From left to right, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley.
From left to right, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley.

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via .

  • The Defense Department is labeling journalists reporting on sensitive military information as “adversaries” in its training modules, Politico first reported.

  • In the training sessions, US service members are able to view videos with different scenarios that highlight the Defense Department’s broader policy on leaking information to the media.

  • The language from these training sessions, which include subjects like sexual harassment and racial injustices, are often times sterile and bereft of social nuances.

  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Defense Department is labeling journalists reporting on sensitive military information as “adversaries” in its training modules, a move that comes weeks after the department’s head controversially referred to US cities as a “battlespace,” Politico first reported Wednesday.

In its mandatory “Operation Security” online training module focused on the “importance of preventing unauthorized disclosures,” service members are able to view videos with different scenarios that highlight the Defense Department’s broader policy on leaking information to the media.

In a hypothetical scenario about a secret military exercise, anti-government protesters showed up at the scene along with news reporters to cover it, Politico reported. Both the protesters and the news reporters were identified as “adversaries” attempting to probe for “vulnerabilities.”

“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,” a narrator in the training module said, according to Politico. “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.”

The Defense Department habitually warns journalists against publishing information that could endanger US forces or be of aid to an adversary, information that typically involves secret capabilities or missions that are underway or planned. The Pentagon has been widely criticized for lumping reporters, who provide the public with information about the US military, with groups or entities that are officially designated as an adversary.

In a July 20 memo for all Defense Department personnel, Esper said that operational security, or “OPSEC,” was “critical to protecting our forces.”

“Unauthorized disclosures jeopardize our DoD personnel, operations, strategies, and policies to the benefit of our adversaries,” Esper wrote in the memo. “Unauthorized disclosures also distract from mission priorities by redirecting the attention and resources of military commanders. Whether poor OPSEC takes the form of careless cyber hygiene, ‘loose talk’ among colleagues, or the willful release of non-public information, the result is the same: unnecessary and increased risk of harm to our fellow Americans and our mission.”

The military regularly conducts mandatory training sessions — complete with a test upon completion — through online modules, similar to ones administered in civilian organizations. The language from these training sessions, which include subjects like sexual harassment and racial injustices, are often times sterile and bereft of social nuances.

The report comes several weeks after Defense Secretary Mark Esper came under sharp criticism for his remarks to state leaders during the George Floyd protests throughout the country. During the June call, Esper referred to US cities as a “battlespace” and urged lawmakers to “dominate” them, fueling the perception of a heavily militarized presence on domestic soil.

Esper later apologized for his remarks on the call.

“Earlier this week I was quoted as saying that the best way to get street violence under control was by dominating the battle space,” Esper said, adding that, “in retrospect, I would use different wording so as not to distract from the more important matters at hand or allow some to suggest that we are militarizing the issue.”

The US military and other federal entities have suffered many unflattering leaks during the Trump presidency — some of it reportedly from high-ranking senior officials.

In April 2019, Newsweek reported that then-US Marine Corps commandant, Gen. Robert Neller, allowed a critical internal memo to leak to the Los Angeles Times and NBC News in an effort to warn the public of the negative impact of President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration earlier in February.

In the memos, Neller reportedly explained that Trump’s plan to divert funding away from military projects to pay for a barrier at the US-Mexico border would be an “unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness and solvency,” and that the readiness of Marines “will continue to degrade given current conditions.”

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