New Pentagon Training Material Calls Protesters And Journalists ‘Adversaries’

DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando / Public Domain


The mandatory training course is intended to help the Pentagon clamp down on leaks.

According to Politico, the Pentagon has released a new mandatory training course intended to prevent leaks that “refers to protesters and journalists as ‘adversaries’ in a fictional scenario designed to teach Defense Department personnel how to better protect sensitive information.”

  • The course was launched recently as part of the department’s efforts to improve “operational security,” or OPSEC, and address leaks.
  • Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a July 20 memo: “Unfortunately, poor OPSEC practices within DoD in the past have resulted in the unauthorized disclosure or 'leaks.’ 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.”
  • Politico reported that the training materials, including a video message from Esper and his written memo, are available to the public.

In one section of the course, trainees are given a fictional scenario in which news of a secret military exercise gets out, and TV cameras and hundreds of "anti-government protesters" show up. The exercise and the protest end up as the lead story on the evening news.

In such a scenario, the course instructs trainees to identify the "adversaries," who it says are driven to exploit "vulnerabilities" for their own gain. In the particular scenario in the course material, the exercise organizers aimed to keep the event unnoticed, a goal that was contrary to the aims of reporters and protesters, Orland explained.

“The protest group was an adversary, not because of its political beliefs, but because its intentions were contrary to the success of the training mission," the narrator says. "Reporters also had contrary intentions and capabilities. They wanted to capture exercise activities and on video and report them on the evening news. In this instance, the reporters are adversaries.”

  • Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Uriah Orland defended the use of the term in a statement to Politico, saying: "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 added: "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."

But critics of the term’s use told Politico that it only exacerbates already tense relationships between journalists and protesters and the Trump administration.

  • President Donald Trump repeatedly has referred to the press as the “enemy of the people” throughout his first term and has cracked down on protests in recent weeks.
  • George Little, who was a Pentagon press secretary and CIA spokesperson in the Obama administration, said the Pentagon’s use of “adversaries” in this manner is “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."

  • Likewise, Price Floyd, who Politico noted “served as acting assistant secretary of defense for public affairs in the Obama administration and director of media relations at the State Department in the George W. Bush administration,” took a critical stance on the new material.

“I think this administration confuses leaks with stories that are written that they don’t like,” Floyd said. “Because this administration, of course, gives out information to the press without attribution all the time. In other words, they’re leaking. They want the stories the way they want them.”

“If for some reason a reporter got wind of something that was classified or secret, all it would take is a conversation with public affairs and someone to say, ‘look this is classified, it is secret, talking about it right now puts lives in danger.’”

"I think this witch hunt by Esper is just a way to try to clamp down on what they view as fake news,” he added, “when in fact all the media is doing is reporting the facts.”

  • ABC News analyst Mick Mulroy, “who served as the Pentagon's Middle East policy official in the Trump administration,” said the Pentagon used “poor word choice,” saying: "'Adversary' is a loaded term, we use it to define Russia, for example.”

“[I]n this climate of labeling the media being a threat to the people and protesters all being lumped together (both violent and nonviolent) the military will want to ensure that they are not adding to the problem with this type of terminology," he said. "I don't believe they intended to do that with this choice of terms, but it should be adjusted."

Read the full report.


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