The recurring dispute over the appropriate degree of secrecy in the Department of Defense arose in a new form last week when President Trump said that certain audits and investigations that are performed by the DoD Inspector General should no longer be made public.
“We’re fighting wars, and they’re doing reports and releasing it to the public? Now, the public means the enemy,” the President said at a January 2 cabinet meeting. “The enemy reads those reports; they study every line of it. Those reports should be private reports. Let him do a report, but they should be private reports and be locked up.”
It is not clear what the President had in mind. Did he have reason to think that US military operations had been damaged by publication of Inspector General reports? Was he now directing the Secretary of Defense to classify such reports, regardless of their specific contents? Was he suggesting the need for a new exemption from the Freedom of Information Act to prevent their disclosure?
Or was this simply an expression of presidential pique with no practical consequence? Thus far, there has been no sign of any change to DoD publication policy in response to the President’s remarks.
Meanwhile, Rep. Adam Smith, the incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, reiterated his view to the contrary that the Pentagon needs to be more forthcoming with information, not less.
“As Chairman, I will work with my colleagues to promote transparency and Congressional oversight, enhance military readiness, combat inefficiency and waste at DOD, advance green technology in defense and address the threat climate change poses to our national security, fight for an inclusive military, and move towards a responsible approach to nuclear weapons,” he said on January 4. (And, he wrote earlier, “Constant misinformation from the president is a real problem in a democratic society.”)
There are indications that some Pentagon officials may be receptive to Chairman Smith’s concerns.
After reporters complained about the growing use of “For Official Use Only” markings to restrict access to information, Under Secretary of Defense (acquisition and sustainment) Ellen Lord responded that “I understand the need, the requirement” for transparency, “and I will put out guidance to make everything open to the public to the degree we can.” See “Pentagon’s Chief Weapons Buyer Promises Less Secrecy in Reports” by Anthony Capaccio, Bloomberg, January 4.
While secrecy in the Department of Defense has increased noticeably in the Trump Administration, the Pentagon remains an astonishingly prolific publisher of military information, issuing dozens or hundreds of directives, manuals, reports and other publications each day. Most are the product of routine bureaucratic churning, and are of little if any significance, but some have broader interest or appeal. Here are a few that caught our eye.
Techniques for Visual Information Operations, ATP 6-02.40, US Army, January 3, 2019
Military Diving Operations: Multi-Service Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures, ATP 3-34.84, January 2, 2019
DoD support to non-contiguous States and territories in response to disasters, threats, and emergencies, report to Congress, n.d. (Nov. 2018)
The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028, TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1, 6 December 2018
DoD Scientific and Technical Information Program (STIP), DoD Instruction 3200.12, August 22, 2013, Incorporating Change 3, Effective December 17, 2018
The latter document directs that “DoD will maximize the free flow of scientific and engineering information developed by or for DoD to the public.”