Wednesday, May 02, 2007


[posted by Callimachus]

First, Noah Shachtman at Wired reports Wednesday on "new rules" that would effectively kill military blogging:

The U.S. Army has ordered soldiers to stop posting to blogs or sending personal e-mail messages, without first clearing the content with a superior officer, Wired News has learned. The directive, issued April 19, is the sharpest restriction on troops' online activities since the start of the Iraq war. And it could mean the end of military blogs, observers say.

Military officials have been wrestling for years with how to handle troops who publish blogs. Officers have weighed the need for wartime discretion against the opportunities for the public to personally connect with some of the most effective advocates for the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq -- the troops themselves. The secret-keepers have generally won the argument, and the once-permissive atmosphere has slowly grown more tightly regulated. Soldier-bloggers have dropped offline as a result.

The new rules (.pdf) obtained by Wired News require a commander be consulted before every blog update.

"This is the final nail in the coffin for combat blogging," said retired paratrooper Matthew Burden, editor of The Blog of War anthology. "No more military bloggers writing about their experiences in the combat zone. This is the best PR the military has -- it's most honest voice out of the war zone. And it's being silenced."

The directive is here. I have waded through a lot of military jargon during historical research, but this one gave me a headache, and I confess I still don't know what it intends to do.

The reaction in the 'Sphere, needless to say, was blunt and furious. I think Captain Ed got closest to what I would have said (if he hadn't said it first), if the "Wired" account is essentially correct:

The Army gets paid to protect operational security. In this war, more than any other, the enemies of our troops use the Internet to their advantage, both in their own communications and to scope out their enemies -- the American military and government. If troops have leaked classified information either deliberately or inadvertently through their on-line communications, this would be a large area of concern to the Pentagon.

However, no one has any evidence that milbloggers have violated Opsec orders in their communications. The one example offered in Wired is an old story about how people noticed a lot of parked cars and an uptick in pizza deliveries to the Pentagon on January 16, 1991, which presaged the imminent activation of Operation Desert Storm. That seems rather picayune, not to mention outdated.

If that's the extent of their concern and the extent of the violations, then they have sacrificed a powerful voice of support for the Army and the mission in favor of an almost-useless silence. The author of the new rules, Major Ray Ceralde, claims that it won't kill milblogging, but the regulations make it so cumbersome that it will be impossible to maintain blogs -- or even e-mail.

... In practical terms, a commanding officer would have to approve every blog post, every e-mail, and every forum post before the soldier could complete it. With the prodigious red tape of the military and the other duties of commanding officers, that means it could take days, weeks, or even forever before those requests get addressed. The immediacy of the information will be lost, and so will interest in it.

Milbloggers have provided a vital voice in this war, reporting from vantage points unattainable elsewhere. We have learned about the successes in this war, such as rebuilding efforts and the enthusiasm of Iraqis in neighborhoods protected by American forces, that we do not get in our mainstream media since the embed program ended. Nothing appears ready to replace it except for official Pentagon statements, which carry less weight with the reading public than the soldiers on the front line.

See also here, here, here.

By tonight, the wire services were on the story. Which only made it more confusing. AP presents it as nothing new at all, just a stronger warning about an old policy, and in fact seems to suggest this fresh version of the regulation is less explicit.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Army is taking stronger steps to warn soldiers they will be punished if they reveal sensitive military information on Web sites or blogs.

While the possibility of punishment is not new, the Army spells out in recently published regulations the range of actions if soldiers "fail to protect critical and sensitive information."

Some Web logs, also called blogs, raised alarms this week, suggesting the Army was cracking down anew on soldiers who have blogs. But the bulk of the regulations released April 19 mirror rules published in 2005 that required soldiers to consult with commanders before "publishing or posting information" in a public forum.

The regulation is not as explicit as the one issued by commanders in Iraq two years ago that requires soldiers in war zones to register their blogs with the military.

Army Maj. Ray M. Ceralde, who worked on the new regulations, said Wednesday the intention of the 2007 rule is not to have soldiers clear every public posting with commanders.

"Not only is that impractical, but we are trusting the soldiers to protect critical information," he said.

He said there is no effort to block soldiers from setting up or posting comments to blogs. "We're not looking for them to seek approval each time a blog entry is posted," Ceralde said.

The rules, he said, do not affect personal, private e-mails that soldiers send. "Soldiers have a right to private communications with their families," he said.

Instead, Ceralde said, soldiers are expected to consult or clear with commanders when they start a blog, in part so they can be warned about information they cannot publish.

Ceralde said Army leaders wanted to emphasize the importance of maintaining operational security. Soldiers will be punished if they publicly reveal sensitive information, such as troop movements, planned raids, travel itineraries of senior leaders, or photographs of casualties, new technology or other material that could compromise their location.

Reuters, on the other hand, makes it a "tightening" of restrictions and hints it's directed at service people no longer on the frontlines.

WASHINGTON, May 2 (Reuters) - The U.S. Army is tightening restrictions on soldiers' blogs and other Web site postings to ensure sensitive information about military operations does not make it onto public forums.

Soldiers in war zones are already subject to restrictions on blogging and public posts. But the Army's new regulation could affect service members who have returned from war zones and started blogs about their combat experiences.

Under a new directive issued in April, soldiers must consult with their immediate supervisor and an officer responsible for what's known within the military as operational security, or OPSEC, for a review of planned publications.

Reviews will be needed for Web site postings, blog postings, discussions on Internet information forums and discussions on Internet message boards, according to the Army directive.

E-mail that will be published in a public forum is also subject to review under the regulation. But Army officers said personal e-mails will not be reviewed, calling that impractical.

"We're not asking that people not blog but that people be cognizant of OPSEC," said Army spokesman Paul Boyce.

Not for nothing do the more hot-headed Iraq supporters call this agency "Al Reuters." Note the truncated "Army officers said personal e-mails will not be reviewed, calling that impractical," where the fuller AP account, presumably from the same press conference, has " 'Not only is that impractical, but we are trusting the soldiers to protect critical information,' Ceralde said."

The WaPo talks to all the right bloggers, gets the good quotes, and fails to shed any light on what this really is or whether it's a dramatic new policy or an old one juggled.

If the Wired take on it is anywhere near right, however, here's a message from me to Mr. President: "It's the stupid, stupid."

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