Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced Thursday during a congressional hearing he has ordered an investigation into intelligence leaks to the media.
“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,” Esper told lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee.
“All those things, again, hurt our nation’s security. They undermine our troops, their safety. They affect our relations with other countries. They undermine our national policy,” he said.
Esper’s decision comes after the recent leak of the existence of intelligence that Russia was allegedly offering bounties to Taliban-linked operatives for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The Trump administration has not denied that the intelligence existed, but said that it was unverified and uncorroborated and had not been briefed to the president. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA)’s senior staff reportedly were briefed on the intelligence in February, but took no action.
Esper also told lawmakers that he never received any briefing with the word “bounty” in respect to Russians and the killing of American men and women in uniform.
Esper said, under questioning by Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), “Congressman, to the best of my recollection, I have not received a briefing that included the word bounty.”
Turner asked Esper if he had received such a briefing, whether he would have briefed the president on it.
If it was a credible report that’s important — a credible, corroborated report that had used those words, certainly it would have been brought to my attention by the chain of command, by chairman of the Joint Chief and others for action, and we would have taken upon that action in an interagency effort to make sure that we addressed it.
He added: “But at all times we take force protection very seriously and take all those actions regardless of the credibility of a report, we take all that seriously.”