How to Demonize Army Leaders

December 14, 2015

A recent War on the Rocks article, “How the System Went After a War Hero: Jason Amerine Goes to Washington,” discusses allegations against Lt. Col. Jason Amerine and the investigation that followed. It also offers speculation of why and how the Army responded in the way that it did. The article provides a cynical narrative, portraying Army leaders who comply with law and regulation as vindictive henchmen. To a reader unfamiliar with Army regulations, that cynical narrative may sound persuasive. Here are some less sensational facts to help us better understand four of the article’s assertions.

1. The article asserts that the Army retaliated against Jason Amerine by launching a criminal investigation.

In testimony before Congress, Amerine stated that the FBI “formally complained to the Army” that he was sharing classified information with a congressional office. Amerine reiterated in his testimony that “the FBI made serious allegations of misconduct to the Army.”

When the FBI notifies a commander that someone in his or her command is suspected of mishandling classified information, the resultant investigation is not retaliation, but compliance with Rule for Courts-Martial (RCM) 303. RCM 303 directs that, in such a situation, the “commander shall make or cause to be made a preliminary inquiry into the charges or suspected offenses.” Consistent with the guidance accompanying that rule, Army commanders generally refer investigations of this nature to the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.

2. “There were no official charges against [Amerine] but that did not stop the Army from trying to humiliate him by taking his mug shot, fingerprints, and DNA in order to list him in a criminal database.”

Charges follow investigations, not the other way around. Mug shots, fingerprints, and DNA samples are routine booking procedures, not an attempt to humiliate.

3. “His alleged crime?He had spoken to a Member of Congressabout the U.S. government’s broken and dysfunctional hostage recovery process. It was a textbook example of retaliation …”

In fact, the allegation was that Amerine improperly handled classified information. While whistleblowing and communicating with Congress are protected forms of communication, they are not defenses to allegations of mishandling classified information (5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(8) and 10 U.S.C. 1034(a)(2)). Investigating allegations of criminal misconduct is a responsibility of commanders, not a means of retaliation.

4. “He was still active duty, but his security clearance had been suspended. … It was clear the systems set up to both protect whistleblowers and enhance congressional oversight were failing him.”

Access to classified information is not guaranteed by whistleblower protection. Executive Order (EO) 12968 section 3.1(b) states that “eligibility for classified information shall be granted only to employees … whose professional history affirmatively indicates … willingness and ability to abide by regulations governing the use, handling, and protection of classified information” and “only where facts and circumstances indicate access to classified information is clearly consistent with the national security interests of the United States.” In 2008, EO 13467 section 3(b)(i) amended EO 12968 to add section 3.5, which states that individuals who have “access to classified information shall be subject to continuous evaluation.”

Rhetorically Effective, But Analytically Useless

Mandy Smithberger and Danielle Brian’s article is an engaging drama with a hero and villains — fittingly drawing its title from a political drama — but it is not a fair critique of Army leaders. Substituting cynical speculation in lieu of facts degrades public discourse, contributing to a climate in which commanders can never do the right thing in the public eye. Commanders increasingly perceive that they must choose between following regulations and being unfairly demonized, or sweeping issues under the rug to avoid public controversy. If we want commanders to choose the hard right choice over the easy wrong choice, we should demand that our policy analysts and advocates adhere to some minimal level of integrity when critiquing those commanders.


Tim Mathews served in the U.S. Army for over ten years as an infantry officer and judge advocate. His service includes six months in Bosnia-Herzegovina and two years in Iraq. He earned his MBA from The George Washington University School of Business, and his JD from the University of Maine School of Law.


Photo credit: David B. Gleason