Gates orders top military officers to get clearance for interviews

Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s order was in the works before Stanley McChrystal’s comments in Rolling Stone. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s order was in the works before Stanley McChrystal’s comments in Rolling Stone.
By Anne Gearan
Associated Press / July 4, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Military officials will need Pentagon clearance for interviews and other dealings with reporters, according to an order from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates not long after the top general in Afghanistan was fired for his comments in a magazine article.

The order, issued by Gates on Friday in a brief memo to military and civilian personnel worldwide and effective immediately, tells officials to make sure they are not going out of bounds or unintentionally releasing information that the Pentagon wants to hold back.

The order had been in the works long before General Stanley McChrystal stunned his bosses with criticism and complaints in a Rolling Stone article that his superiors did not know was coming.

“We were not happy with the content, and we were not happy that we didn’t know about it,’’ Assistant Defense Secretary Douglas Wilson said, referring to the article.

Nonetheless, Wilson promised that no “Iron Curtain’’ would fall between the Pentagon and the news media.

The memo does not spell out exactly how the new directive will work but appears to require hundreds of thousands of officers to funnel interview requests through a small central office at the Pentagon.

“I am concerned that the department has grown lax in how we engage with the media,’’ Gates wrote.

“We have far too many people talking to the media outside of channels, sometimes providing information which is simply incorrect, out of proper context, unauthorized, or uninformed by the perspective of those who are most knowledgeable’’ about how the information may fit into government operations or goals.

McChrystal told the Army last week that he would retire. In the Rolling Stone article, the four-star general and some of his aides were quoted criticizing President Obama’s war effort; McChrystal complained that he was backed into “an unsellable position’’ during last fall’s long White House deliberations on whether to add more troops.

Leaks during that process infuriated Gates.

Gates’s memo requires top department officials to tell Wilson’s office before interviews “or any other means of media and public engagement with possible national or international implications.’’

Gates warned in the memo that the leaking of classified information “is against the law, cannot be tolerated, and will, when proven, lead to the prosecution of those found to be engaged in such activity.’’

A Pentagon press secretary said Gates remains committed to open dealings with the media and that he has tried to impress on colleagues that “the press is not the enemy.’’