Former SEAL Matt Bissonnette's memoir, No Easy Day, is slated for release this week, but it's already created an enormous stir, and the publisher, Penguin, is reported to have nearly doubled the first printing to 575,000 copies. Full disclosure: Penguin is also the publisher of my memoir, If Not Now, When.
Bissonnette's book contains details about the raid in Abbotabad, Pakistan, during which Osama bin Laden was killed. Among other interesting revelations, Bissonnette, who participated in the operation, writes that bin Laden was not killed while reaching for his weapon, as the government contended. But the most hotly debated question is whether or not the book should be published at all, considering that it contains a wealth of information not previously made public. It is unlikely that there's anything classified in it, because both Bissonnette and the government are acting as if there isn't.
An important factor in Bissonnette's calculus is that he is no longer in the Navy. If he were, he would be subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, could be forced to present the manuscript for editing and, if he refused, would be punished. This alone would probably be enough to convince him. But he is not in uniform anymore, and so the Defense Department's leverage in this case is very low. If the book does contain classified information, the feds have a case, but there's no way of knowing that until after the book is out. And it will be very difficult to convince a judge to enjoin publication because, even in cases involving national security, prior restraint---preventing disclosure before the fact---is rarely invoked, and the standard of proof is high.
Unlike Great Britain, we don't have an Official Secrets Act that restricts speech even after uniformed personnel, officials and government employees leave service, and given the strength of the First Amendment, we are unlikely to have one. We place the burden on the government to control the flow of information, although it doesn't do a very good job of it.
With few options open to it, the government has exercised the only action it can: threatening a civil suit. So far, however, it has not had the effect the government desires. The weakness of the threat suggests that his publisher has promised it will provide a vigorous defense, or has pledged that it will pay any judgment against Bissonnette, with the assumption that the huge publicity occasioned by the controversy will more than compensate for any settlement that will have to be paid.
Meanwhile, Bissonnette's public relations efforts have included an assertion that he will donate some of the book's proceeds to troops' charitable causes and an accusation the government is acting with a political purpose in mind. Contributing money to charity is a noble thing to do, but Bissonnette's pledge is really much too vague to counter an argument that he is in it only for the money. There is, of course, nothing wrong with doing it for the money, but the fact that he feels compelled to defend a position that defends itself makes one very interested in seeing the specifics.
As for the charge of politics, there are few things that lack some political component, especially in an election year, but that is not the reason the Department of Defense wants the book squelched. With little government control over unclassified but sensitive information, Bissonnette's book sets a precedent that makes it likely we will see many more revelations from others who have been privy to government information. and if these people can get paid for it---well, who among them won't do it?