected in today's world when you write a book like he wrote that commands so much interest," said Rodriguez, who was responsible for helping to keep CIA employees' identities safe.
"If I were advising some of these media organisations, I would have urged them to be very cautious about leaking the true name of someone who participated in a raid to kill bin Laden," he said.
Bob Steele, a media ethics expert and professor at DePauw University, said the media have to set the bar high before granting anonymity to a book author. In this case, it's even more important for people to know the author, because the book makes an assertion that the raid did not go down quite like the Obama administration had reported.
"If you leave a name out of a story, you diminish its factual accuracy and its authenticity," Steele said. "A major piece of the jigsaw puzzle is missing." (AFP)