Top defence intelligence official and former SEAL Team 6 commander walks off the job amid post-election Pentagon purge

Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesJoseph Kernan testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during their confirmation hearing for positions in the Department of Defence in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill November 2, 2017 in Washington, DC.
  • The Pentagon’s top intelligence official, Under Secretary of Defence for Intelligence and Security Joseph Kernan, resigned Tuesday.
  • His resignation follows the firing of Secretary of Defence Mark Esper and comes amid the resignation of the chief of staff to the Secretary of Defence Jen Stewart and acting Under Secretary of Defence for Policy James Anderson.
  • Lawmakers have already started to sound the alarm, with Rep. Adam Smith writing in a statement that “it appears that chaos has now reached the Pentagon.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Pentagon’s top intelligence official left his job Tuesday amid a flurry of departures following the firing of Secretary of Defence Mark Esper the day before.

Under Secretary of Defence for Intelligence and Security Joseph Kernan effectively resigned from his post Tuesday, the Pentagon said in a statement.

Kernan is a retired US Navy admiral and former Navy SEAL who previously served as the commander of SEAL Team 6 and SEAL Team 2, as well as Naval Special Warfare Command. At the Pentagon, he served as the defence secretary’s representative to the intelligence community.

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defence for Special Operation and Low-Intensity Conflict Ezra Cohen-Watnick, an advisor who has bounced around Trump administration departments will take over Kernan’s duties in an acting capacity.

The Pentagon said that Kernan’s departure has been planned for months, but it notably comes the same day two other Department of Defence officials resigned.

In its statement, the Pentagon said that the chief of staff to the Secretary of Defence Jen Stewart resigned and has been replaced by Kash Patel, a member of the National Security Council and a former Hill staff who worked to discredit the Russia probe.

Earlier in the day, it was reported that acting Under Secretary of Defence for Policy James Anderson, the Pentagon’s top policy official, had resigned and been replaced by Trump loyalist and Fox News guest Anthony Tata, who the Trump administration slipped into the Pentagon after lawmakers raised concerns about Tata’s tweets, including one that said former President Barack Obama was a “terrorist leader.”

These changes at the Pentagon come just one day after President Donald Trump abruptly fired Esper, sending out a tweet that simply said that he was “terminated” and that he would be replaced by National Counter-Terrorism Centre Director Chris Miller in an acting capacity.

The upheaval of the Pentagon’s civilian leadership risks creating uncertainty and instability in the final weeks of the Trump administration.

Rep. Adam Smith, a Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, sounded the alarm Tuesday afternoon following the departures of Esper and Anderson.

“It is hard to overstate just how dangerous high-level turnover at the Department of Defence is during a period of presidential transition,” he wrote in a statement. “The top policy professional in the Department resigning the day after the Secretary of Defence was fired could mark the beginning of a process of gutting the DoD — something that should alarm all Americans.”

‘As soon as Former Vice President Biden became President-elect Biden, President Trump and those loyal to him started to sow chaos and division,” he added. “It appears that chaos has now reached the Pentagon.”

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