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."
Army Regulation 530--1: Operations Security (OPSEC) (.pdf) restricts more than just blogs, however. Previous editions of the rules asked Army personnel to "consult with their immediate supervisor" before posting a document "that might contain sensitive and/or critical information in a public forum." The new version, in contrast, requires "an OPSEC review prior to publishing" anything -- from "web log (blog) postings" to comments on internet message boards, from resumes to letters home.
Army Lawyer reviews AR 530-1 OPSEC at MILBLOGS:
By its terms, the new OPSEC regulation does not require approval of all communications beforehand, rather, the obligation is to consult. But as Noah's article points out, the proponent doesn't envision all communications to be monitored nor would it be practical to do so. When a regulation's proponent gives you that kind of guidance, you hang your hat on it.
But even without that, the guidelines still place the authority (or burden) on the commander. Commanders are as varied as snowflakes. Will some lean too far forward and say "no blogs"? Yes. but they could have done that before. While a commander may technically say "No Myspace" "No Ebay" and "No AKO forum posting" they are not obligated to do so under the regulation and, truth be told, commanders that ARE so lacking in common sense probably have other concerns within their units.
From the Small Wars Council:
I have not had the chance to wade through all 79 pages of the document I'm not supposed to know about, but I hope there is more to the plan than wiping the sticky booger of enforcement and "responsibility" on the shirt of commanders who, having more important things to spend their excruciatingly limited time on but still hoping to pick up MAJ before they retire, will just lock up all the key boards and unceremoniously crucify a few "examples."
This sounds... like a Super FOB IO strategy. We'll build these walls around us and communicate only on approved internal lines of communication with internal approval of approved internal discussions so that we can ensure we are discussing approved questions with approved solutions which we will then dissiminate at approved CTC and publications. The latency will be huge! The timeliness of useful information which can be placed in the correct context so that it can be applied will be largely neutralized. But we will be safe.
OK - this may not have been the intent - but that may not matter if someone does not clarify the directive - remember perceptions are reality.
I've had this conversation with friends who are military before: there are security implications and security violators, I get it. Well, way to throw the baby out with the bathwater. In this war, for the first time, service members have been able to offer virtually real time critique of the press coverage of the war from the combat zone. It is impossible to measure what impact or influence that has had, but the military keeps saying it believes this is an information war, and keeps acting as if information is completely irrelevant to the conduct of the war or to the ability to sustain support for the war.
This new policy reminds me much of Soviet attempts to keep the truth from the people. It's such a shame with all the good that our Marines/Soldiers/Sailors/Airmen are doing on the ground that we're resorting to something like this. If this policy rules the day, "strategic" corporal will forever be a defensive term only. Instead of going in this direction, I'd like the policy to encourage our warriors to photograph, videotape and transmit their actions to the world on the internet. Train them, teach them about war among the people, why the people are the center of gravity, why the will of the American people is so important, why the American people need to see more than IEDs and firefights and then let them run. We can win the IO component of this fight if we train our warriors and then let them speak. As a very wise Middle East and Terrorism expert said the other day, "We'd better tell our story at the tactical, operational and strategic levels because if we don't our enemy will, and we won't like what he has to say."
I am curious as to what blog post prompted this reaction. If it was not a dozy then this reaction measure is certainly pretty dizzy to us uninformed who want to support the war effort.
On its face this appears to be a unilateral surrender in the media battle space where our enemy has been kicking our butt for some time. What seems inarguable at this point is the authors of this order have not explained themselves and until they do the lack of apparent wisdom of this idea will be all that is seen.
I have to say, even from my civilian perspective, the genius behind this new regulation is one sorry, out of touch, a-hole.
The primary effect of this idiocy will be to corrupt our own feedback loops by suppressing *truthful* information from guys observing conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa. The sorts of CYA things the brass in any war likes to keep from their superiors, the Congress, the media and the folks back home ( I note the American media is on a PPT diagram with drug kingpins, al Qaida and Warlords - that juxtaposition pretty much says it all in terms of the reigning Army IO philosophy). It is my expectation that such an effect was the primary purpose behind these regs as the international Islamist movement is not going to be inconvenienced in the slightest.
The proper move would have been OPSEC education - milbloggers aren't stupid. Hermetically sealing the military off from the world ( which won't succeed anyway) is the sign of siege mentality in the officer corps and a harbinger of decline.
The Blogosphere reacts:
Dadmanly - The End of MILBLOGS?
Black Five - The End of Military Blogging
Captain's Quarters - Army To Milbloggers: About Face
MilBlogs - The End of MilBlogs?
InstaPundit - Bullet, Meet Foot
PrairiePundit - Military Bloggers Confused by New Regulation
Secrecy News - Army Clamps Down with New OPSEC Policy
OPFOR - Aw, Hell
ROFASIX - Silence of the Warrior
My Vast Right Wing Conspiracy - Army Surrenders in the Information War
Update via Captain's Quarters - Milbloggers Safe?
UPDATE AND BUMP: The Army has issued a clarification on this order:
- In no way will every blog post/update a Soldier makes on his or her blog need to be monitored or first approved by an immediate supervisor and Operations Security (OPSEC) officer. After receiving guidance and awareness training from the appointed OPSEC officer, that Soldier blogger is entrusted to practice OPSEC when posting in a public forum.
- Army Regulation 350-1, "Operations Security," was updated April 17, 2007 -- but the wording and policies on blogging remain the same from the July 2005 guidance first put out by the U.S. Army in Iraq for battlefield blogging. Since not every post/update in a public forum can be monitored, this regulation places trust in the Soldier, Civilian Employee, Family Member and contractor that they will use proper judgment to ensure OPSEC.
- Much of the information contained in the 2007 version of AR 530-1 already was included in the 2005 version of AR 530-1. For example, Soldiers have been required since 2005 to report to their immediate supervisor and OPSEC officer about their wishes to publish military-related content in public forums.
- Army Regulation 530-1 simply lays out measures to help ensure operations security issues are not published in public forums (i.e., blogs) by Army personnel.
- Soldiers do not have to seek permission from a supervisor to send personal E-mails. Personal E-mails are considered private communication. However, AR 530-1 does mention if someone later posts an E-mail in a public forum containing information sensitive to OPSEC considerations, an issue may then arise.
What does this mean? It means that bloggers will get trained in OpSec rules and regulations, and then allowed to police their own conduct. The key word here is "trust". The Army got this right today.
Now, the question is whether Wired got it wrong in the first place.