Deep Sixty-Sixed?

Deep Sixty-Sixed?

Occasionally (about once a month) I read military blogs to get a better idea of the morale and status of the US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the blogs I especially enjoy is Sixty-Six.org written by a member of the Minnesota National Guard currently on active-duty in Iraq.

The only problem is that I don’t know how long I will be able to keep reading it. According to Noah Schachtmann at the Danger Room,

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.

Now the blogs I read are extremely careful not to put a time or a place on anything. Usually you simply get a feel for the emotional rollercoaster these service people are on. And perhaps that’s the problem.

Of course pizza is a bit of a threat as well. Pizza?! Yeah. Pizza.

“It’s true that from an OPSEC (operational security) perspective, almost anything — pizza orders, office lights lit at odd hours, full or empty parking lots — can potentially tip off an observer that something unusual is afoot,” he added. “But real OPSEC is highly discriminating. It does not mean cutting off the flow of information across the board. If on one day in 1991 an unusual number of pizza orders coincided with the start of Desert Storm, it doesn’t mean that information about pizza orders should now be restricted. That’s not OPSEC, that’s just stupidity.”

So sending an e-mail order to the local pizza parlor or telling your wife – “Honey I’ll be late for dinner” if you work at the Pentagon has now become a definite no,no. (Not that it was ever a yes, yes. But still.)

The issue here isn’t having a rule that can be enforced up front but something that can be used later, after the fact, for any ‘problem’ that might occur. It is a sword hanging over the head of anyone in the military. Even the Army doesn’t think these kinds of issues can be handled this way,

“The potential for an OPSEC violation has thus far outstripped the reality experienced by commanders in the field,” [Major Elizabeth Robbins] wrote [in a paper (pdf) for the Army’s Combined Arms Center].

And in some military circles, bloggers have gained forceful advocates. The Office of the Secretary of Defense, for example, now regularly arranges exclusive phone conferences between bloggers and senior commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq. Major Robbins, for one, has argued strongly for easing the restrictions on the soldier-journalists.

The theater goes even further, in a classic case of Catch 22, military contractors, family and friends are also effected by the new rules. The catch. They aren’t able to access them.

Active-duty troops aren’t the only ones affected by the new guidelines. Civilians working for the military, Army contractors — even soldiers’ families — are all subject to the directive as well.

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.

For all those Minnesotans out there, you might keep your – um – ear on MPR tomorrow. Jon Gordon will be running a story on this at Future Tense.

I really hope my military blogs, including Sixty-Six.org don’t disappear. Deep sixed by the bureaucrats far from the families and the frontlines.

But maybe it’s just the American way. Opsec and Clusterf*ck.

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