Defense Secretary Warns Against Leaks

Washington Report

(October 10, 2017) Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has told all uniformed and civilian personnel of the Defense Department to guard against leaks and to report possible leaks. He made his plea in a memo circulated throughout the force last week and obtained by Military Times.

In the memo, Mattis pointed out that “it is a violation of our oath to divulge, in any fashion, non-public DoD information, classified or unclassified, to anyone without the required security clearance as well as a specific need to know in the performance of their duties.”

It is also important to report leaks, he said, and urged personnel to “be alert to prevent unauthorized disclosure of non-public information for any reason, whether by implied acknowledgement or intentional release. Misconduct cannot be tolerated and suspected or confirmed disclosure must be reported at once.”

Military Times reported that transparency advocates are concerned that the memo will prevent the public from learning information that it should have. The memo emphasizes protection of information that is not classified, but also not clearly defined. That could include such things as trip itineraries or administrative guidance, the publication noted.

Liz Hempowicz, the policy counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, told Military Times that the memo could “have a chilling effect on people [and] creates a doubt” on what can be done with information.

“If this information was supposed to be classified, it would be,” she said. “It’s not like we have an underclassification problem.”

A Pentagon spokesman was unable to point to any situation where a leak had put service members at risk during an operation. Maj. Audricia M. Harris said, “No single incident triggered this. The purpose of this memo is to reinforce behavior to protect information, which may put our most valued asset at risk. This in no way prevents DoD from sharing information in a timely fashion with the public.”