ARMY’S GENERATION GAP
The massive compromise of classified documents to WikiLeaks revealed a cultural divide between Army leaders and soldiers of a largely unpatriotic and valueless millennial generation, according to a recently released Army report.
An investigative report on the case of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is serving a 35-year prison term for espionage, identifies several lapses in Army security and personnel procedures that allowed Manning to remain in the service and gain access to classified documents.
Manning, 26, who now calls himself Chelsea, illegally downloaded hundreds of thousands of secret documents on Iraq and Afghanistan, along with State Department cables. After copying the documents on rewritable digital media, he turned them over to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, which posted them online.
It was the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history before last year’s disclosure of secrets by renegade NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The magnitude of that compromise is still unfolding.
“Over the course of this investigation, it became apparent that there is currently a cultural gap between the first-line and mid-level leaders and the soldiers they lead,” wrote Army Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., the report’s investigating officer and author. “The soldiers they lead are, in major part, of the so-called Millennial Generation.”
An Army spokesman had no comment. A spokesman for Gen. Caslen, now superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, had no immediate comment.
According to the report, which is dated Feb. 14, 2011, but was released Sept. 26 on an Army website, Manning, as a millennial, is part of a youth cohort generally marked by narcissism and technological savvy, but “isolated from the physical world,” resulting in “strong loyalties in the virtual world.”
Millennials’ values often clash with traditional values and loyalties in the physical world as a result of playing games online and using social media, the report says.
“In their virtual world — comprised of online gaming and blogging — Millennials believe it acceptable to act in any way one wishes — their actions generate no perceived consequences for which they may be held to account,” the report states.
As an example, the report cites emails sent by Manning to former hacker Adrian Lamo revealing his pilfering of classified documents.
For the military, many millennials’ favoring of transparency over secrecy is troubling since the survival of soldiers and their units often depends on keeping the enemy from gaining access to sensitive intelligence.
Millennials “must begin to understand that service as a soldier entails adherence to standards and values,” the report says.
“Loyalty to nation, obedience to orders of the chain of command, and commitment to the welfare of the small unit are non-negotiable,” the report states.
Trustworthiness of soldiers must be monitored and granting soldiers’ access to secrets requires careful scrutiny.
In the case of Manning, the Army missed signs of behavioral problems that could have prevented him from gaining access to the documents he leaked, the report says. They included several physical assaults, “tantrum fits of rage,” lying to investigators about past behavior, and comments made to colleagues. In 2009, the report said, Manning told a colleague he had “no loyalty” to the United States and the American flag patch on his uniform “meant nothing” to him.
The report suggests Manning is a “bellwether” of the cultural divide between Army leaders and young soldiers. Mid-level commanders are comfortable with Army hierarchy while millennials are not.
Because the Army’s success demands small unit cohesion, “a young soldier who is familiar with, and most comfortable in, the virtual world of the Internet — where the self is praised and individuality as well as transparency are glorified — may be unable to adapt to the military’s focus on teamwork and operational and information security,” the report says.
Additionally, an erosion of leadership skills in the Army is exacerbating problems caused by the millennial generation gap.
Army leaders are “proficient in combat,” but are challenged in leading troops in peace time, the report says.
The Army needs to better educate young soldiers on the need for secrecy and security, and teach them that a failure to protect sensitive information can put them at risk, it says.
“We must undertake an educated and concerted effort to identify and understand the attributes associated with Millennials if we hope ever to bridge the gap fully,” the report states.