A hat tip to the incomparable Michelle Malkin, for her heads-up on this post at Blackfive, concerning U.S. Army efforts to crack-down on military bloggers. According to a recent press release, the Army has created an operations security (OPSEC) unit--part of the Virginia National Guard--to monitor soldiers' unofficial blogs and websites, looking for information that may compromise security.
The Army claims the Manassas-based unit has discovered a number of items that could prove valuable to the enemy, including biographies, pictures and personal information. The unit also looks for such terms as "for official use only," "secret" and "top secret," and apparently makes referrals for further investigation.
Blackfive sees a slightly sinister hand behind all of this, and I tend to agree. While no one disputes the need for security, the monitoring effort also smacks at censorship, giving the Army brass an opportunity to shut down websites (and punish bloggers) that don't hew to the party line. He notes that several milbloggers have run afoul of the miltary bureaucracy, particularly Public Affairs Officers (PAOs), who have been the traditional vehicle for releasing information. Blackfive warned the PAOs against "cracking down" on military bloggers at a conference last April, and apparently paid for his sins by being "chased down" and lectured by a group of public affairs types after the forum.
As Blackfive observes, soldiers' blogs provide a very useful--an important--source of information on military operations. And more importantly, they are often far more nimble (and responsive) than the PAOs, who are seemingly mired in the pre-internet world. True, most military units have their own websites, but they're usually crammed with official photos and other PR-filler, sometimes posted days or even weeks after the event.
Consider Blackfive's current post on a CNN story about the jihadist sniper threat in Iraq. Casual viewers would assume that enemy snipers are exacting a heavy toll among our troops in the Sunni triangle, reinforcing the recurring media theme about rising U.S. casualties in Iraq. Not only does Blackfive nail the obvious slant to the story, he also points out the network's careful placement of the piece, which ran just before a segment on American troops accused of rape and murder in Iraq. I don't need to explain the inferences made by running those stories back-to-back.
So where's the public affairs response to this? I'm sure there may be a protest from the Pentagon, and (eventually) some PA package on our own sniper teams. But by the time that report hits the web, AFRTS, or even some MSM outlet, the impact will have been blunted by the passage of time. If the military wants to compete in the arena of information and ideas--and it must--it needs a mechanism to response to enemy propaganda, quickly and effectively. Fact is, coalition casualties from jihadist snipers are dwarfed by the number of terrorists killed by our own sniper teams. If Al-Jazerra runs video of U.S. troops being shot by a sniper, we need to provide an effective counter-point, or (better yet), get out in front of the issue, and post an entire archive of our own sniper kills. The libs and the MSM will probably howl, but that's to be expected. Besides, if one of our PAO goals is to be "liked" by the NYT and WaPo, we need a new set of priorities.
Fact is, the terrorists are ahead of us in the realm of information operations. If you don't believe me, consider Hizballah's recent success against Israel. Depending on your point of view, the terrorist army either (a) more than held its own, or (b) defeated the region's preeminent military power, largely through a mix of denial and deception and information operations. The bad guys view their IO efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan as a template for future operations. We'd better find an effective way to respond--and zealous scrutiny of milblogs isn't the answer.