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From the Deckplates - ‘I Can Neither Confirm Nor Deny’

By Senior Chief Jim Murphy, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Now that a sailor has followed their example, many of those same leaders are outraged. Would these officials be as seemingly up in arms if the mission details in the book more closely paralleled the administration and Pentagon narrative several of these same people offered to the public in excruciating detail? The outrage is tenfold when public disclosures don’t match the official position.

Intentional leaks of classified information make our military, and in fact our entire government, look like a bunch of overly egotistical high school jocks who can’t come to grips with the principle of don’t kiss and tell. Revealing military secrets for the purposes of political advantage, financial gain, or celebrity status, regardless of one’s position, is the equivalent of doing just that, exploiting personal conquests for status and bragging rights. It’s immature, harmful, and unpatriotic.

When senior leaders publicly reprimand juniors for alleged violations while ignoring their own complicity in Hollywood productions designed for political gain or military recruiting—as was the case with the movies Zero Dark Thirty and Act of Valor —it is even more offensive. When leaders set this example, they shouldn’t be surprised if their juniors then follow suit and avoid what often becomes a politically driven pre-publication review process.

Leaks put our intelligence and special- operations assets at risk, negatively impact ongoing and future missions, disrupt relationships with international partners, and perpetuate public discussion of our capabilities.

Many in uniform have had to stay silent when family and friends discuss news items because of the possibility of divulging involvement in the reported events, thereby violating the oath of secrecy. The easiest thing to do to avoid an accidental (or intentional) disclosure is to keep your mouth shut regardless of position, appointment, or elected status.

This tactic doesn’t always work because many leaks result from unscripted direct questions. In these cases, anyone with a security clearance, from the most junior enlisted service member to the commander-in-chief, should memorize one simple phrase: “I can neither confirm nor deny.” It is often employed as a punch line but it is effective and should be used more often by military professionals, politicians, and political spokesmen. Unfortunately, these same people are often more interested in partisan political gain, fame, or paid service as Hollywood consultants.

Intentional leaks of classified information are the most disturbing because they result from motivations that rarely promote valid national priorities. Accountability, discipline, and maturity must be top-down values and philosophies that need to start now to stop the leaks.

Senior Chief Murphy retired from the Navy after 21 years of service. He is a contributing author to Everyday Leader Heroes (Caboodle Books).


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