Admiral warns staff against talking too freely

Story highlights

  • The Navy chief believes adversaries are increasingly mining open source information
  • It's not yet clear whether the memo will have a chilling effect on press

Washington (CNN)Think before you speak, especially in public and especially to the media.

That's the message from Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson to some 1,200 top admiral and civilian personnel.
In a March 1 memo, Richardson assured the staff that he doesn't mean they should stop talking in public, or to the press.
    But he did say, "I need your help to ensure we are not giving away our competitive edge by sharing too much information publicly."
    A Navy official familiar with Richardson's thinking said the Navy chief believes adversaries -- including countries like Russia and China -- are increasingly mining open source information online and trying to gather what they can from public conferences or appearances by top officials.
    "Now more than ever, it is important that public communication about our forces, their operations and their abilities be conducted in an thoughtful, coordinated manner," Richardson said in the memo. "Sharing information about future operations and capabilities, even at the unclassified level, makes it easier for potential adversaries to gain an advantage."
    It's not yet clear inside the Navy to what extent the Richardson memo will have a chilling effect on military dealings with journalists and the public. All military services currently publish large amounts of information online about everything from new weapons to upcoming military exercises. Senior officers regularly attend and speak at conferences and industry trade shows displaying new weapons.
    Richardson's advice was to "avoid events that are primarily for marketing, and that don't make an intellectual contribution to warfighting. It is often at these types of events that we lose focus and 'over-share.' "
    While the admiral insisted in the memo that he wasn't trying to stop Navy staff from talking to the press, his directive comes at a time of strain between the new US administration and the press corps.
    The Pentagon has yet to resume regularly scheduled on-camera press briefings since the Trump administration took office.