Both Republicans and Democrats are irked by this DOD memo mandating restrictions on Pentagon info to Congress

Both Republicans and Democrats are irked by this DOD memo mandating restrictions on Pentagon info to Congress
U.S. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan and U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testify to the House Armed Services Committee on the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Budget Request at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, March 26, 2019. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
News & Politics

In an internal May 8 Department of Defense memo that was only sent to selected members of Congress afterThe Washington Post first brought it to light, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has laid out new limits on how the Pentagon shares information with lawmakers about U.S. military operations around the world. Missy Ryan and Greg Jaffe report that the memo sets a half-dozen guidelines. These include the requirement that Pentagon officials and political appointees scrutinize each congressional request for operations information to see if it “contains sufficient information to demonstrate a relationship to the legislative function.” Instead of providing the requested operational plan or order itself, the memo urges Pentagon officials to provide a summary briefing.

The expressed concern is that lawmakers won’t keep such information to themselves. However, a jaded cynic might take the view that this has nothing to do with national security, but is merely one more effort by the Trump regime to keep Congress in the dark. A Shanahan spokesman brushed off that implication, saying that the new policy seeks to expand “transparency and information sharing with Congress.” If the upside-downism in that statement weren’t so Orwellian it would be funny.

Both Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Armed Services Committee have expressed deep misgivings about the move. Joe Gould at DefenseNews writes:

HASC Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., and ranking member Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said in statement Wednesday that they would use the nascent 2020 defense policy bill to address the restrictions, which would "dramatically limit Congress’ ability to execute our constitutional prerogative.” News of the policy was first reported by The Washington Post on Wednesday.

“Congress oversees the Department of Defense; but with this new policy, the Department is overstepping its authority by presuming to determine what warrants legislative oversight,” Smith and Thornberry said.  [...]

“The Department is not in a position to evaluate Defense committees’ worthiness to receive classified information, nor characterize our ability to appropriately protect it,” the lawmakers said. “We intend to address this matter in the National Defense Authorization Act.”

The two committee leaders were especially irked by the suggestion that lawmakers won’t keep their lips zipped when provided with operations information. This they described as “inexcusable and inaccurate.”

They aren’t the only members of Congress who have looked askance at the restrictions. Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an interview with the Post that the memo “seems to be another way in which they can claim that they don’t need to respond to legitimate inquiry of Congress. From what I can glean from the memorandum basically they can use any factor they want to say no and they can make a determination what they think we need to do our job. I think we’re better positioned to determine what we need to do our job.”

If Shanahan were really concerned about the prospect that “loose lips sink ships,” he might think about sending a memo to the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue detailing new restrictions the Pentagon will impose on information it provides him given his documented penchant for revealing classified material.

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