Pentagon alters training material that refers to protesters, journalists as ‘adversaries’

Greg Nash

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has directed the Pentagon to change the wording in a new mandatory training course meant to prevent information leaks that refers to protesters and journalists as “adversaries.”

The public training materials — part of a recently launched course to improve operational security (OPSEC) — include several courses where the media is labeled as an adversary trying to exploit “vulnerabilities.”

But on Thursday top Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters that, “to avoid confusion moving forward and to address the concerns presented,” Esper directed that the Department of Defense (DOD) adjust the training materials “to identify individuals or groups trying to obtain information simply as unauthorized recipients.”

“Although adversaries is a common generic term for a person or group that opposes one’s goal, it clearly has different implications when used by the military and Department of Defense,” Hoffman said during a Pentagon media engagement.

The news comes as protests have erupted nationwide after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May. During some of these demonstrations, protesters have clashed with local and federal law enforcement. Journalists on the scene have had force used upon them by authorities despite, in most instances, wearing a media pass.

The intent of the mandatory OPSEC training, he said, is to encourage personnel to treat sensitive information appropriately, “which includes staying vigilant for any efforts to obtain information by anyone without a valid need to know. This could be an individual from a foreign nation, an allied partner, industry, a DOD coworker, or yes, even the media.”

Hoffman added that the training course has been used since at least 2010, was last updated in 2015 and was simply shared with a wider audience following Esper’s July 20 OPSEC memo, in which he outlined operational security concerns and directed all DOD personnel to take the course within the next 60 days.

Politico first reported on the materials.

Esper launched the OPSEC effort following a House Armed Services Committee earlier this month, in which he told lawmakers that the Pentagon is “aggressively pursuing leaks” within the department.

“I’ve launched an investigation that is under way to go after leaks, whether it’s of classified information or unclassified information that is sensitive and also unauthorized discussions with the media. All those things, again, hurt our nation’s security. They undermine our troops, their safety. They affect our relations with other countries. They undermine our national policy. It’s bad,” Esper said, referring to a New York Times report that found intelligence linking Russia to paying militants to target American forces in Afghanistan.

In his memo, Esper said that “poor OPSEC practices within DOD in the past have resulted in the unauthorized disclosure or ‘leaks’” which “jeopardize our DOD personnel, operations, strategies and policies to the benefit of our adversaries.”

Tags Department of Defense leaks Mark Esper media National security Pentagon protestors

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