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Army Chief Of Staff Calls For More Oversight Of Military Bloggers

Certain members of the military are compromising U.S. operational security based on the material they're posting to blogs, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff warned in a memo to army leaders. Some soldiers have been disciplined for postings that violate Army policy.

Thomas Claburn

September 1, 2005

4 Min Read

Military bloggers are compromising operational security, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker cautioned in an August memo to Army leaders.

The memo was obtained by the Federation of American Scientists, an organization that supports humanitarian uses of science and technology, and posted on its Web site.

"The enemy aggressively 'reads' our open source and continues to exploit such information for use against our forces," Schoomaker warns in the memo. "Some soldiers continue to post sensitive information to Internet websites and blogs, e.g., photos depicting weapon system vulnerabilities and tactics, techniques, and procedures. Such OPSEC [operational security] violations needlessly place lives at risk and degrade the effectiveness of our operations."

Schoomaker notes that this issue was raised in a February memo from U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard Cody.

Pointing out that annotated photos of an Abrams tank being penetrated by a rocket-propelled grenade are easily found on the Internet, Cody says in the memo that, "We cannot afford to have our photos become training and recruitment tools for the enemy."

The Army is also concerned about projecting a positive public image. "We must protect information that may have a negative impact on foreign relations with coalition allies or world opinion," Cody writes.

Confirming that more attention is being paid to blogs as a result of Schoomaker's concerns, an Army spokesman says that military commanders have the authority to police blog posting and delete photographs that might represent a security risk.

There have been a few blog-related disciplinary actions. For example, Arizona National Guardsman Leonard Clark was given an Article 15, a nonjudicial punishment, for blog postings that violated Army policy.

U.S. Army spokeswoman Major Elizabeth Robbins stresses that most soldiers are well aware of Army policy and comport themselves accordingly.

Jason Christopher Hartley, a member of the Army National Guard in New York who has returned from Iraq, also received an Article 15 for posts to his blog, JustAnotherSoldier.com, which is now inactive. He was demoted and fined $1,000 for OPSEC violations.

Hartley acknowledges that the military's concerns are legitimate, but suggests that decisions about what violates OPSEC aren't fairly applied because there's no standard. "I'm a soldier and I share their concerns," he says, "But there's no clear definition of what OPSEC is."

Major Robbins says there are definitely black and white areas, such as information secrecy classifications, that have no ambiguity. However, she acknowledges there are gray areas as well.

Hartley points to the severe punishment meted out to Clark and notes that his postings tended to be liberal. "Every possible punishment you can get [for an Article 15], he got," he says. "He got slammed."

A report in The Army Times cites a statement issued by Multinational Corps-Iraq to a National Public Radio reporter that details the charges against Clark. The statement says that Clark violated Article 92 by "releasing classified information regarding unit soldiers and convoys being attacked or hit by an improvised explosive device on various dates, discussing troop movements on various dates." The Army Times reports that Clark was found to have released tactics, techniques, procedures, and rules of engagement.

In a January letter written to Joseph Chenelly, deputy news editor at Army Times, Hartley wrote, "My advice for soldiers who want to blog is to retain legal counsel before you start blogging. Have every legal detail worked out beforehand in regards to what you can and can't blog about. That way when your commander tells you to take your blog down, you can tell him to take the matter up with your lawyer. I had no idea my blog would become such a big issue, but if I had to do it over again, I would have gotten a lawyer before I started or at least made a call to the ACLU."

His letter continues: "All in all, I think Army leadership can't grasp that it's possible for a soldier to be critical or satirical of the Army but still be pro-Army. I've been in the Army 14 years. I love being an infantryman. But there are so many great stories that don't get told because there are so many people who don't want their illusions molested. Or because telling them apparently constitutes a violation of OPSEC."

In the most recent post to his blog, dated Dec. 1, 2004, Hartley proclaims that his blog is "NOW CENSORED! OPSEC- and Geneva Convention-violation FREE!" Old copies of the site are no longer accessible through search-engine cache links, the Internet Wayback Machine, or at mirror sites set up to preserve his posts. The same is true of Leonard Clark's blog.

Even so, Hartley may get the last word. His book, Just Another Soldier: A Year On The Ground In Iraq, is due to be released Oct. 1.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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