An Air Force general -- whose primary job is to advise other top officials on ideal media conduct and messaging -- is answering tough questions this week after her official Twitter account sent out a retweet that criticized the president.
Brig. Gen. Kathleen Cook runs the Air Force Public Affairs mission and directly advises the Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff on social media and public affairs matters (Image source: U.S. Air Force)
Brig. Gen. Kathleen Cook took over an official Twitter account -- @USAFPAOBoss -- when she became the Air Force Public Affairs director in March, and on Friday the account posted a retweet from Fox News that was critical of President Obama's Immigration Policy.
According to the Air Force Times, the tweet originated from Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, quoting another digital politics editor; "The president has decided that the last two years of his term are going to be a disaster." Two hashtags accompanied the message; #ImmigrationAction and #KellyFile.
Shortly after the retweet went live, Dan Burkhart, a veteran Air Force broadcaster and current student at Columbia University, responded to Cook and to the general who previously had Cook's job, retired Brig. Gen. Les Kodlick.
Cook -- or someone operating the account on her behalf -- responded to Burkhart's comment saying "I did not nor would I ever tweet/RT a political statement. I will figure out how to remove it!!!"
The retweet has since been removed from the account, but Tony Carr, a former Air Force member and current military blogger, captured a screenshot of the tweet, noting that any commissioned officer – even a general -- who tweets a disparaging remark about the commander-in-chief "would place her in violation of the Air Force's social media policy as well as many fundamental customs of officer conduct."
Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice states, "Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct."
In other words, even a single tweet could land a military officer in jail.
On her official account, the general called the tweet an "errant" action but, according to the Air Force Times, on the same day her account also favorited a tweet from another Air Force general and a Washington Post article on the immigration debate.
Cook denied sending the Tweet in a statement to the Air Force Times Monday saying she wasn't on Twitter at all, rather she was on leave taking care of her sick daughter.
"Throughout this entire process, I have been on leave tending to my daughter who had surgery this past Friday," Cook said. "I was not on Twitter at the time of the post ... we're looking into the matter closely and have already found that several other people had access to the account over the last few years. We have changed the password. While I remain on leave, obviously, I am concerned and I am engaged in determining how this could have happened."
Lt. Col. Kris Carns, an Air Force spokesman, told TheBlaze that General Cook hadn't changed the password to the account since she assumed responsibility for it earlier this year, and when the "errant tweet" was sent at least seven other people had access to the account.
"Her focus at the time was on her family and being a mom, not on Twitter," Karns told TheBlaze, but stressed that the Air Force public affairs directorate will "learn from this experience and continue to use Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms as a way to communicate the Air Force message to a broad audience."
When asked whether one of the seven members who had access to the account will be fired for the action, Karns told TheBlaze "it would be premature to speculate," and that the matter would "be handled internally."
One set of Army training slides TheBlaze found online describes the expectations of enlisted members and officers on their social media accounts.
"While social media use is not specifically referenced in the UCMJ, posting disrespectful comments about leadership on your Facebook profile falls under the category of disrespect toward superior commissioned officer and leaves you subject to punishment under the UCMJ."
Karns clarified the frustration the entire shop feels about the mystery tweet.
"Here's someone who has selflessly served as an officer and a prior enlisted Air Force member for 32 years, she understands and is committed to the Airmen she serves -- she would never do something to discredit the Air Force," Karns said.
What do you think? Should the UCMJ be updated to specifically address social media?