In a July 9, 2020 hearing before the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced that he ordered an investigation of leaks of classified and sensitive unclassified information. It’s about time.
Every leaker has an agenda, and the agenda is usually political. Leaks are always a violation of trust and, in many cases, a federal crime. Because of this violation of trust – or crime – those who leak secrets to the press must be ferreted out. Leaks to the media – an institution that all too frequently is happy to slant the leaked information for its own political purposes – almost guarantee that the story will be more sensational than it really is. In one instance, a Liberty Nation report revealed that a widely distributed military publication had a self-proclaimed Trump hater as a chief editor.
During the HASC hearing, answering a question from Congressman Don Bacon (R-NE), Secretary Esper stated: “We are aggressively pursuing leaks in the Defense Department. We had some; I would characterize them last fall.” Esper went on to elaborate”
“OPSEC [operations security] was going to be a key thing for us to focus on. The leaks continued. I’ve launched an investigation that is underway 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.”
In the same hearing, General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed that he was “committed to a free press” and said: “I will die for the Constitution. It is an idea, and part of that is a free media, and a free media is fundamentally essential to a free people, and it is fundamental to our democracy.”
But we are not talking about free speech. Leakers – especially those who divulge classified information – are not exercising First Amendment rights. They are committing a crime. Even those who handle classified information in a grossly negligent manner are committing a serious federal crime, as pointed out by Liberty Nation’s Sarah Cowgill in her article On the Naughty List: Flyover Folk Demand Action on Clinton.
We are generally talking about the minor functionary, the arrogant bureaucrats whose firmly-rooted notions of sanctimonious self-importance compel them to puke out what they think they know to an eager, salivating press. The reader can be confident that when the story is provided by a “highly placed” member of the Defense Department or unnamed source who wishes to be anonymous, it is wrong, or at very best, only half the story. Take the following as a timely example.
How the Media Distorts Leaks
In a very recent, breathless, I-just-can’t-wait-to-tell-our-readers-this May 2020 article in Task & Purpose, Haley Britzky writes: “Leaked Pentagon memo warns of ‘real possibility’ of COVID-19 resurgence, vaccine not coming until summer 2021.” Britzky relays the information “obtained by Task & Purpose” as though it were a Pentagon position and written in stone. And by supposed surreptitious, in-the-know-sleuthing, the purloined memo was brought out into the light of public scrutiny by the allegedly ever-vigilant press.
On closer examination – and by Britzky’s own admission – the memo was a draft, not signed by the Defense Secretary. As Britzky admits in her article, “It is unclear if Esper has seen the memo.”
Also, we have no information as to whom the memo was addressed or what the classification was. It is safe to say that the intended recipient was not Task & Purpose.
The article quotes the stolen memo as explaining that the Defense Department has a long road ahead that there is a real possibility of a resurgence of COVID-19. That seems pretty straightforward. There is always a possibility of a reemergence with viral diseases, but the draft memo does not talk about a resurgence as a certainty. Additionally, this draft memo explains that attention must be directed toward resuming critical missions. That seems very positive and indicative of proper planning. But Britzky calls this information “grim” as an editorial comment.
So, let’s recap: Britzky’s sensational headline gives the impression of a Pentagon warning of a new outbreak of COVID-19. That impression is wrong. Nonetheless, the title is scary and based on a leaked document. Wow. The memo had to be leaked, so it must be something the Defense Department wanted to keep hidden from the public. Thus, it must be true. But it is not. It is unprocessed, unvalidated, unsubstantiated staff views. The memo is just a draft, snagged somewhere between the author in the bowels of the staff and the Secretary of Defense’s office.
It is entirely evident that the leak to the reporter and the resulting fiction published in the article is helpful to no one except the reporter. At best, it is simply not true, and at worst, it sews distrust among the staff charged with providing the leadership their best possible advice. And to Secretary Esper’s point, leaks like the one described above, “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.”
Let’s hope that the Esper investigation will find and fire the culprits. In some cases, prosecution for leaking classified documents would be in order.
Finally, a Pentagon spokesperson commented that the memo in question was outdated, rendering doubtful its validity in any respect. Suspicions confirmed.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
Read more from Dave Patterson.
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