A new mandatory Pentagon training course aimed at preventing leaks refers to protesters and journalists as “adversaries” in a fictional scenario designed to teach Defense Department personnel how to better protect sensitive information.
The new course was recently launched as part of Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s effort to improve “operational security,” or OPSEC, and clamp down on leaks. The training materials are public and include a video message from Esper, as well as a July 20 memo outlining his concerns about operational security and directing all DoD personnel — military, civilian and on-site contractors — to take the course within the next 60 days.“Unfortunately, poor OPSEC practices within DoD in the past have resulted in the unauthorized disclosure or ‘leaks,'” Esper writes in the memo. “The Department of Defense (DoD) remains committed to transparency to promote accountability and public trust. [However] unauthorized disclosures jeopardize our DoD personnel, operations, strategies and policies to the benefit of our adversaries.”The training comes amid worsening relations between the federal government and protesters. President Donald Trump in June threatened to deploy active-duty troops in U.S. cities to tamp down protests against police brutality, and more recently, federal agents wearing military-style uniforms have cracked down on vandalism and demonstrations in Portland, Ore. And while Trump has repeatedly labeled news outlets as “the enemy of the people,” the Defense Department has been careful to avoid doing the same.
Lt. Col. Uriah Orland, a Pentagon spokesperson, defended the use of the term “adversaries” in the training.”An adversary — a common generic term for a person or group that opposes ones tactical goals — is acting counter to our information security objectives and therefore personnel must understand that threat,” Orland said in a statement. “Attempting to read more into the use of the term obfuscates the clear purpose of the training: to prevent information from falling into unauthorized hands regardless of its potential use.”George Little, who was a Pentagon press secretary and CIA spokesperson in the Obama administration, called the characterization “appalling and dangerous.”
“It brings to mind the same tin ear Secretary Esper recently demonstrated when he used the military term battlespace to describe America’s city streets,” Little said. “The Pentagon and the press have a long history over working alongside each other in service of the American people. Even when they don’t see eye to eye on the issues, there’s been a long history of respect for their common mission, and it’s unfortunate that the current Pentagon leadership has largely abandoned it.”