Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's recent hospitalization has sparked controversy and confusion within the highest ranks of the U.S. government.
Amidst a veil of secrecy, key government officials, including Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks and President Joe Biden, were kept in the dark about Austin's hospital stay.
Last week, Austin was admitted to Walter Reed Hospital due to complications from an elective medical procedure. The details surrounding this hospitalization were shrouded in secrecy, not just from the public, but alarmingly, from top Pentagon and White House officials as well.
Kathleen Hicks, who is third in line in the military chain of command, was left unaware of Austin's condition, even as she assumed some of his duties. This lack of communication raises concerns about the protocols for such high-level occurrences.
A Pentagon official, who requested anonymity, expressed disbelief at the situation. “There are all of these people around the secretary at all times who manage him and help him on a day-to-day basis, and no one had the wherewithal even to tell the White House?” they wondered.
President Biden, too, was not informed of Austin's hospitalization. This omission is notable, given the critical role of the Defense Secretary in national security.
On January 2nd, Austin transferred some responsibilities to Hicks without disclosing the reason. At the time, Hicks was vacationing in Puerto Rico, a fact that further complicates the narrative.
Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder described the transfer of duties as "not uncommon," emphasizing that there's no protocol requiring a specific reason for such a move.
Ryder further explained to CNN, “Austin transferred 'certain operational responsibilities that require constant secure communications capabilities' to Hicks on January 2, the day after he was admitted to Walter Reed.”
Hicks was finally informed of Austin's hospitalization on the afternoon of January 4th. Initially, she considered returning to Washington but decided to stay in Puerto Rico, expecting Austin to resume full duties by January 6th.
This decision was made to ensure continuity of communications, given that Austin was anticipated to return to his role, albeit from the hospital.
The lack of clarity about the nature of Austin's medical procedure and the extent of his incapacitation during the complications further fuels speculation and concern.
One Pentagon official remarked, "I'm surprised no one is using the word 'cover-up' yet." This statement hints at the underlying tensions and distrust that such incidents can breed within the administration.
The Pentagon's response to this incident has been a mix of acknowledgment and defense. While Ryder has defended the process, Austin himself has recognized the issues caused by the failure to disclose his medical status.
His acknowledgment, however, does little to quell the growing scrutiny over the lack of transparency surrounding his health and the procedures for informing key government figures.
Austin's statement that his condition is improving brings some relief, but it does little to address the broader concerns about communication protocols within the government, especially in cases involving high-ranking officials.
As the dust settles on this incident, it becomes increasingly clear that the lack of transparency in Austin's hospitalization has exposed significant gaps in communication within the U.S. government's top echelons. This incident serves as a cautionary tale about the need for clear protocols and open communication channels, especially in matters of national security and leadership. The questions raised by this incident are likely to reverberate for some time, prompting a reevaluation of how sensitive information is managed and disclosed within the highest levels of the U.S. government.