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Pentagon censors soldiers' blogs

Wednesday, November 01, 2006 by: Ben Kage
Tags: military, government censorship, internet censorship

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(NewsTarget) The U.S. military is again scrutinizing "milblogs" -- blogs by active duty or former military personnel -- and more are going offline in the wake of a renewed push to silence perceived security risks.

"Loose lips sink ships. That's been around since World War I, and hasn't changed in years," said Lt. Col. Stephen Warnock, team leader and battalion commander of a Manassas-based unit of 10 Virginia National Guard members and contractors from tech company CA assigned to review milblogs. The team mostly focuses on sites that have blog entries or photographs that could give away troop locations, activities or defense capabilities, or sites that may discuss official-use-only information or personal information about individual personnel.

Milblogs were mostly ignored when they first began cropping up, but now the Pentagon is paying close attention. Now milbloggers using government computers must check with commanders before publishing posts.

"Effective immediately, no information may be placed on websites that are readily accessible to the public unless it has been reviewed for security concerns and approved in accordance with Deputy Secretary of Defense Memorandum web site policies and procedures," said a Department of Defense web site alert.

There is great potential for security breaches through internet and email, but some current and former military personnel say the real conflict is between the military's tradition of censorship and young soldiers who have grown up on free digital information.

"They don't want to lose the traditional control they've had over information released from the battlefield to the American people," said John Noonan, co-editor of milblog OPFFOR. "It's counterintuitive for military guys who are used to total control over what information is released and what isn't, to all of a sudden having zero control."

Some milbloggers have voluntarily shut down their sites or censored their own posts, but others have said that the restrictions are too strict and soldiers fear reprisal from higher-ups in the chain of command.

"If they're getting that, they're not getting it from us," Warnock said. "We monitor hundreds of thousands of web pages every month, and we monitor dozens to hundreds of blogs. If we see something, we identify it, we review it and come to a decision as to whether it does violate operational security, and we will send a notification to the person if we can identify them as a soldier ... or to the people who maintain that network. We give screenshots, and specific violations that we've reviewed, and we say 'take a look at this, does this pass the commonsense test to you?'"

However, Mathew Currier Buden, who runs a blog called Blackfive and authored a milblog compendium called "The Blog of War," said that the military is sending mixed messages when milbloggers' posts are approved by immediate supervisors, but then later admonished by higher-ranked personnel. To address the issue, he joined with other milbloggers at the MilBlog Conference in Washington to discuss how to create milblogs that don't violate operational security without intimidating the bloggers.

"My advice would be to bring together active duty, reserve and veteran bloggers to take a look at this issue in a way that would help the military," Burden said. "There's a lot of positive information coming from these 1,200 or so military blogs, and if it's not positive, it's giving people a better understanding of what it's like to be a soldier or the family of a soldier fighting this war."

The MilBlog Conference will reconvene in May of 2007.


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