Pentagon to Change Training Material that Labeled Journalists, Protesters 'Adversaries'

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Demonstrators stand in front of D.C. National Guard during a protest over the death of George Floyd.
Demonstrators stand in front of D.C. National Guard and other law enforcement officers during a peaceful protest against police brutality and the death of George Floyd, on June 3, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Pentagon training materials on operational security that referred to journalists and protesters as "adversaries" will be changed to "avoid confusion," Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Thursday.

A new mandatory DoD training course built on materials developed in 2010 referred to journalists and protesters as "adversaries" in a module designed to teach employees to protect sensitive information.

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The training, first reported by Politico, has raised concerns among press organizations and free speech advocates. Former Pentagon press secretary George Little told Politico that the characterization was "appalling and dangerous."

"The Pentagon and the press have a long history of 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," he said.

But Hoffman said the training has been around since 2010 and was most recently updated in 2015. He added that it gained widespread attention only after Defense Secretary Mark Esper published a memo last week on operational security.

Hoffman said in a press briefing Thursday that the term "adversaries" is a "common generic term for a person or group that opposes one's goal," but clearly has "different implications when used by the military or the Department of Defense."

"To avoid confusion moving forward and to address the concerns presented, the secretary has directed we adjust the training materials to identify individuals or groups trying to obtain information simply as "unauthorized recipients," Hoffman told reporters at the end of a press briefing at the Pentagon.

He took no further questions on the issue following the announcement.

Esper released two memos last week to address operational security and clamp down on leaks to the media.

In one memo, "Reinforcing Operations Security and the Importance of Preventing Unauthorized Disclosures," he said the DoD is committed to transparency but "unauthorized disclosures jeopardize our DoD personnel, operations, strategies and policies to the benefit of our adversaries."

The second memo establishes guidelines for service members and employees to use when interacting with the media -- namely, that they are required to go through public affairs.

Members of the media have become concerned over rhetoric from President Donald Trump that some news outlets are "the enemy of the people" and that journalists frequently publish "fake news" -- a term he often slings at reports critical of his administration.

Press organizations also have raised concerns over police handling of journalists covering social unrest and the Black Lives Matter movement. Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, news equipment has been damaged by police, 155 journalists have been assaulted and 51 arrested, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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