ICYMI: Watchdog Writes to Defense Department for Information on Zinke’s National Security Role

Letter to Defense Secretary and Navy Secretary Seek Clarification on U.S. Policy; Interior Secretary’s Role After Comments on Russia

Western Values Project sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense and Navy Secretary after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke floated the idea that the U.S. Navy could impose a blockade on Russia, if necessary, to prevent their energy from reaching markets.

Zinke’s comments were first reported by the Washington Examiner after he made the remarks at the Consumer Energy Alliance industry event in Pittsburgh. Zinke said in part that, “the United States has that ability, with our Navy, to make sure the sea lanes are open, and, if necessary, to blockade … to make sure that their energy does not go to market.”

The letter seeks clarification about whether Zinke’s comments reflect U.S. policy and whether the secretary, who leads an agency with no apparent major national security mandate, has input over the military’s ongoing public and covert operations regarding Russia’s 23,000 miles of coastline.

“If Secretary Zinke is advising the Defense Department or Navy on strategy, the Department should inform the public of Zinke’s role and responsibility,” said Western Values Project Executive Director Chris Saeger. “If Zinke is publicly sharing uninformed opinions on national security issues, he should be held accountable. To be clear, Zinke has created countless crises on issues Interior is actually responsible for. We ask that he focus on getting his own house in order before interfering further in geo-political disputes.”

The Department of the Interior is the nation’s largest land management agency, overseeing management and conservation of federal public lands, natural resources, and national parks, and the administration of programs related to Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and insular areas.

Zinke’s comments were picked up by Russian state media, rebuked by the controversial Chechen leader and would potentially be considered an act of war under international law. Politico’s Morning Defense reported on the letter but had not received clarification from U.S. officials before publication. Zinke is scheduled to attend an event in Boston on Friday with Navy Secretary Richard Spencer.

Also published on Medium.

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