Thursday, May 03, 2007

The End of MilBlogging? NOT!

There is an enormous amount of Sturm und Drang in the blogosphere, particularly among military bloggers aka milbloggers. The Army recently published an updated version of its regulation, AR 530-1 regarding operational security or OPSEC. Operational security refers to the need to deny enemy forces information about the who, what, where and how of our operations. The new regulation specifically mentions blogs. Some among us are portending doom, and calling this the end of milblogging.

The heart of the matter is the line in the regulation mentioning bloggers need to:

Consult with their immediate supervisor and their OPSEC Officer for an OPSEC review prior to publishing or posting information in a public forum.

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.

The other matter of contention is the application to family members. One blogger claimed soldiers would be court martialed if their family members did not submit their blogs for review.

A little rationality needs to be inserted into the discussion here. For starters the new regulation, as far as I can tell does not really create any new authorities for commanders, or any new responsibilities for soldiers under them. It does clarify OPSEC responsibilities. It makes it clear that no soldier in the future will be allowed to plead he did not know what his commanders OPSEC criteria were.

It holds commanders equally responsible, committing all Army commanders to developing OPSEC policies and procedures. A commander can no longer ignore blogging.
If a soldier blogs an OPSEC violation his commander will be questioned about his policies and safeguards. This is not an entirely bad development.

The mention of blogs brings the policy into line with the modern realities of war. Soldiers Blog. We have taken it as a God given right to spew our opinions and the minutiae of our daily existence in war zones. It is not entirely clear that we have lost anything. At least as far back as WWII, officers were censoring soldiers MAIL for OPSEC violations. This right has always existed, for the commander, he just hasn't exercised it much since the 1960s and Vietnam.

Now for the part that seems so odious today. "Consult with their immediate supervisor and their OPSEC Officer for an OPSEC review." OK it says CONSULT. It doesn't say the consulted MUST read it. It means they may review the material, it means they may want to review their guidelines before OKing the Post. It Also means that commanders will become familiar with those who are regularly posting and develop a sense of who they are and what they write. Those who blog positive, security violation free messages on a regular basis may be given more or less free reign. Those who don't understand OPSEC may be censored every time.

As for the idea that family members must submit to prior restraint, or their soldier will be court martialed, that notion is preposterous. Prior restraint, for civilians is unconstitutional, as is judicial punishment for actions of a third party, even in the Army.

Families are effected. The same way they were under the older less clear policy. If Sergeant Screamer sends Mrs Screamer an email with OPSEC sensitive information (like where he is going to be in Iraq next week.), and she publishes a letter to the editor in the Maybury Magazine, the Army can and may sanction Sgt Screamer for his violation. If Sgt. Screamer emails Mrs. Screamer classified (Isecret, top secret etc.) information (eg. a map of his FOB's defenses) and that ends up in MM then not only is he liable to Army punishment, but she can be prosecuted. Remember dissemination of classified information is a crime. Unless you are the NY Times.

There are some downsides to the new policy. Michelle Malkin has a few words about this.
Essentially the Army has scared its own best propaganda arm into, at least a temporary, silence. We all know that we can find negative stories about the military anywhere in the MSM. There's one a day in the NY Times. But good solid positive stories, about what we are doing in Iraq are best reported by milbloggers. And our audience is mostly pro-military as well. My sense is that the situation will eventually obtain equilibrium.


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