- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2020

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper has launched an investigation into the source of classified information to the media, pointing to a series of “bad leaks” that has emerged from within the Pentagon since last fall.

“I’ve launched an investigation that is underway to go after leaks, whether it’s of classified information or unclassified information that is sensitive and also, you know, unauthorized discussions with the media,” Mr. Esper told the House Armed Services Committee Thursday.

“All those things, again, hurt our nation’s security,” he said. “They undermine our troops, their safety. They affect our relations with other countries. They undermine our national policy.”

His comments come in the wake of the latest intelligence leak that led to reports that Russian agents had offered Taliban militants financial compensation to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.

But Mr. Esper maintained that the latest leak did not come from within his department.

“It was not produced by a [Defense Department] intelligence agency,” he told the panel, but maintained that the practice is “illegal” and “terrible.”

“They’re happening across the government, particularly in the Defense Department,” he said, adding that he is “aggressively pursuing leaks” within the Pentagon.

Despite his push to mitigate the leaks, both Mr. Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, committed to a free press after being grilled on the treatment of reporters during recent anti-racism protests.

“I am deeply committed to a free press,” Gen. Milley told the panel. “I will die for the Constitution. It is an idea, and part of that is a free media, and a free media is fundamentally essential to a free people, and it is fundamental to our democracy. So absolutely I’m committed to that.”

• Lauren Toms can be reached at lmeier@washingtontimes.com.

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