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An official al Qaeda website on Friday posted a photograph and the name of the former Navy commando responsible for the book, calling him “the dog who murdered the martyr Sheikh Osama bin Laden.”
The head of U.S. Special Operations Command told current and former troops that the military would take legal action against anyone found to have exposed sensitive information that could cause harm to fellow forces.
“We will pursue every option available to hold members accountable, including criminal prosecution where appropriate,” Admiral Bill McRaven wrote in an open, unclassified letter emailed to the active-duty special operations community, and obtained by Reuters on Friday.
“As current or former members of our special operations community, authors have a moral obligation, and a legal duty, to submit their works for pre-publication security review,” the admiral wrote.
Fox News made public on Thursday what it said was the real name of the former SEAL who, with a journalist co-author, wrote “No Easy Day,” using the pseudonym Mark Owen. The book is due to be released next month on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
By early on Friday, the man’s name, photograph and age had been posted on the “the Al-Fidaa Islamic Network” online forum, one of two websites officially endorsed by al Qaeda, according to Evan Kohlmann, founder of the New York-based security firm Flashpoint Global Partners.
It was followed by comments that called for the man’s death, including one response that said, “O’ Allah, kill every one of them,” and another that said, “O’ Allah, make an example of him for the whole world and give him dark days ahead.”
The Navy SEAL was also identified by other U.S. media. Reuters has confirmed his name but is not publishing it, given concerns about his safety.
U.S. military officials have said the former Navy SEAL could face investigation because he failed to clear the book with the Defense Department before publication, even if it does not disclose specific classified details.
McRaven’s letter said books and films about special operations teams could be useful educational tools, and the military would work with potential authors, but current and former service members would be held accountable if they endangered the safety of U.S. forces.
He said there was “a distinct line between recounting a story for the purposes of education or entertainment and telling a story that exposes sensitive activities just to garner greater readership and personal profit.”
Kohlmann said the former Navy SEAL could now be in physical danger from al Qaeda sympathizers seeking revenge for bin Laden’s death, or hoping to gain prestige for themselves.
“They have a photo of the individual, they have his name, his age,” Kohlmann said. “I wish that all this was bluster, but there are a lot of would-be jihadists out there, including some in North America. This is the ideal opportunity for those kind of people.”
The book’s publisher, Dutton, said the author was “one of the first men through the door on the third floor of the terrorist leader’s hideout and was present at his death.”
It is not known whether “No Easy Day” contains details of commando operations that the U.S. government considers secret, but U.S. government officials said the account had not been submitted for a required pre-publication review.
“Even if there is nothing classified disclosed, it should have been reviewed, and it was not,” said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
On Wednesday, the publisher said the book had been vetted “for tactical, technical, and procedural information as well as information that could be considered classified by compilation” by a former “special operations attorney.”
Jeffrey Carr, a cyber security expert, said al Qaeda officials were adept at using the Internet for recruitment, training and other searches, and he fully expected them to target the former Navy SEAL now that his identity had been disclosed.
“He’s going to become the poster child for recruitment and assassination,” Carr said, noting that the case underscored the need for anyone in a high-risk profession to take great precautions with any information available on the Internet.
Carr said the man’s relatives and former Navy SEAL colleagues could also be in danger if they could be traced through the Internet.
(Additional reporting by Jim Finkle and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Peter Cooney)