Army "Big Brother" Unit Targets Bloggers

Bloggers: "Big Brother is not watching you, but 10 members of a Virginia National Guard unit might be," according to the Army. The Manassas-based Guardsmen are on a one-year assignment to clamp down on both "official and unofficial Army Web sites for operational security violations."OCPA-2006-10-12-110329.jpgThe team, working "under the direction of the Army Web Risk Assessment Cell" hunts for "documents, pictures and other items that may compromise security" -- and then orders the parties to take the offensive content offline.Not that the material is top secret or anything, an Army News Service article notes.

The most common OPSEC [operational security] violations found on official sites are For Official Use Only (FOUO) documents and limited distribution documents, as well as home addresses, birthdates and home phone numbers.Unofficial blogs often show pictures with sensitive information in the background, including classified documents, entrances to camps or weapons. One Soldier showed his ammo belt, on which the tracer pattern was easily identifiable.
Since the relatively wide-open days following the Iraq invasion in 2003, the Pentagon has been slowly tightening the screws on military bloggers. Officers started busting frontline diarists for their websites. In Iraq, new rules required bloggers to check with their commanders before posting. Then, in August, a message came highest levels of the military that "EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY, NO INFORMATION MAY BE PLACED ON WEBSITES THAT ARE READILY ACCESSIBLE TO THE PUBLIC UNLESS IT HAS BEEN REVIEWED FOR SECURITY CONCERNS AND APPROVED IN ACCORDANCE WITH DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE MEMORANDUM WEB SITE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES, DECEMBER 7, 1998.""So much for military blogging," said one officer, deployed in Iraq, when the ruling came down. Not that the officer -- an active blogger back in the States -- was doing much public writing while on the front lines. "The Army's guidance on OPSEC [operational security] has been broad and ambiguous enough to chill my speech," he wrote to me. "Discretion is clearly the better part of valor where OPSEC rules are concerned, because the sensitivity of any particular detail is in the eye of the beholder."Other soldiers, even ones stationed back home, took similar measures.
As of today, May 5th, 2006, I am officially shutting down my blog... There are certin [sic] commands out there that do NOT want me to blog... they have been trying very hard to find out who I am and shut me down... I really don't want to end my military career over a blog - it has gotten THAT bad!
Others -- thousands of others -- have continued on, trying to stay within the rules. The Virginia National Guard Web-trolling team "uses several scanning tools to monitor [these] sites for OPSEC violations," the Army notes. "The tools search for such key words as 'for official use only' or 'top secret,' and records the number of times they are used on a site. Analysts review the results to determine which, if any, need further investigation.""Pictures of [soldiers'] compounds or weapons" are also considered off-limits.In an age when so many troops have access to the Internet -- and "open source intelligence" is becoming so critical -- it's only natural that military higher-ups have grown concerned about what's posted online. But OPSEC isn't the only dimension to the counter-terror fight. This is, as the cliche goes, a battle of hearts and minds, after all. That battle largely takes place in the press, broadly defined. And, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld observed earlier this year, "our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but... our country has not adapted." Just the other day, the New York Times shrieked about Iraqi insurgents using YouTube to spread fear.So you would think that the Defense Department would be doing everything it could to encourage positive coverage of the war - to bring stories of brave American troops, risking their lives for Mideast democracy, to the Internet browsers everywhere. But Rumsfeld's penchant for secrecy -- and the military's fear that even the smallest, most innocuous detail about American operations could give insurgents the upper hand - has scuttled this crucial media mission.
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