U.S. Army officers often resort to “evasion and deception,” and everyone at the Pentagon knows it, according to a new study conducted by the U.S. Army War College.
“In other words, in the routine performance of their duties as leaders and commanders, U.S. Army officers lie,” reads the study, which was conducted by the War College’s Strategic Studies Institute.
The 33-page report, compiled following interviews with officers across the Army, concluded that the Army’s culture is rife with “dishonesty and deception” at all levels of the institution – from the most junior members to senior Army officials.
The study’s results come after Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel – who officially left his post Tuesday – had raised concerns over ethics in the military. Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said two weeks ago that Hagel was “deeply troubled” over a spate of ethics investigations in the military.
“I think he’s generally concerned that there could be at least at some level a breakdown in ethical behavior and in the demonstration of moral courage,” Kirby said of Hagel.
And last week, days before Defense Secretary Ash Carter succeeded him, Hagel wrote a memo to the U.S. military’s most senior leaders emphasizing the need for increased accountability and a higher standard for ethical behavior – including among the military’s senior leaders.
“The vast majority of our senior leaders are men and women who have earned the special trust and confidence afforded them by the American people. However, when senior leaders forfeit this trust through unprofessional, unethical or morally questionable behavior, their actions have an enormously negative effect on the profession,” Hagel wrote.
Hagel urged the military leaders to “strengthen your cultures” and “assess gaps and close them.”
The senior officials who received the memo likely didn’t learn anything new as the War College’s study published this week indicated that senior leaders – both civilian and uniformed – also take part in the dishonesty and ethically questionable behavior, or are at least aware of that behavior.
The study describes a “culture where deceptive information is both accepted and commonplace” and where senior officials don’t trust the information and data receive – such as compliance with certain Army training requirements or forms outlining how a mission was carried out.
But Army officers are faced with an increasing number of requirements and bureaucratic hoops, according to the study, and rather than work with a rigid military brass to reform a burdensome bureaucracy, officers will simply sidestep those requirements, lying on forms and often rationalizing their answers.
The result? “Officers become ethically numb,” explains the study, which was conducted by Leonard Wong, a research professor at the Strategic Studies Institute and retired Army officer, and behavioral sciences Professor Stephen Gerras, who held company and battalion command roles during his 25 years in the Army.
“Eventually, their signature and word become tools to maneuver through the Army bureaucracy rather than symbols of integrity and honesty,” the researchers wrote. “This desensitization dilutes the seriousness of an officer’s word and allows what should be an ethical decision to fade into just another way the Army does business.”
The study also comes after a string of high-profile ethics scandals involving senior military leadership in recent years, from a cheating scandal involving nuclear missile officers last year and a still-ongoing federal investigation into one of the biggest corruption affairs in the Navy’s history.
CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed to this report.