DOD reviewing use of aircraft during protests; Esper vows to crack down on leaks

By Justin Doubleday / July 9, 2020 at 4:05 PM

The Pentagon is reviewing the use of military forces during protests against police brutality earlier this summer, with the first such investigation expected to be completed in the coming days.

During a House Armed Services Committee hearing today, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he has directed Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy to conduct a "full after-action review" of the Defense Department's involvement in quelling protests in late May and June in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of the Minneapolis police.

The review is to be completed by the end of this month and will cover "issues that drew public concern, such as the use of helicopters and reconnaissance aircraft in support of civilian law enforcement or National Guard ground forces," Esper said.

Separately, McCarthy is currently reviewing the results of an investigation into the use of a DC National Guard UH-72 helicopter that hovered at low altitude over a group of protesters in Washington, DC, on June 1.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said he expects the results to be released within the next few days following a Defense Department inspector general review.

The Air Force inspector general's office is also investigating the circumstances surrounding the use of Air National Guard RC-26 aircraft to support civil authorities June 2-3, according to Esper.

Meanwhile, 60,000 service members, mostly National Guard, have been deployed over the past few months to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Esper said he would follow up with lawmakers on whether DOD will require supplemental funding to cover the costs of recent deployments in response to COVID-19 and civil unrest.

"We've been keeping careful counting of the dollars," Esper said. "That's obviously something we need to come back to you on to make sure we understand what those numbers are and how material they are to the budget."

'Aggressively pursuing leaks'

Esper also railed against leaks of both classified and unclassified information, in response to alleged "illegal leaks" of an intelligence report concerning Russia placing bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Esper said multiple intelligence agencies could not corroborate the report.

"The illegal leaks are terrible," he said. "They're happening across the government, particularly in the Defense Department."

The Pentagon has launched an investigation "to go after leaks, whether it is of classified information or unclassified information that is sensitive, and also unauthorized discussions with the media."

"We are aggressively pursuing leaks in the Defense Department," he said.

Esper said he has also initiated "a new effort to remind people of OPSEC," short for operational security.