Washington: US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday hinted at taking action against the Navy SEAL who wrote a book on the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, saying he violated his contractual obligations and the authorities cannot set a wrong precedent by ignoring it.
In an interview to the CBS news aired today, Panetta appeared to say that absence of action would send a wrong signal to the armed forces and could encourage others to publish things in violation of their contractual obligations.
The book was written by a retired Navy SEAL under the pseudonym of Mark Owen, but he was later identified in the media as Matt Bissonnette, who was himself part of the covert operation.
"There`s no question that the American people have a right to know about this operation. That`s why the President spoke to the American people when that operation happened," Panetta said.
"But people who are part of that operation, who commit themselves to the promise that they will not reveal the sensitive operations and not publish anything without bringing it through the Pentagon so that we can ensure that it doesn`t reveal sensitive information, when they fail to do that, we have got to make sure that they stand by the promise they made to this country," Panetta said.
The Navy SEAL has already been served a legal notice by the Pentagon and Panetta said the Pentagon is currently reviewing the book.
"Well, you know, there`s always fine lines here, but, you know, we are currently reviewing that book to determine exactly what are the classified information.
"I cannot as Secretary send a signal to SEALs who conduct those operations, `Oh, you can conduct these operations and then go out and write a book about it and or sell your story to the New York Times".
"How the hell can we run sensitive operations here that go after enemies if people are allowed to do that?" Panetta said.
Panetta said such actions jeopardise other operations and the lives of people involved in those operations.
"... It tells our enemies essentially how we operate and what we do to go after them. And when you do that, you tip `em off," he said.
Responding to questions he expressed concern about the safety of the Navy SEAL who wrote the book on the operation.
"He was very much a part of the operation that got bin Laden. You know, there`s no question that that should make us concerned about his safety," Panetta said.
Responding to questions about Iran, Panetta said the US would have a year of time to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, if Tehran decides to do so.
"It`s roughly about a year right now, a little more than a
year. We think we will have the opportunity, once we know that they`ve made that decision, to take the action necessary to stop it," Panetta said, adding that the US has "pretty good" intelligence on Iran`s nuclear capabilities and how far it is away from acquiring nuclear weapons.
"We know generally what they`re up to. And so we keep a close track on that," he said.
When asked if the US has the capability to strike Iran and prevent it from acquiring the nuclear weapons, he said, `yes`.
"Well, you know, without going into the particular capabilities we have, we think we`ve got the ability to be able to strike at them effectively if we have to," he said.
He also asserted that the US is now safer because of actions being taken against terrorism and cited bin Laden`s eliminations, the decimation of the al-Qaeda leadership, and the fact that "we got rid of Gaddafi in Libya".
"I think the bottom-line conclusion is that America is safer as a result of those actions," he said.
During the course of the interview, Panetta showed to the interviewer the portion of his office in Pentagon which is called the bin Laden corner.
"This is a brick that came from the compound that they got for me after we headed up that operation at the CIA. They brought it back. And as you can see, it says Geronimo, which was the code word for whether or not they had gotten bin Laden," he said.
"This is my Bravo corner, which is, actually, the Marines gave me this picture. But this is my dog, which, I have to tell you, was present during all of the briefings on bin Laden operation. And you know what? He hasn`t told anybody," he said in a lighter vein.