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October 9, 2001
reposted with permission

Aldridge Urges 'Discretion' In Dealing With the Media;
Air Force Goes Further

Oct. 9, 2001 -- Pentagon acquisition czar Pete Aldridge has issued a memo to defense contractors asking for "discretion" in dealing with the media as the U.S. and allied war on terrorism kicks into high gear.

The Air Force's senior acquisition official, in response, has taken the hardest line of all the services by directing its acquisition personnel and contractors not to discuss any programs with the press.

Aldridge's Oct. 2 memo asks contractors to be careful in "all the public statements, press releases and communications" they issue as the Defense Department attempts to keep details on weapon systems out of the hands of adversaries.

"As we all know, even seemingly innocuous industrial information can reveal much about military activities and intentions to the trained intelligence collector," Aldridge said. "Statistical, production, contracting and delivery information can convey a tremendous amount of information that hostile intelligence organizations might find relevant.

"This is doubly important in light of the potentially domestic nature of the threat at hand," Aldridge said.

In response, Darleen Druyun, the Air Force's principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition, management and logistics, issued "internal guidance" via e-mail Oct. 4 to senior acquisition officials regarding their dealings with the media. Her instructions appear to contradict those also issued Oct. 4 by Brig. Gen. Ron Rand, the Air Force's chief of public affairs.

Druyun's memo is worded strongly, and forbids officials from speaking with the media.

"Effective immediately, I do not want anyone within the Air Force acquisition community discussing any of our programs with the media (on or off the record). This includes presenting program briefings in any forums at which the media may be present," Druyun said. "Clearly, we have shifted to a wartime footing and we must be extremely careful with any information potential adversaries could exploit."

Druyun emphasized that officials should be wary of presenting information in forums that may include foreign nationals.

"I leave it up to you to determine if these engagements can still be held while complying with our need to strictly control public disclosure of sensitive acquisition program information. Ultimately, you must be responsible for implementing information security measures within your organization," Druyun said. "When in doubt, please err on the side of caution."

Druyun sent the memo to the general officers commanding the service's product centers, such as Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, MA, and the Air Force's program executive officers and designated acquisition commanders. Absent from the addressees was Gen. Lester Lyles, who commands Air Force Materiel Command, which holds responsibility for many Air Force acquisition and development offices, or to the service's public affairs staff.

Air Force spokeswoman Gloria Cales said further guidance might be forthcoming to refine Druyun's instructions. Sources said the Druyun e-mail had been widely dispersed to major contractors, prompting some of them to clam up as well.

However, contradictory public affairs guidance was issued the same day to major command chiefs, their public affairs directors and unified command public affairs officials by Rand, the service's one-star chief of media.

"Per [Air Force secretary] and [chief of staff] guidance, we need to stay engaged -- within the framework of an overarching strategic communication program -- on authorized and official outreach activities to tell the Air Force story," Rand said. "In addition, SECAF and CSAF have asked that there be no freelancing (unauthorized an/or unofficial engagements) with the media.

"To avoid crashing and burning in this regard, follow this simple rule: If my folks approach you, that means they've cleared it; if media approach you directly, refer them to us."

Rand also said that Air Force officials should not discuss classified information, specific details of ongoing operations or specific measures of force protection conditions.

Yet, the public affairs chief said the service must "stay engaged . . . on authorized and official outreach activities to tell the Air Force story."

Officials in the Army and Navy public affairs offices said those services did not feel it necessary to issue internal guidance in addition to that laid out by Aldridge in his Oct. 2 memo.

Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, said the Druyun directive is an issue of concern, but that in the long term the effectiveness of the guidance is likely to diminish.

"This is a subject of concern because everyone is looking to find the right balance between operational security and public accountability," Aftergood said Oct. 9. "I think it will work in the near term, and as time goes by the urgency of the situation will diminish and the credibility of this directive, if it is not revoked, will erode."

Aftergood said this administration's approach to discussing the operations in Afghanistan are generally "stronger" than those of previous administrations. However, the World Wide Web has made information exchange easier than ever before, Aftergood noted, presenting the Defense Department with a vexing challenge. Adding to that challenge is the imprecise nature of the terrorist threat, prompting officials to err on the side of caution on matters of public disclosure of information.

"They don't have a clear sense of what the threat is, and so they are just telling everybody to clam up," Aftergood said, commenting on Druyun's guidance.

Calls to officials in the Defense Department's public affairs office regarding the defense secretary's media guidance were not returned by press time (Oct. 9). -- Amy Butler

Copyright 2001 Inside Washington Publishers

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