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Pentagon Training Materials Will No Longer Refer to Journalists as ‘Adversaries’ (After the Materials Were Exposed by a Journalist)

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Thursday said that he had instructed the Defense Department to alter language which referred to journalists and protesters as “adversaries” in mandatory training materials. According to Politico journalist Lara Seligman, the training materials will now refer to such individuals as “unauthorized recipients” of information leaks. The change appears to be a direct result of Seligman’s reporting on the issue.

“Just in: [Secretary Esper] has directed that DOD adjust the training material I reported on yesterday to identify individuals or groups trying to obtain information “simply as unauthorized recipients,” says [Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman],” Seligman tweeted Thursday.

“This seems to be result of my story,” she added.

Included with training materials – which are publicly available – was a memo from Secretary Esper that instructed all Defense Department personnel to complete the training within 60 days.

“Unfortunately, poor OPSEC practices within DoD in the past have resulted in the unauthorized disclosure or ‘leaks,'” Esper wrote. “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.”

Those “adversaries” are later defined in a video exercise based on fictitious scenarios involving “anti-government protesters” and reporters.

“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 in the training video 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.”

In her Wednesday report, Seligman not only pointed out that the federal government was referring to members of the press as an adversaries, she also got a Pentagon spokesperson to defend its use of the term.

“An adversary — a common generic term for a person or group that opposes one’s tactical goals — is acting counter to our information security objectives and therefore personnel must understand that threat,” Lt. Col. Uriah Orland said in a statement to Politico. “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.”

George Little, a former Pentagon press secretary and CIA spokesperson in the Obama administration, told Politico that the use of the term was both “appalling and dangerous.”

[image via STAFF/AFP/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.