Hoffman defended the use of the term “adversaries” to describe anti-government protesters and journalists in a fictional scenario presented in the training materials, noting that “adversaries” is a common term for “a person or group that opposes one’s goal.” However, he acknowledged that “it clearly has different implications when used by the military.”
To avoid confusion and respond to criticism following the disclosure, Esper directed that officials update the language to identify those trying to obtain information as “unauthorized recipients,” Hoffman said.
“The intent of the mandated operational security, OPSEC, training is to encourage our personnel to treat sensitive information appropriately, which includes staying vigilant for any efforts to obtain information by anyone without a valid need to know,” Hoffman said. “This could be an individual from a foreign nation, an allied partner, an Industry company, DoD co-worker or yes even the media.”
In POLITICO’s original report on the language, former public affairs officials blasted the language as inappropriate and tone-deaf, particularly amid worsening relations between the federal government and protesters. President Donald Trump on Thursday doubled down on threats to keep federal law enforcement in Portland, Ore., until the governor clamps down on unrest.
George Little, who was a Pentagon press secretary and CIA spokesperson in the Obama administration, called the characterization “appalling and dangerous.”
“It brings to mind the same tin ear Secretary Esper recently demonstrated when he used the military term battlespace to describe America’s city streets,” Little said. “The Pentagon and the press have a long history over working alongside each other in service of the American people. Even when they don’t see eye to eye on the issues, there’s been a long history of respect for their common mission, and it’s unfortunate that the current Pentagon leadership has largely abandoned it.”
In one section of the course, trainees are given a fictional scenario in which news of a secret military exercise gets out, and TV cameras and hundreds of “anti-government protesters” show up. The exercise and the protest end up as the lead story on the evening news.
In such a scenario, the course instructs trainees to identify the “adversaries,” who it says are driven to exploit “vulnerabilities” for their own gain. In the particular scenario in the course material, the exercise organizers aimed to keep the event unnoticed, a goal that was contrary to the aims of reporters and protesters.
“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 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 the scenario, the protest group “clearly exploited one or more vulnerabilities,” the narrator states.
In another section of the course on insider threats, the media is labeled an adversary, and DoD personnel are instructed to report any contact with the press to their “information security office.”