When the White House and top military officials gave erroneous information about the whereabouts and intentions of a U.S. aircraft carrier earlier this month — and then failed for days to correct reports — some critics claimed that the U.S. had jeopardized the safety of some of its closest allies. But how could such a monumental mistake happen?
Defense officials who spoke with Navy Times revealed that "over the course of 10 days, a series of gaffes and missteps throughout the entire national security structure to its highest levels would raise the specter of a nuclear showdown, send the U.S. and Chinese governments into crisis mode, and expose alarming communication deficiencies within the American military at large."
With North Korean aggression mounting in early April, the original plan had been to shorten the USS Carl Vinson's planned exercises with Australia and cancel its port visit to Perth, which would get it up to North Korea by the end of the month. But because an Australian port visit is "the holy grail" for sailors, many families had already planned trips to the country to visit their relatives. "The easiest thing to do, PACOM officials decided, would be send out a press release announcing the canceled port visit — making it easier for families to get their money back from airlines and letting all parties know why the Vinson wouldn't be visiting the Land Down Under," Navy Times notes.
Instead, "the media just went nuts," a defense official with knowledge of the situation said. Adding to the confusion, Reuters reported the Vinson was leaving Singapore for North Korea, although it was in fact headed south, to the truncated Australian training exercises. "Everyone from [U.S. National Security Adviser H.R.] McMaster and [Secretary of Defense James] Mattis to the president himself inaccurately stated what Vinson's intentions were," Navy Times writes.
"It's really shocking that they let this go for nearly two weeks without trying to correct the record," added retired Navy officer Bryan Clark.