“Loose lips sink ships,” that propaganda poster slogan introduced four watchwords to the American public during World War II.
The UK had a parallel campaign – “Careless Talk Costs Lives,” proving that British propaganda is as bland and forgettable as English cooking. But, no matter what the propagandists put on their posters, the English public boiled the message down to “keep mum.” Or as the Yanks might put it, “shut up!”
The ostensible message of “loose lips” was to clamp down on ill-considered releases of the kinds of strategic or tactical data that Nazi spies could use. But by the time the poster was posted, the FBI had rounded up almost all of Germany’s U.S. spy network. The real message, some analysts have suggested, was – don’t spread rumors, don’t spread dangerous facts, don’t say anything any enemy could conceivably benefit from knowing. Keep mum. Shut up. This was a domestic security strategy for wartime.
When the former Marine general James Mattis took over as President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Defense, he brought to the job what his Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White called a “warrior mindset,” in which the release of information is dangerous, because enemies can benefit.
In October 2017, Mattis spelled this out in an all-points Memo, telling Pentagon employees their duty: “to prevent disclosure of any information not authorized for release outside of the Department of Defense.”
Note that the Secretary said “any information,” not classified information, or secret or top secret or more secret than that information. He said when it comes to “unauthorized disclosure of non-public information,” your orders are “Shut up!”
One particular subject to which Mattis’ Pentagon applied a growing series of gag rules was Afghanistan, which left the Special Inspector General of Afghan reconstruction, John Sopko fuming: “The Afghan people know which districts are controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban obviously know which districts they control. Our military knows it. Everybody in Afghanistan knows it. The only people who don’t know what’s going on are the people who are paying for all of this, and that’s the American taxpayer.”
Who, effectively, turns out to be the “enemy” Mattis’ “warrior mentality” wanted to keep out of the information loop. The Washington Post’s recently released Afghanistan Papers shows how much leaders of the Defense and State Departments and the CIA and White House have been trying to hide.
Jason Paladino is a national security investigative reporter at POGO. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, NBC News, Huffington Post, Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting, KQED, The Virginian-Pilot, and more. His investigation into a troubled Navy and Marine Corps helicopter program led to the grounding of the fleet and won a variety of top national journalism honors across broadcast and print, including the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award for Investigative Reporting. That reporting laid the foundation for a feature-length documentary film, “Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn?,” screening at film festivals nationwide. He came to POGO from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program, where he taught new investigative techniques, FOIA and internet research skills. Jason has experience working with whistleblowers from government, law enforcement, and private industry and is always open to new tips.
Jason is a 2015 graduate of UC Berkeley with a Master of Journalism with a focus on Investigative Reporting and New Media. He has expertise in FOIA, Navy and Marine Corps aviation, mine countermeasures, and mishap investigations.