The US Army has promulgated a new set of rules for operational security that puts restrictions on the ability of soldiers to write about their experiences in combat theaters. In fact, the change will be so restrictive as to have the practical effect of eliminating active-duty milbloggers, and silencing the voices from the front who have most actively promoted the war effort (via Michelle Malkin):
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. ...
"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 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 That seems rather picayune, not to mention outdated.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. Here's the relevant section:
g. 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.
(2) Supervisors will advise personnel to ensure that sensitive and critical information is not to be disclosed. Each
unit or organization’s OPSEC Officer will advise supervisors on means to prevent the disclosure of sensitive and
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.
The Army should be concerned about the operational security of the mission -- but without those voices engaging the American public, the mission may be lost here at home.
Addendum: I almost missed the most humorous part of the new rules. Many of the contractors bound by them can't get access to the new Opsec document:
But, while the regulations may apply to a broad swath of people, not everybody affected can actually read them. In a Kafka-esque turn, the guidelines are kept on the military's restricted Army Knowledge Online intranet. Many Army contractors -- and many family members -- don't have access to the site. Even those able to get in are finding their access is blocked to that particular file.
"Even though it is supposedly rewritten to include rules for contractors (i.e., me) I am not allowed to download it," e-mails Perry Jeffries, an Iraq war veteran now working as a contractor to the Armed Services Blood Program.
Does this remind anyone else of Catch-22?