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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Bin Laden Book Imbroglio Spreads to Lawyers

MANHATTAN (CN) - Since he published the only firsthand account on the Osama bin Laden raid two years ago, Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette has been trailed by controversy and federal agents, and the warrior blames his publisher's lawyers for the aggravation.

Using the same pseudonym he donned as the author of "No Easy Day" in 2012, Bissonnette filed a federal complaint as Mark Owen on Wednesday against the lawyers who allegedly advised him against vetting the memoir through the Pentagon and "other governmental agencies" before publication.

The 14-page complaint against Fort Wayne, Ind., attorney Kevin Podlaski and Podlaski's former law firm, Carson Boxberger, quotes the disclaimer Bissonette put in the author's note of his memoir.

"With the assistance of my publisher, I hired a former Special Operations attorney to review the manuscript to ensure that it was free from mention of forbidden topics and that it cannot be used by sophisticated enemies as a source of sensitive information to compromise or harm the United States," the note states.

Bissonnette says the lawyers assured him that he would have no "civil or criminal exposure" for writing it.

"Defendants were wrong on both aspects of their advice," the complaint states.

With the specter of prosecution hanging over his head, Bissonnette revealed in his lawsuit that he forfeited most of his income from the book - more than $4.5 million and "growing daily" - for failing to submit the book to pre-publication review.

Bissonnette claims that he also lost "all movie rights," a factor he values at more than $900,000, because of following the lawyers' advice.

While he now wishes he showed the Pentagon an early draft, Bissonette defends his decision to publish in the lawsuit. He notes that two of his most well-known missions - the bin Laden raid and the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips from Somali pirates aboard the Maersk Alabama - inspired hugely successful books and films.

The stories "made millions of dollars have been made telling the stories (not always accurately) of these brave SEALS, but none of it went to the SEALS or their families," the lawsuit states (parentheses in original).

Disgusted to see the tales "exploited to advance personal and financial agendas," Bissonnette says that he wrote "No Easy Day" from a "perspective available only to a SEAL," and planned early on to donate "a substantial portion of any sales proceeds" to charity.

Bissonnette claims he also was sensitive to the risk of spilling classified information.

"He was devoted to not disclosing anything he thought could be used by America's enemies," the complaint states. "To insure he complied with all his obligations of confidentiality, he sought out legal counsel to advise him."

Bissonnette's New York-based literary agent referred him to Podlaski, according to the complaint.

"Podlaski professed to have vetted several other books for retired military and claimed to have a level of security clearance that would allow him to advise plaintiff and the writing team on all issues arising from plaintiffs' desire to tell the story of the SEALS," the complaint states.

When the Pentagon's ex-top lawyer Jeh Johnson sent a letter warning the publisher that the book contained "classified or otherwise sensitive information," Bissonnette's lawyers allegedly said, "We should not worry."

After the book's release, the lawyers allegedly continued to brush off threats from Washington.

"It's bull#@*#," they are quoted as saying (redaction in original).

But the threats proved very real.

Bissonnette says he spent a "significant amount of money in legal fees to try to clean up the mess" and had "his reputation and his exemplary military record tarnished by the false accusation that he sought to profit from disclosure of classified or otherwise sensitive information."

Now represented by Matthew Fleischman of the New York-based firm McKool Smith, he wants $8 million for legal malpractice.

Bissonnette foreshadowed the lawsuit in an appearance on "60 Minutes," and Podlaski denies the allegations Bissonnette made there, the lawyer's attorney, Robert Shannon, said in a phone interview.

Shannon, a partner with Hall Booth Smith in Atlanta, declined to comment specifically on the complaint until he has finished reviewing the lawsuit.

"That's absurd that [Podlaski would] brush off criminal prosecution by the federal government," Shannon said.

Bissonnette's comments on "60 Minutes" will be disproven as his lawsuit unfolds, Shannon added.

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