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Iran threat prods DOD to seek more security for former officials

Proposed legislation would allow Defense secretary to review and extend protections every six months at his discretion

Former Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper requires around-the-clock security because of threats from Iran stemming from his time leading the Pentagon, according to the Biden administration.
Former Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper requires around-the-clock security because of threats from Iran stemming from his time leading the Pentagon, according to the Biden administration. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Biden administration has asked Congress to include in the annual Pentagon policy bill a high-priority provision that would extend protections for former Defense Department officials — a move that is, at least in part, due to lingering security threats stemming from Iran. 

Of particular concern is the safety of former Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, who led the Pentagon during the 2020 U.S. assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and could be a potential target for reprisals.

The proposed legislation would allow the Defense secretary to review and extend protections for high-ranking former officials every six months at his discretion, rather than every 60 days as the current law prescribes.

It would also authorize the Defense Department to use up to $15 million per fiscal year to reimburse former defense officials who have had to use personal funds to cover security costs arising from their work in the Pentagon. 

A congressional staffer with direct knowledge of the matter described the provision as coming directly from the Pentagon and cited continued international and domestic threats against former officials as the reason for its inclusion in both the Senate and House (HR 2670) versions of the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act.

The continued protection of Esper, who served as President Donald Trump’s second Defense secretary from July 2019 until Trump fired him just after the 2020 election, helped drive the provision’s inclusion in the bill, the staffer said. 

Esper said last year that he had full-time government-provided protection since leaving his role at the Pentagon as a result of threats from Iran — and Tehran’s alleged desire for retaliation over Soleimani’s slaying. 

According to another source with direct knowledge of the situation, Esper’s 24-7 protection is ongoing. 

And other Trump administration officials, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton and former Deputy Secretary of State Brian Hook are all said to be under threat by Iran. 

In a statement of administration policy released Monday, the Biden administration thanked the House Armed Services Committee for including the provision in its version of the bill and encouraged Congress to make it official. 

“The elevated risk against former and retired officials requires the additional flexibility over longer periods of time provided by the Administration’s legislative proposal,” the statement said.

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