The US Air Force is suspending media embeds, base visits and interviews “until further notice” and it “will temporarily limit the number and type of public engagements” by public affairs officers and others while they are retrained to protect sensitive information, according to guidance obtained by Defense News.
“In line with the new National Defense Strategy, the Air Force must hone its culture of engagement to include a heightened focus on practicing sound operational security,” the new guidance memo said.
“As we engage the public, we must avoid giving insights to our adversaries which could erode our military advantage. We must now adapt to the reemergence of great power competition and the reality that our adversaries are learning from what we say in public.”
Notably, the new Air Force guidance does not distinguish between classified and unclassified information. Nor does it define the scope of “sensitive operational information” which must be protected.
The March 1, 2018 memo was reported (and posted) in “Air Force orders freeze on public outreach” by Valerie Insinna, David B. Larter, and Aaron Mehta, Defense News, March 12.
As it happens, a counter-argument in favor of enhanced Air Force release of information was made just last week by Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.
“The Air Force has an obligation to communicate with the American public, including Airmen and families, and it is in the national interest to communicate with the international public,” the Secretary stated in a March 8 directive.
“Through the responsive release of accurate information and imagery to domestic and international audiences, public affairs puts operational actions in context, informs perceptions about Air Force operations, helps undermine adversarial propaganda efforts and contributes to the achievement of national, strategic and operational objectives.”
“The Air Force shall respond to requests for releasable information and material. To maintain the service’s credibility, commanders shall ensure a timely and responsive flow of such information,” she wrote.
But by the same token, unwarranted delays or interruptions in the public flow of Air Force information threaten to undermine the service’s credibility. See Public Affairs Management, Air Force Policy Directive 35-1, March 8, 2018.
Update: “It’s not a freeze. We continue to do many press engagements daily,” said [Air Force] Brig. Gen. Ed Thomas. We are fully committed — and passionate about — our duty and obligation to communicate to the American people.” See The Air Force’s PR Fiasco: How a plan to tighten security backfired, Washington Examiner, March 14, 2018.
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