The worlds of publishing, politics and national security are set to collide with unpredictable consequences next month with the release of a book that promises to offer a first-hand account of the killing of Osama bin Laden penned by a leader of the Navy Seals team that carried it out.
Set to hit America's book shops with an ambitious first hard-cover run of 300,000 on 11 September to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the account is being published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Books which is said to have worked hard until now to keep it existence under wraps.
Already, however, controversy is swirling over whether its author, now retired and writing under the pseudonym Mark Owen, may be in violation of national security rules by revealing details of the raid on the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on 2 May 2011, which still remains classified.
It appears that the usual procedures whereby books written by ex-service personnel are first vetted by Pentagon lawyers had been bypassed. "I haven't read the book and am unaware that anyone in the department has reviewed it," Pentagon press secretary George Little commented. Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told the New York Times: "We learned about this book today from press reports. We haven't reviewed it and don't know what it says."
A spokesman for Dutton offered only that a former operations lawyer provided by the author had vetted the book, which is titled 'No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden'. The assassination is arguably the most celebrated mission ever undertaken by the elite Seals, at least among those that the public knows about. For that reason alone, it seems a given that the book will sell.
In a statement, the publisher said it will give readers a "blow-by-blow narrative of the assault, beginning with the helicopter crash that could have ended Owen's life straight through to the radio call confirming Bin Laden's death." It adds that the book amounts to "an essential piece of modern history".
That it will appear just a few weeks before the US presidential election will not sit well with some Republicans who already accuse President Barack Obama and his campaign of going too far to exploit the success of the mission for re-election purposes.
Dick Couch, a former Navy Seal captain and author, cautioned against judging the book before its release but conceded that it could be problematic politically and from a national security standpoint. "We will have to see but hopefully it won't breach security or enter into the political realm of things," he told MSNBC.
It is possible, of course, that the book will contradict the White House narrative about Mr Obama's role in approving it. For himself, Mr Owen, who had help writing the book from co-writer Kevin Maurer, said his intention was to "set the record straight about one of the most important missions in US military history."
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