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May 02, 2007

A Conversational Topic

Not single word this time: The US Army has banned soldier blogging unless the blog post is approved by a commanding officer.

I'm interested in your thoughts on this and whether it makes sense, or is merely another example of pointless censorship. I have some thoughts on it, but they're complicated and I don't have a whole lot of time to get into it now, what with having a plane to catch. But I think you guys can kick around the topic some.

Have a good day. I'm off to Oregon. Hopefully I will not die of dysentery.

Posted by john at May 2, 2007 10:28 AM

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Comments

Laurie Mann | May 2, 2007 10:55 AM

Can't say I'm surprised. After all, it's not like the blogs have had any specifics about troop movements. But they have contained factual information like morale level, injuries and deaths. Can't let the American people war is about nasty things like that.

John | May 2, 2007 10:56 AM

First: I'm a former Army infantryman. But I got out before blogging was much of a phenomenon, I didn't have one at the time. I DID have email, which was actually my primary means of communication with loved one while I was away in foreign lands.

I think it's a given that soldiers shouldn't blog anything that is classified or sensitive. No full names, no exact locations, no operational details. That being said, I don't see much harm in milblogging. Yes, the badguys COULD comb through your blogs, develop profiles, maybe even cull something useful. But I think that the ROI for them will be slight, and that infringing on information flow in this case is worse. If I were still in, I would probably ignore this. Yes, I did occasionally ignore standing orders and do what I wanted to do. I think as long as you practice good OPSEC, a milblogger would be fine.

tommyspoon | May 2, 2007 10:57 AM

Seems to me like COs have much better things to do then censoring their troop's communications.

Jay Lake | May 2, 2007 10:57 AM

See you in Beaverton tonight!

Dan Bailey | May 2, 2007 11:09 AM

As a former commo geek who was well-indoctrinated into the OPSEC (operational security) mindset, I can see the reasoning behind this.

However. I have a sneaking suspicion that banning personal blogs (and e-mail, you'll note from the article) is going to be a very significant hit to morale.

Also, from the standpoint of a tech geek who blogs, it would be a piece of cake to register a domain name (privately), get a hosting service stateside, and then make use of something like Tor to anonymize your traffic between the hajinet and it's be a lot tougher for anyone to trace traffic from your stateside ISP back to where you post from...

Just my $0.02 worth...

Alex R. | May 2, 2007 11:36 AM

While I don't think its right (by the 1st Amendment or common sense), I can at least understand the way they feel. The occupation has dragged out far longer than has been needed, but the armed forces have done a lot of good. When you feel like you're being treated unfairly, its human instinct to pull back in your shell. I think this is a beauracratic reflex similar to the withdrawal you'd see in a kid who was picked on all the time.

Shawn Powers | May 2, 2007 11:41 AM

Honestly, I was always surprised that military blogging/emailing wasn't strictly regulated from the word go. Is the likelihood high that blogging/emailing would compromise troops? Probably not. But does a low likelihood warrant free reign?

I haven't read much on the Internets yet about it, but I can imagine the "Bush is a afraid of what the troops will say" headline all over. Please, give me a break.

I trust the military to keep me and mine safe. I trust them to determine what is safe/appropriate for the troops to blog/email about. They haven't done anything corporate America hasn't done to their employees, so it seems fair.

Chang, the real O.C. | May 2, 2007 11:43 AM

B U L L S H I T!

Frank | May 2, 2007 11:50 AM

I think it's an awful idea. We are losing the information war as it is, and this will not help. One of the problems is similar to what happens when you ban guns: only the bad boys will have 'em.

To quote Brad Levinson from the 2006 Milblog conference:

"If the Army restricts bloggers, all you will have are pissed-off dissident bloggers who are willing to take a risk...every Article-15 schlep will be blogging and all of the guys in this room who are trying to get the stories out, will not. That'll be the end."

That pretty much says it for me.

To get a taste of the excellent reporting Milbloggers have done, get Matt Burden's "Blog of War" Good, bad, ugly, it's all there.

PixelFish | May 2, 2007 11:52 AM

I can't say I'm surprised....although I'm just cynical enough to think this is so the Army can control their own PR, and not ENTIRELY because they are worried about classified info. (I mean, I think the average soldier is intelligent not to blog the troop movements, or anything other than the minutiae of his personal experiences. For one thing, it has to have occured to him that he would be jeopardising his own safety by doing so.)

I'm annoyed because anything that isn't likely to be 100 percent to the military's PR picture won't make it through, and I honestly think that the milblogging serves....as cartharsis for the soldiers, as history for whomever follows, as a realistic view of what wars entail for us citizens back home. And I don't particularly want the white-washed "Be All You Can Be" version that only shows the good side.

Roy | May 2, 2007 11:59 AM

The issue is not the free speech rights of troops stationed in a combat zone. It's all about saving lives. The common soldier throughout time has been unable to maintain self-censorship to prevent vital information from getting to the enemy. Do not think for a second that just because troops now have access to blogs they will suddenly get smarter than all their predecessors (yes, all the way back to Roman legionnaires). In this very thread there is an example of a former soldier who admits disobeying direct orders and compromising security.

The enemy is doing a good enough job of killing your relatives serving in the military. Do you really want to find out that your family members died as the result of some dumbass who gave out seemingly innocous information about troop activity in a combat zone?? You think the insurgents can't read English or don't have access to the Internet?

Their blogging jones can be relieved once they return safely to the US.

Mary Robinette Kowal | May 2, 2007 12:03 PM

You know, it makes sense to me if it's a publicly accessible blog. I mean, I work for a company and had to get approval before blogging about my work with them. I don't see any real difference between that and the army.

We also just looked at my uncle's vmail from WWII, which went through censors before my family saw it. That was part of the way things worked then, and it doesn't seem out of line to expect emails and blogs to follow the same rules. Remember the old slogan, "Loose lips sink ships?"

I'm a big fan of freedom of speech, but these folks are working for a company, the military, and they are in a war zone. There's no way I would say that I like this legislation, but I also can't get up in arms about it.

Tim Akers | May 2, 2007 12:13 PM

I think it makes sense to restrict that kind of thing, especially for deployed troops. Roy's right in that folks might be leaking information that they don't know they're leaking, inadvertantly. I think it's too bad, because milblogs do a good job of bringing the war home to people back here, both the good and the bad. But it's a tactically sound decision.

James Enge | May 2, 2007 12:23 PM

I'd like to believe this rule is for the safety of the troops. Unfortunately, the guys in charge have a credibility problem.

People in uniform (especially when deployed to a battlefront) have always operated under a much narrower range of freedoms than ordinary citizens, and the ban on blogging is a natural extension of this. The salient question: why is this happening now? There has to be a political motivation, and the people who can speak should ask the question for those who can't.

LizT | May 2, 2007 12:27 PM

It wouldn't bother me if they were going to invest resources in clearing it instead of putting it on their superiors, who likely have enough to deal with. This won't be applied evenly and it won't be applied fairly and the busiest of commanders are just going to order their folks to stop, since they don't have time to clear it. This is email too. Is email not the way most of our troops are sending mail now? Can you imagine being an officer and having to read all the email your soldiers are typing?

Cassie | May 2, 2007 12:35 PM

I read a few milblogs and find them to be educational and, in a few cases, downright entertaining. I hope that these voices are not stopped, but I can understand why they might be.

Mris | May 2, 2007 12:52 PM

I read one blog from a guy currently deployed in Iraq: a friend. My mom has a different friend she reads. Every post, we know something horrible hasn't happened to the people we care about. If one of our family members in the service was re-deployed, we would absolutely be urging him to blog as often as he could.

I really hope this regulation doesn't make their blogging less frequent. I worry.

Chris Gerrib | May 2, 2007 12:54 PM

I really wish the conspiracy theorists here would like, actually READ some milblogs. What you would find is generally positive reporting, from the Administration's perspective.

The Army has been having heartburn about bloggers for years, primarily on the OPSEC issue. Having been in the military (Navy) I understand the concern. Although the Army has the right to censor troops on active duty, I think they will regret this decision from a PR basis.

Tor | May 2, 2007 01:06 PM

I would have no problem with having to register your blog with a group at the Pentagon who's job it was to review them for sensative info (and the fact that it was being review would likely provide enough self-censorship to solve any problems) but the fact is that we live in a different world than our parents did in WWII.

If the insurgents have blogs being read by everyday Iraquis, shouldn't our troops as well? Isn't that the type of propaganda we *want*? The insurgents are busy dehumanizing our troops, shouldn't they be responding by showing how human they are?

Obviously, military secrets have to stay secret, but stopping all blogging isn't going to fix that issue with Geraldo still running around...

I want to say that our troops should be allowed to blog to proclaim the 'City on the Hill' ideal that once had the US as the paragon of much of the world. But I feel like anytime someone suggests that our country should at least appear to be some sort of ethical paragon, our current administration crams it back down our throats, like a cranky three year old screaming, "DON'T WANT."

As was famously said, the internet sees censorship as damage and routes around it. Where there are vacuums created, they are filled by other information. I would rather have our troops filling the 'information from the front' vacuum than anyone else, friendly or foe.

Here's a way to milblog that I just thought of, and I've only been thinking about this for about 10 minutes. Email your post to someone else, who posts it for you. What a brilliant idea! I'm sure only 10,000 other people have thought of it first.

However, instead of setting up a responsible system with oversight, this administration chooses instead to absolutely prohibit blogging - too new, too scary, DANGER! Because they are idiots...

John H | May 2, 2007 01:08 PM

Roy: I would suggest that Bush holding a press conference in which he displays a map of our outposts in Baghdad is much worse than what the milbloggers have been posting...

http://www.politicalforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=29204

kevboy | May 2, 2007 01:30 PM

Shawn said:

They haven't done anything corporate America hasn't done to their employees, so it seems fair.

At first, I was inclined to agree with that point, but then I considered it from a different perspective. My company prevents me from accessing certain content while I'm working, which is not at all the same thing we're seeing here.

At the end of the day, I can go home and post whatever I like on whatever site I like, without my manager or IT department having a say. That doesn't seem to be case here - our soldiers don't have an end of day...

Old Jarhead | May 2, 2007 02:04 PM

Trying to get back aboard since my last couple of hilarious, trenchant, and entertaining posts have been gobbled up by the "gmail" problem. If you see posts under my name that don't meet that description they are fraudulent.

I was the chief of staff for MArine Corps Base Camp Lejeune during the original Iraq unpleasantness in 1991-1992. That meant that I was in charge of the casualty reporting center. We put together a very good plan, staffed it well, and were confident that we could ensure that info about casualties remained close hold until relatives and NOK were properly notified.

On day two of the war I got info that one of the unit commanders was roaring through the housing area to notify a wife that her husband had been shot down. I grabbed the phone and called the unit with a loud WTF! since the casualty report had not even come into the reporting center, we had no confirmation, and he was widely outside the info channel we had set up. When I finally got him on the phone his explanation was that AT&T had set up a phone center at the airfield and the pilots buddies were calling their wives and telling them about the missing man and he had to try and get to the home before the rumors did.

That was when I first said "This isn't Kansas any more". In prior conflicts the command structure pretty much had control of the info stream. In RVN there were no phones, no email, snail mail took weeks, and MARS calls were overheard by half the camp. Now things had changed and we needed to rethink the exercise.

Now its 2007 and my epiphany of Iraq I is even more powerful. Abu Gahrib reminds us that even if we could control the press (good luck) there are other avenues for photos and video clips. Email and blogging provide real time contact with the "World" .

To a great extent trying to control this info stream is trying to shovel sand against the tide. I have strong doubts that Bin Laden has men monitoring blogs trying to get more G-2 than comes from the MSM on a daily basis (a high percentage of the newws printed now would have gotten the editors arrested and maybe shot in WWII.

So - do I think that soldier email and blogging is a security risk in reality vice in theory? No. Do I think that the gummint has the right to impose those restrictions? Of course they do, after all the bloggers are using gummint computers and web access to do it. And if there is an issue of bandwidth limitations obviously such use is cut first.

Do I think that the brass will look like putzes for imposing this? Of course they will.

Will it get enforced other than by some "bolt of lightning" probability? No.

The commanders who would be at the level of oversight for this ban have far far better things to do than monitor computer usage.

My verdict - tempest in a teapot.

My tempest right now is the democratic party of Washington state coming out in support of that peurile putz Lt. Watada.

chas | May 2, 2007 02:28 PM

Not that different from the rules where I work. If we went strictly by the rules, the only time I'd be able to contact anyone not associated with my job would be on breaks or at lunch. This includes via phone, in addition to email, blogging, and responses, such as this.

Ultimately, I don't think this was done with any great malice intended, rather I believe it is an honest attempt to maintain security. I do think it is a bit hamfisted. A better policy might be to allow time delayed posting and email. With a reasonable enough delay, say 30 days, it should be enough that it will make operational intel gathering next to useless.

Don | May 2, 2007 02:35 PM

I really wish the conspiracy theorists here would like, actually READ some milblogs. What you would find is generally positive reporting, from the Administration's perspective.

I think this Administration has made it clear that they like to control the information dissemination, positive or not. I wouldn't expect this policy to have anything to do with trying to stifle potentially negative voices - I'd expect it to be more about trying to stifle any unfiltered information now that they have lost the high ground on spin.

That said, I personally am willing to believe it has not much to do with PR and is instead just a ill-handled and of-questionable-effectiveness move to address security concerns.

J | May 2, 2007 02:51 PM

It's more likely 1 of your oxen dies as you try to ford the river.

I hate censorship. That's as detailed as my stance on the issue gets. Sorry if you were expecting dynamite.

Ralph_Desmond | May 2, 2007 03:11 PM

Oregon Trail was the best!

That's how I learned to type faster than most adults when I was in 4th grade or whatever it was about 1979. Bang! Pow! Shoot! you'd have to type it fast enough before the enemy or the wild animal got you first.

that game was also a life-affecting turning point. until then I had been playing football on the playground at recess. now I was inside doing Apple][+ computer stuff. and I accidentally made friends with the other kids who liked the computer. when I did occasionally venture onto the playground, I'd play foursquare with those new friends. one of the football kids said "you used to be cool" as he punched me in the temple.

lets hijack this thread and reminisce about AppleII's and games like Oregon Trail

CoolBlue | May 2, 2007 03:20 PM

Don

That said, I personally am willing to believe it has not much to do with PR and is instead just a ill-handled and of-questionable-effectiveness move to address security concerns.

I pretty much agree with this assessment.

marciepooh1976 | May 2, 2007 03:25 PM

Kinda' sad we can't trust our soldiers. And yes, they have always been censored to some extent. But this ones hard.

It seems like a bad idea to cut soldiers off from thier families this way and the public from the information.(Are stolen web-cam moments with ones children still allowed? Only with CO present?) It also sounds unworkable - no CO has time to read everything going out. (Or in for that matter. my fomer-step-nephew could not recieve "bad news" while out on sub cruises)

Is the paper mail still censored?

Frank | May 2, 2007 03:32 PM

marciepooh1976

Kinda' sad we can't trust our soldiers.

Well here's the thing: A least with respect to bloggers, I know of no instance where one has been accused of violating, let alone demonstrably violated, Operational Security.

Maybe someone else does, but I don't. And I keep an eye on such things.

marciepooh1976 | May 2, 2007 03:39 PM

Oh, I think we should trust them. I mean they are willing to fight and die for millions of people they have never met. It is just sad that the "loose lips, sinks ships" mentality rules the day.

I would be surprised if any soldier accidently violated OpSec.

Steve Buchheit | May 2, 2007 03:58 PM

The most interesting thing to me is that this order includes contractors and families of soldiers and contractors.

CosmicDog | May 2, 2007 04:01 PM

This is obviously a very complex problem. The real issue here is personal liberty vs corporate security.

We Americans are so use to enjoying our rights, like Freedom of Speech, that we are repulsed, rightly, whenever we see those rights being stripped from others, whether it's happening to our citizens or not.

However, the conceptual problem here is that soldiers, especially active duty soldiers in a war zone, do not have these rights. The men and women charged with protection of America's citizens sacrifice many of their rights in order to serve this purpose. The military system is not a democracy, it can't be. It seems unfair that a soldier may give his life to protect your right to freedom of speech and, yet, not enjoy that right himself. This is why we must always remember to honor the sacrifices of the men and women in our armed forces. They are giving up more than we know.

Let me give you an example of how 'loose lips sink ships' from a civilian context. I work for the County Welfare Department. We have knowledge and access to extremley sensitive and personal information about everyone that receives services. Names, birthdates, social security numbers, their parents' names, their work history, etc. In order to protect the public, we have a blanket of confidentiality laws. Basically, we cannot acknowledge that a case even exists unless it's to an authorized party. A very good rule. Now, we're not supposed to even talk about cases amongst ourselves (the staff) unless there is a direct business need. Most of us ignore this rule. We are not to ever discuss a case outside of the Welfare office. Some of us have ignored this rule. Both instances have been costly. One instance, a couple of workers were discussing a case on the bus. They were careful to avoid using the client's name, but shared enough information that the person sitting behind them was able to figure out who they were talking about. The customer called the supervisor complaining that those workers told everyone on the bus her personal business. Those worker were dismissed and were sued by the client for breaching her confidentiality.

It was not an intentional violation, the workers did not know who was listening to their conversation or what could be inferred from their conversation.

This example is not a life or death situation. A soldier, even a careful one, may accidentally leak information that could comprise his security and the security of his unit leading to tragedy.

I enjoy reading milblogs, but I would easily trade them for just a little more security/safety for the troops.

That's my perspective.

Tom Nixon | May 2, 2007 04:02 PM

I would be surprised if any soldier accidently violated OpSec

I wouldn't. Having been in the military, I saw it happen on a fairly regular basis. I was in the Navy stationed in Japan and we would regularly pull into ports where the locals already knew we were coming. How did they know? Letters from sailors on our own ships. Yes, they should have known better.

I can't imagine things have changed much.

David Klecha | May 2, 2007 05:04 PM

I suspect this is one of those things that is, itself an overcorrection, and will find correction back in the other direction before too long.

I also find interesting that it seems limited to the Army.

What's really interesting is that I have a relative who is an Army civilian employee. Somehow, I don't think I'll be vetting my blog through his boss.

Tor | May 2, 2007 05:08 PM

David - I think you should vet your blog through his CO - see what the reaction is!

Tom Nixon - I would guess that all this happened before the USS Cole. While I do not doubt that it happened then, I would be surprised if it happend now, especially in areas where there was a danger of an attack. Which is a lot of places...

Kami | May 2, 2007 05:49 PM

One hypothesis is that the Congress will be examining how effective the surge is real soon now, and it would be embarrassing if information got to the public that did not support spin that the surge is effective. The situation is unlikely to get significantly worse OR better, and the contents of the milblogs are likely to illustrate that absence of change.

Goner | May 2, 2007 06:00 PM

Tor - I worked in army intelligence in the middle-east during and post Iraqi Freedom and can attest that the kind of thing Tom refers to is still happening. It's not that the soldiers are dumb or careless, just that they don't realize what conclusions can be drawn from even the most innocuous seeming information. It takes training and/or hard experience to start to develop the near-paranoia and sheer bloody-mindedness necessary to grasp the extent to which innocuous-seeming information can be used against you.

Personal example. In Afghanistan a cook on a firebase ordered twice as much food as usual from the local vendors one morning. By the time the convoy he was preparing to feed rolled in that evening the local police were expecting them, along with most of the local village. No one in the area was interested in ambushing them so nothing bad happened. But, had there been such individuals in the area that day, that cook just gave away enough information to kill a couple of GIs.

Had he written a glowing report in his blog about the loads of high quality fresh produce he was able to procure for the convoy the effect would have been the same. The hard fact is that the personal lives of the soldiers doing the blogging are directly affected by the operations they perform and support. Patterns in one are defined by patterns in the other. And if the enemy can predict what you're going to do he can take advantage of it.

The cook in question was not disciplined in any way, of course. He did nothing wrong or even stupid. He just did his job. You can't make the soldiers stop using food to eat. You CAN make them stop blogging indiscriminately.

There's a fine line between opsec measures that help and those that do more harm than good. Putting a stop to blogging may be over that line, it's a hard call and depends on the situation on the ground. I can't tell from here in the states. But a good case can certainly be made for the theory.

I personally think that restricting email as heavily as they propose IS over the line. It's not nearly as easy for the enemy to gain access to an American's email as it is to look at a blog. And, arguably, a soldier's morale is vastly more improved or injured by his ability to keep in touch with his family, than by his ability to blog.

Kami | May 2, 2007 06:09 PM

Er, let me explain what I mean re:the situation not getting worse or better due to the surge. I simply mean that since the "additional" deployments ramp up gradually over months, reaching a peak in September before beginning to tail off again, it will be hard to attribute any specific effect* to the surge. However, the milblogs will produce lots of individual little bits of information over the next 4 months that will both support and refute the hypothesis that the surge is effective.

I don't think clamping down on the milblogs will be effective in enhancing the spin of the surge situation. I can see why some might believe that, tho.

*positive or negative

JonathanMoeller | May 2, 2007 06:20 PM

Actually, there's a good argument to be made in favor of controlling blogging in terms of OPSEC. Think of the Battle of Midway; a forged message about a water shortage played a major role in the battle.

But the bigger issue is that the government has so utterly lost all credibility that no one believes they don't have an ulterior motive. At this point, the President, the Vice President, and the Secretary of Defense could issue solemn sworn statements affirming that the sun sets in the west, and people would still think they're full of crap, or trying to win seats in 08, or hoping to provoke war with Iran.

LCB | May 2, 2007 09:57 PM

As an email administrator I have to tell all of you...email...especially generic email like hotmail, aol, gmail, etc., is very, very easy to intercept, copy and send on its way. When you send an email the server shoots the email out on to the internet with an IP address...and the address hits routers that pass it along seeking the best rout to its destination. Email from some place like IRAQ can only funnel through a limited amount of channels. Yes, email can be encrypted...but how much of it is?

As far as the blogs...this policy seems to change every time there is a change of command somewhere. This all reminds me of the problems Michael Yon (http://www.michaelyon-online.com/) is having in Iraq as an independent reporter. Last time he was in Iraq he was made to feel welcome. This time...under a different command...the Army seems to be doing everything it can to hinder his reporting.

Jeri | May 2, 2007 11:08 PM

I am not in total agreement with the controls but can follow them, right up until they talk about banning or imposing controls on family members' blogs.

I was a military wife for a few years.. he got out after Desert Storm, flailed around for a while joblessly, we've been divorced for a decade. The military had absolutely no legal authority to constrain my actions - I signed no enlistment or commissioning papers, did not live on base, and lived my own completely independent life. Neither did my husband have any authority to constrain my actions, there were no promises to obey in that particular ceremony. The best he could have done is filter what information he provided me.

If as a military wife I wanted to blog anti-war, or pro GAO controls, or about the sex life of the Iraqi sand scorpion - I could. I don't believe my First Amendment freedom of speech rights were abridged by my marriage.

Jeri | May 2, 2007 11:09 PM

I am not in total agreement with the controls but can follow them, right up until they talk about banning or imposing controls on family members' blogs.

I was a military wife for a few years.. he got out after Desert Storm, flailed around for a while joblessly, we've been divorced for a decade. The military had absolutely no legal authority to constrain my actions - I signed no enlistment or commissioning papers, did not live on base, and lived my own completely independent life. Neither did my husband have any authority to constrain my actions, there were no promises to obey in that particular ceremony. The best he could have done is filter what information he provided me.

If as a military wife I wanted to blog anti-war, or pro GAO controls, or about the sex life of the Iraqi sand scorpion - I could. I don't believe my First Amendment freedom of speech rights were abridged by my marriage.

Jeri | May 2, 2007 11:12 PM

Very strange - the blog gave me a "in an effort to curb malicious posting you must wait a while after your last post before posting again - please retry later" error. My previous post was a day ago! So I did wait a few min, and it posted both of 'em. Please edit appropriately... thanks!

Chris | May 2, 2007 11:25 PM

Hey, I am an active duty Officer and I can say that I absolutely support this regulation and I would say that this regulation is merely formalizing what has already been in place in a number of organizations. The good thing about this regulation is that while many organizations downrange have implemented regulations similiar to this, others have not and it caused an inequality amongst the ranks which required that it get clarified in regulations in one form or another.

Additionally, I think it is also important to do a word search of the regulation attached to article in which only information that is 'critical and sensitive' is covered under the blog/email stipulation. Exact wording of critical (sensitive definition is similiar):

"b. Critical information.
(1) Critical information is defined as information important to the successful achievement of U.S. objectives and missions, or which may be of use to an adversary of the United States.
(2) Critical information consists of specific facts about friendly capabilities, activities, limitations (includes vulnerabilities), and intentions needed by adversaries for them to plan and act effectively so as to degrade friendly mission accomplishment.
(3) Critical information is information that is vital to a mission that if an adversary obtains it, correctly analyzes it, and acts upon it, the compromise of this information could prevent or seriously degrade mission success."

As a matter of practice, when I have been deployed where similiar regulations have been in place, blogs were allowed and while they were required to be registered and occasionally monitored, Soldiers were allowed to proceed and I imagine that this regulation will not result in much of a sea-change and essentially this story is really much about nothing.

One other contributor here made a good point that is to be remembered though and that is that why we defend democracy, we ultimately freely live in a much more restrictive system than the general population lives. Soldiers are not allowed to criticize their chain of command in open forums, we are not allowed to campaign for political parties, have to follow all legal orders (distasteful or not), submit to medical treatments (Anthrax shots) that civilians can opt out of....not complaining at all, just stating facts. Bottom Line in the end is that regulations such as these are part of our military way of life and culture and as a volunteer army, we have the right to leave service at the end of our obligation if we find this sorts of things too onerous.

Cheers!

Chris

Terry Karney | May 3, 2007 01:16 AM

It's nonsense.

Troops aren't giving away operational details, and the likelihood of it being caught, and processed, in time to have an effect is really slim.

What this does it prevent the easy dissemination of how the troops feel. I had e-mail, but no ability to blog. Blogs were actually off-limits in our AO because of bandwidth issues. I did a mass-mailing, but apart from some forwarding, no one was putting it out. (this was 2003, OIF 1)

It wasn't available to the general public.

But when one can blog, one can see, in as close to real time, what a large slice of the troops really think. That's something the PTB aren't fond of. Never have been.

This is offensive, on the deepest levels.

Ed Bartlett | May 3, 2007 01:41 AM

Speaking as a former infantryman, I believe the Army is simply attempting to tighten up OPSEC. You'd be amazed how little information it takes for the enemy to figure out what's going on. I can even give you an example, something I personally experienced. In 1989, I knew a month before the official word came down that we were invading Panama. I didn't have a Top Secret clearance, no one who was "In the know" confided in me, and I didn't stumble across any classified documents. No, instead I had conversations with three different people over a week long period, and each one of them mentioned something in passing. By themselves these tidbits meant nothing, but put together it was as plain as day.

That said, some quick thoughts on points others have brought up:

1: Though I believe that this order has its roots in security issues, I also have no doubt that others have jumped on the bandwagon in hopes to limit bad press. Unfortunate, but not surprising.

2. As someone else already noted, soldiers have no right of free speech. They gave up that right, and many others, when they joined. Being ordered not to speak about what's going on in a combat zone isn't unusual, in fact it's the norm. As it should be.

3. Do I think this will bite the Army in the ass? Absolutely. Do I think it's an over reaction? I don't know, I don't have enough facts to make that determination. And will this decision eventually be overturned, due to a negative reaction? Quite possibly. We'll have to wait and see.

Max | May 3, 2007 04:08 AM

http://blog.wired.com/defense/files/army_reg_530_1_updated.pdf

Just in case anyone's interested.

Anonymous | May 3, 2007 04:18 AM

My favorite bit:

"'Sensitive' information is defined here (at section 1-5(c)(3)(e)) to include not just vital details of military operations and technologies but also documents marked "For
Official Use Only" (FOUO) that may be exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

It follows that inquisitive members of the press or the public who actively pursue such FOUO records may be deemed enemies of the United States. "

LTC Yingling's looking smarter and smarter. Or at least braver.

jon | May 3, 2007 06:43 AM

when you view military paradigms and consider the outfall,then consider the potential bodycount that could happen,I think that grunts should be aware of their responsibility to themselves and every other mother's son that is, unfortunately tied up in this conflict that was decided by some upper echelon business man,or women,then they/we need to realise that our opinion should not enter into the forum- that is one side of the coin- the other is that through the previous horrific theatres of war of the 20th century there has been allways been letters home from our lads.

TCO | May 3, 2007 08:20 AM

I don't care if people blog from Iraq, because that's not a war (we won the war, yes...lefties and righties are both wrong) it's an occupation. We shouldn't be there anyway, and I'm sick of people conflating actual war with peacekeeping.

I don't think soldiers in active war should be allowed to blog. Nor submarine sailors. Nor anyone who handles crypto.

Tor | May 3, 2007 11:11 AM

Goner - good points - point granted. That being said, I don't know where we go from here. I could try to make the point that since OPSEC is often compromised without the use of blogs, does it make sense to restrict it with regard to blogs - i.e. how much OPSEC is reasonable? But while I'm comfortable talking out of my ass on a lot of issues, I don't feel anywhere near qualified to have an opinion on OPSEC in a war zone. For the safety of the troops, it seems that you would want as much as possible - but I have no idea if that could or should be tempered by other considerations.

Jim Wright | May 3, 2007 01:31 PM

Chris: Hey, I am an active duty Officer and I can say that I absolutely support this regulation.

I'm an active officer as well, Chris, and in principle I agree with this policy and your comments - but I think it's both based on outdated paradigms and is completely unenforceable. For example, does the restriction apply to comments in other people's blogs, like you and I are doing right now?

--------------

I've had to censor the blog of one of my young Sailor's - not for OPSEC purposes, but because his comments were in direct violation of good order and discipline, and because he was violating the "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy (and you can read that any way you like). I don't have time to do this for every member of my command. And I damn sure don't have the authority to do it outside of my Command, as Jeri so correctly pointed out. While OPSEC is absolutely imperative, the Information Age is making total information control impossible unless you completely deny your force's access to the grid - there's always some piece of information that slips out. Remember that the only way to prevent information from leaking out is to deny all access - that's email, IM, text and video from cell phones, snail mail, and etc ad infinitum. And suddenly shutting down access is a form of actionable information in and of itself. So access would have to denied all the time, period, so as not leave indicators at critical moments. Not possible, or at least not practical in the real world.

What's the solution? Simple, saturation. Give every Soldier, Sailor, Marine, etc. a blog. Saturate the information environment. There have to be ground rules, but those rules mostly exist already in the OPSEC instructions and in the UCMJ. The shear volume of information does more to hide the critical data than censorship ever does. Need an example? All the information regarding the 911 perpetrators existed in the information grid prior to the attack, some pieces were even discovered, but the massive amount of hay in the haystack hid the needles quite effectively. There are other implications to this form of information saturation, but I'll leave those as an exercise for the reader.

Anonymous | May 3, 2007 02:02 PM

I'm interested in your thoughts on this and whether it makes sense, or is merely another example of pointless censorship.

Pointless and dumb.

Blogging is a force mulitplier - it enhances the the capabilities the troops have by enabling faster and better communication.

Goner | May 3, 2007 03:36 PM

Jim Wright - Information saturation works very well as an obfuscator when you don't know exactly what you're looking for. Your example of the 9-11 hijackers was a good one. However, it ONLY works when you don't know exactly what you're looking for. The FBI was simply looking for "things that might be a threat" at that point. If the FBI had known they were looking for suspects taking flight training they would have been able to narrow the search considerably and identified the men concerned very quickly.

In the context of our current discussion, once the enemy knows they're looking for blogs out of Camp Fallujah, or any other specific area, or from a particular unit, say, 3rd bn 6th marine regiment, the search is immediately narrowed into usability.

Hiding intelligence through saturation only works when you have no means by which to narrow the search. Last I checked Google was very good at zeroing in on information on the web.

Jim Wright | May 3, 2007 05:24 PM

Blogging is a force mulitplier - it enhances the the capabilities the troops have by enabling faster and better communication.

Hmmm, maybe, in principle. However, blogging by definition (and the global information grid in general) is not subject to any form of rigorous information assurance. I.E. there is no entity that screens information for such basic criteria as Relevance, Accuracy, Timeliness, etc. Sometimes, and especially in a chaotic situation, faster comms is not always better comms.

Jim Wright | May 3, 2007 05:38 PM

Goner: Agreed. And the situation is not nearly as simple as I made it sound in my original post. My intended point was that it is impossible to prevent blogging by military members. Though the Army didn't say you couldn't blog, rather that your blog needed to be vetted by the commander. That's not really possible either, commanders simply don't have the assets and standards are not clearly established as to what is permissible and what is not. Determining that requires even more assets, assets that should be doing something else. On the other hand, no commander would, or should, be comfortable with information hemorrhage from his forces that he cannot control. OPSEC has acknowledged this condition since the beginning of organized military forces. The best you can do is educate your troops, put reasonable safeguards in place, and be vigilant to a practical level.

Patrick | May 3, 2007 11:15 PM

I don't have a problem with a general rule banning blogs by soldiers. What concerns me is that they'll be permitting blogs on a case by case basis. A general rule banning blogs would be fair and impartial. I think you have to be genuinely, willfully stupid to think that a rule permitting blogs on a case by case basis won't be, in practice, more about controlling public perception of the war back in America rather than protecting soldiers in the field.

It should be all or nothing.

Brian | May 4, 2007 12:07 AM

Sometimes, and especially in a chaotic situation, faster comms is not always better comms.

Point taken; the first guy who runs by you yelling about the awful defeat is a) the fastest runner and b) the guy who didn't stick around to get a good read on what was going on.

Still - I'll take faster coms over slower anyday, and trust that the troops can separate the wheat from chaff.

Don Fitch | May 6, 2007 03:40 AM

My guess is that this is partly one of those "We need to be perceived as Doing Something" orders that officers in the rear echelons are so fond of, partly a "We can give and enforce Orders" thing, partly a way to eliminate much subversion of Administrative propaganda & spin, and partly a Security matter -- with the last being the least important of the reasons for imposing it.

In my military experience (Korea, c. 1951-2, but I doubt things have changed significantly) the troops didn't know much that would be useful to The Enemy, and more than half of what they thought they knew was false rumor.

It seems to me that if any of the four major Enemy groups that are fighting us in Iraq have enough people who are fluent in English to wade through hundreds of blogs and thousands of emails every day, winnowing fact from fiction and identifying significant details, we're in much more serious Trouble than even the more pessimistic people I know imagine we are.

But it doesn't seem likely that even Al Qa'ida has that kind of Professional Warfare capability, and I'd suggest that the negative possibilities of blogs & email are much less than the negative effects banning them is likely to have on the morale and psychology of our troops.

It looks to me as though this is just another of those Zero Tolerance things that so often go awry. *sigh*


Jennie | May 6, 2007 10:37 AM

Apparently the President is unaware of this change in policy, as the following was posted to the White House website the same morning John started this post:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/05/20070502-2.html

...I talk to a lot of families who have got a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan, or anywhere else in this global war on terror, and they are in constant communication with their loved one. That's amazing, isn't it. You've got a kid in Iraq who is emailing mom daily, talking about the realities of what he or she sees. Information is moving -- you know, nightly news is one way, of course, but it's also moving through the blogosphere and through the Internets. It's amazing how many emails I see from people that are writing in what they think and what they hear....

TCO | May 11, 2007 02:16 PM

The restrictions are both precedented* and legal and the people here who say that tidbits of info are not valuable are not leaking are never served or never thought morons. That said, it may be a horse well out of the barn.

*For instance, I know of outfits where even having a diary was banned because of their secrecy.

TCO | May 11, 2007 04:12 PM

You know, the intel that I gathered on you from the Nebula award stuff, SFWA writer thing is a perfect example of how blogs can allow sneaky mujahedins to get intel. Even when bloggers think they are not revealing things. I'm shorting you on Trade Sports, now Scalzi.

John Scalzi | May 11, 2007 04:22 PM

Oh, noes! I's been shorted! I'm short enough as it is.

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