WASHINGTON (AP) - Special operations chief Adm. Bill McRaven warned his troops, current and former, that he would take legal action against anyone found to have exposed sensitive information that could cause fellow forces harm.
"We will pursue every option available to hold members accountable, including criminal prosecution where appropriate," the four-star commander wrote, in an open, unclassified letter emailed to the active-duty special operations community Thursday, and obtained by The Associated Press.
The warning came a day after a retired Navy commando revealed he is publishing a first-hand account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Pentagon officials say they have not been given a chance to review the book, but Pentagon spokesman George Little said Friday officials expect to receive a copy "very shortly."
Little said the Pentagon will decide whether to take any action against the author once officials review the book's contents to determine whether it includes classified information. He said the Department of Justice would have the lead role if any legal action were to be taken.
It also follows a media campaign by special operations veterans, decrying alleged leaks by President Barack Obama's administration of secret operations, and criticizing Obama's highlighting the raid as part of his reelection campaign.
McRaven also took former special operators to task for "using their 'celebrity' status to advance their personal or professional agendas."
He acknowledged that former service members are "well within their rights to advocate for certain causes or write books about their adventures," but he cautioned them against claiming to speak for all special operations troops and against endangering troops by what they write.
News broke Wednesday that one of the SEALs McRaven commanded on the bin Laden raid would be releasing his book, "No Easy Day," on Sept. 11, with the author listed under the pseudonym of Mark Owen.
The author was identified Thursday by Fox News and the name was confirmed by The Associated Press. CBS News does not identify members of classified counter-terrorism units.
Penguin Group (USA)'s Dutton imprint, the publisher, asked news organizations Thursday to withhold his identity.
"Sharing the true story of his personal experience in 'No Easy Day' is a courageous act in the face of obvious risks to his personal security," Dutton spokeswoman Christine Ball said in a statement. "That personal security is the sole reason the book is being published under a pseudonym."
Al-Qaida sympathizers posted photos of the book's author on jihadist web forums and called for his killing in retaliation for bin Laden's death. "First picture of one of the dogs who killed the martyr Sheik Osama bin Laden," reads one posting, with a photo that has circulated in Western media said to be the author, crouching with an automatic weapon. "We ask almighty God to destroy him sooner or later," it reads. The posting Friday was by a militant sympathizer who goes by the username "The Sniper of the Arabian Peninsula," who often posts on such websites but whose identity is not known.
Owen also changed the names of the other SEALs in the account, the publisher says.
McRaven's plea for discretion comes as a number of special operators publish memoirs or appear in the media.
Best seller "American Sniper," was published this year by former SEAL Chris Kyle, detailing his 150-plus kills of insurgents from 1999 to 2009.
Many of the special operations advocacy groups that are critical of Obama also openly identify members. One of the groups is run by retired Navy SEAL Ryan Zinke, who touts his time years ago at SEAL Team 6, the top secret unit that carried out the bin Laden raid.
Even Special Operations Command made an exception to its normal reticence with the media when it signed off on this year's movie "Act of Valor," which followed active duty SEALs carrying out training exercises that were turned into what looked like real action scenes for the film.
McRaven wrote that there was a difference between "Act of Valor", which was approved by the command as a recruiting tool, and some of the other recent publications.
"There is, in my opinion, a distinct line between recounting a story for...education or entertainment and telling a story that exposes sensitive activities just to garner greater readership and personal profit," he wrote.
The author of "No Easy Day" is slated to appear on the CBS News program "60 Minutes" on Sept. 9th.
Expecting a major best-seller, Dutton has already increased the initial print run of 300,000 copies to 400,000 copies. "No Easy Day" was No. 1 on Amazon.com as of late Friday morning, displacing the million-selling erotic trilogy "Fifty Shades of Gray."
The publisher says the author will be donating the majority of the proceeds from the book to charities.