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Coming Down on the Milbloggers

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In its perennial effort to restrict the kinds of information available to Americas enemies in the wide open Internet world, the Army has issued an updated policy on what qualifies as operational security and how the service may restrict the release of such data.

Since as early as 2005, the Army and, to a lesser extent, other services has been battling the proliferation of weblogs, or blogs, authored by service members often on deployment. Army public affairs and intelligence specialists have been worried that the freewheeling nature of blogs risks divulging certain details of attacks and vulnerabilities that could aid insurgents, who they say scan the internet for tidbits to help in their attacks.

The new Army regulation further defines what qualifies under the operational security guidelines and appoints an Army Web Risk Assessment cell to execute a quarterly examination of personal Web sites, releases from family readiness sites, non-government unit pages, blogs as well as .mil sites.

The new regs were first reported by former DT editor Noah Shachtman who now writes for Wired magazine.

The opsec rules preclude bloggers from writing about or posting pictures or videos:

Do not publicly disseminate, or publish photographs displaying critical or sensitive information. Examples include but are not limited to Improvised Explosive Device (IED) strikes, battle scenes, casualties, destroyed or damaged equipment, personnel killed in action (KIA), both friendly and adversary, and the protective measures of military facilities.

The funny thing is the public affairs office in Iraq has already gotten into the new media world, airing its own YouTube videos of attacks against enemy positions like this one

And this one

Its been a constant struggle for the services to balance the rights of free speech with the genuine need to keep information useful to the enemy out of his hands especially in the electronic media world. The updated regulations give a lot of leeway to unit commanders to regulate the information flow from their soldiers, but one has to wonder whether superiors will err on the side of caution and ban out of hand all blogs authored by troops on deployment.

So far, only a handful of so-called Milbloggers have been disciplined for their posts, with one of the best known cases revolving around Spec. Colby Buzzell, whose blog My War was shut down a few years ago after his postings gained momentum in the mainstream media and irked his commanders.

Buzzell parlayed his success into a book deal, but others who are caught in the opsec net may not be so fortunate.

The new Army order also covers personal emails, which have always been flagged by commanders who see the risks of compromising information, as well as discussion board entries.

Consult with their immediate supervisor and their OPSEC Officer for an OPSEC review prior to publishing or posting information in a public forum.

(1) This includes, but is not limited to letters, resumes, articles for publication, electronic mail (e-mail), Web site postings, web log (blog) postings, discussion in Internet information forums, discussion in Internet message boards or other forms of dissemination or documentation.

It remains to be seen how intensively the Army will investigate these postings for opsec violations which would take a tremendous amount of manpower considering the over 130,000 troops deployed to Iraq alone.

(Gouge: CM)

-- Christian

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