Monday, September 06, 2004

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Soldiers’ blogs become more popular, cause concern for security

MOSUL, Iraq-- With an internet connection, Soldiers can send and post messages around the world. Instants after an event happens, the details can be transmitted back to family and friends in the form of emails and with new simple technology, can be posted in seconds on one of the web’s fastest growing trends, a weblog.A weblog is a personal website that contains dated entries of personal opinions, thoughts and essays. Weblogs often feature links to news articles or other “blogs” on the internet. Blogs have become popular recently because of web services such as Blogger, which make blogging possible even for those who aren’t familiar with website administration.This new technology is becoming an alternative perspective to traditional news sources. With bloggers in every country, every conflict and from every walk of life, people can access online personal accounts of daily events in addition to news coverage. Soldiers’ blogs give the public a more personalized and realistic view of the military and help to educate the public on the Army’s mission here. “Very few people can relate to the idealized image of perfection that comes in a GI Joe box, but everybody can relate to a 19-year-old Private who has a real life, and wife, and kids, one who suffers and complains and then saddles up anyway and gets the job done like soldiers always have,” said Soldier-blogger, Staff Sgt. (DS ROB), whose blog, “An American Soldier”, highlights his life as a basic training drill sergeant.

While phones aren’t always accessible in a combat zone, many Soldiers overseas have access to the internet through Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities. Weblogs are an alternative to emails for Soldiers to keep in touch with families and friends. Through a weblog, Soldiers can post a running personal account of daily events that is always available for view. Soldiers can also receive and respond to comments from readers through the blog’s comments feature. “At first, my blog was a way to keep my friends and family updated, but as folks outside my immediate family and friends began hearing about it, it grew rather quickly,” said Sgt. Chris M******. “With more people reading it, I became much more cognizant of what it was I was writing.”

Just as blogs can provide family and friends with information, blogs can also provide an opportunity for the enemy to gain valuable information that can be used in future attacks. What may seem like innocent information could be valuable knowledge to someone who knows what they are looking for. Much of the information that is collected by terrorist organizations is a compilation of information gathered from unclassified sources. Soldiers are representatives of the US military and their words can be taken to reflect the views of the US military. Something as simple as a negative comment, written in frustration, can be used by the enemy to portray the Multinational Forces in a bad light. Because what is posted on a weblog is free to the public, it can be used by the media and quoted to represent the facts and opinions of the military. In this sense, the views of a disgruntled specialist could be published as the views of all servicemembers, putting the military in a bad light. “I try not to divulge any information in my blog that I don’t have to. I know that things that seem innocent to most people could be put together by a skilled analyst and paint a bigger picture,” said (DS ROB).Subjects that are not acceptable to speak about on the phone or in letters or emails are also off limits to publishing on the web.

There is currently no specific military policy regarding weblogs, but the Department of Defense lays out basic Operational Security guidance in its Directive 5205.2. Some important areas of sensitivity in military situations are: military movements, activities, specific unit information and base security. Specific times or dates of future operations or movements should never be disclosed. Even figures such as guard duty hours or specific work hours shouldn’t be discussed. The enemy, like a thief or robber, watches for patterns to learn when the best time to strike is. The element of surprise is an important factor in many operations. The location of future or current operations should not be disclosed if the knowledge of this location could tip off the enemy to attack. If terrorists know there will be a raid in a specific neighborhood on a specific night, chances are they’re not going to be there. Details about military activities can also be revealing. If a terrorist knows that “every time we raid a house we enter from the front door and we bring ten people…” or “when we go out on patrol we always leave at the same time and take the same route…” it could assist him in planning an attack. Information about how base security is handled can help a terrorist to breach security for an attack on the base. Never disclose information about how many guards there are at the gate, the hours they usually perform vehicle searches, where the perimeter is the weakest or the location of weapons systems that are used to guard the gates to military bases.

Some bloggers have come up with suggestions about how to keep sensitive information out of their posts. 1st Lt. Jason Van S******* served as the executive officer for a light infantry company in Iraq before he returned to the U.S. in March. His blog, “Countercolumn”, was seen by an average of 2000 people each day in January. His advice to other Soldiers who want to start blogging is to, “concentrate on how the war affects the people around you, and how those around you cope with fear, stress, boredom, loneliness and tell those stories honestly and you won’t violate OPSEC.”

As a communications specialist, M***** deals with Operational Security issues every day. He knows the consequences that can occur when information gets into the wrong hands. “My one suggestion is to question everything you write. I look at every post and say to myself, does this put any soldiers’ lives or security at risk or does this reveal any information that would be beneficial to the enemy and does this portray the military in a negative light? If I ever have to answer yes to any of these questions, I simply won’t post it,” he said.In addition to proofreading, leadership can offer suggestions and a second opinion when operational security is in question. A noncommissioned officer or officer in your chain of command can provide a more specific idea of what may or may not be sensitive information in your area of operation. After reading his blog, M*****’s command set some basic rules and encouraged him to continue writing. “My commander said that my blog so far was great and gave me a list of items that I need to stay away from discussing. I have followed his suggestions thoroughly. From day one they never discouraged me from writing and said they felt it was beneficial for me and my readers.”

The Army has always encouraged Soldiers to write about their experiences as a way of dealing with the psychological impacts of war. Blogging can be a way for Soldiers to do this, as long as they keep operational security in mind. “I think most soldiers, once they step back and look at the big picture, would understand the need for some moderation. I am proud of the Army and of my job, so I let that show in my writing,” said (DS ROB).

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