Air Force Releases ‘Counter-Blog’ Marching Orders

March 16th, 2009 - by admin

Noah Shachtman / Wired – 2009-03-16 22:51:02

(January 6, 2009) — Bloggers: If you suddenly find Air Force officers leaving barbed comments after one of your posts, don’t be surprised. They’re just following the service’s new “counter-blogging” flow chart. In a twelve-point plan, put together by the emerging technology division of the Air Force’s public affairs arm, airmen are given guidance on how to handle “trolls,” “ragers” — and even well-informed online writers, too. It’s all part of an Air Force push to “counter the people out there in the blogosphere who have negative opinions about the US government and the Air Force,” Captain David Faggard says.

Over the last couple of years, the armed forces have tried, in fits and starts, to connect more with bloggers. The Army and the Office of the Secretary of Defense now hold regular “bloggers’ roundatbles” with generals, colonels, and key civilian leaders. The Navy invited a group of bloggers to embed with them on a humanitarian mission to Central and South America, last summer. Military blogger Michael Yon recently traveled to Afghanistan with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

In contrast, the Air Force has largely kept the blogosphere at arms’ length. Most of the sites are banned from Air Force networks. And the service has mostly stayed away from the Pentagon’s blog outreach efforts. Captain Faggard, who’s become the Air Force Public Affairs Agency’s designated social media guru, has made strides in shifting that attitude. The air service now has a Twitter feed, a blog of its own — and marching orders, for how to comment on other sites. “We’re trying to get people to understand that they can do this,” he tells Danger Room.

The flow chart lays out a range of possible responses to a blog post. Airmen can offer a “factual and well-cited response [that] is not factually erroneous, a rant or rage, bashing or negative in nature.” They can “let the post stand — no response.” Or they cancan “fix the facts,” offering up fresh perspective. No matter what, the chart says, airmen should “disclose your Air Force connection,” “respond in a tone that reflects high on the rich heritage of the Air Force,” and “focus on the most-used sites related to the Air Force.”

Despite the chart’s sometimes-stiff language, former military spokesman Steven Field says he’s “a fan.” Field, who’s been occasionally critical of the armed services’ blog outreach efforts, tells Danger Room: “I’ve always thought that a military-like process would be a good bridge to connect the services with the blogosphere. There’s a field manual for everything in the military, so this flow-chart presents online communications in a DoD [Department of Defense] friendly format.”

One stipulation — While it should be a guide of communications, it shouldn’t become a ball-and-chain. Online comms require some level of nimble, on-your-feet response. As long as the Air Force doesn’t use the “evaluate” phase to get approval from every Tom, Dick and Harry in the Pentagon, it should be a good tool.

“Now they just need to lift those damn IP [Internet Protocol] filters,” Field adds, so airmen can actually read those blogs that they’re supposed to respond to.

• Air Force Blocks Access to Many Blogs
• Who Gets Through the Air Force’s Blog Block?
• Air Force Backtracks on Social Network Ban
• No More YouTube, MySpace for US Troops
• Top General: Let Soldiers Blog
• If You’re Gonna Get Blocked by the Air Force…
• Army Audits: Official Sites, Not Blogs, Breach Security
• Army: Milblogging is “Therapy,” Media is “Threat”
• New Army Rules Could Kill G.I. Blogs (Maybe E-mail, Too)
No More YouTube, MySpace for US Troops
Sharon Weinberger / Wired

(May 13, 2007) — Fresh from its battle against blogs, the US military now appears to be going after video and social networking sites (at least those it doesn’t control). Effective Monday, US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will not be allowed access to websites like MySpace and YouTube using military networks, Stars and Stripessreports.

Although the ostensible reason is to conserve precious bandwidth, the articles notes: “Ironically, the Defense Department this year had just begun expanding its own use of YouTube to reach a younger, broader audience and show clips of US troops in action.” Officials appeared to claim the issue was bandwidth, not content:

“We’re not passing any judgment on these sites, we’re just saying you shouldn’t be accessing them at work,” said Julie Ziegenhorn, spokeswoman for US Strategic Command. “This is a bandwidth and network management issue. We’ve got to have the networks open to do our mission. They have to be reliable, timely and secure.”

At the same time, however, a message sent to troops from US Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell also indicated that security issues were factored into the move:

“This recreational traffic impacts our official DOD network and bandwidth availability, while posting a significant operational security challenge,” he wrote.

Massive bandwidth-sucking PowerPoint briefings are naturally still allowed.

Milblogging is “Therapy,”
Media is “Threat”

Noah Shachtman / Wired

(May 02, 2007) — To the Army’s 1st Information Operations Command, the “media” is just another threat — along with “al Qaeda,” “hackers,” and “drug cartels.” Military bloggers are even lower than that: just poor saps looking for a “therapeutic” way to get out their feelings. No wonder the Army has put out new rules that could very well kill the sites off.

It’s really worth checking out the Information Operation Command’s whole presentation on “OPSEC in the Blogosphere,” obtained by Steven Aftergood’s . See next article.

Army Clamps Down with New OPSEC Policy
Steven Aftergood / Secrecy News

(May 2, 2007) — A new U.S. Army regulation (pdf) on Operations Security (OPSEC) would sharply restrict the ability of soldiers to participate in public life without supervision and authorization from superior officers.

The regulation also encourages Army personnel to view attempts by unauthorized persons to gather restricted information as an act of subversion against the United States.

“All Department of the Army personnel and DoD contractors will… consider handling attempts by unauthorized personnel to solicit critical information or sensitive information as a Subversion and Espionage Directed Against the U.S. Army (SAEDA) incident,” the regulation states (at section 2-1).

“Sensitive” information is defined here (at section 1-5(c)(3)(e)) to include not just vital details of military operations and technologies but also documents marked “For Official Use Only” (FOUO) that may be exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

It follows that inquisitive members of the press or the public who actively pursue such FOUO records may be deemed enemies of the United States.

In what seems to be a serious conceptual muddle, the new regulation conflates OPSEC, which is supposed to be a defense against adversaries of the United States, with FOIA restrictions, which regulate public access to government information. As a result, it appears that OPSEC procedures are now to be used to control access to predecisional documents, copyrighted or proprietary material, and other FOIA-exempt records.

A copy of the new regulation, dated April 19 and itself marked For Official Use Only, was obtained by Wired News and is posted here.

Taken at face value, the regulation would spell the end of military blogging and would severely curtail military participation in public life. It imposes a non-discretionary pre-publication review requirement, stating that “all Department of the Army personnel… will… consult with their immediate supervisor… prior to publishing or posting information in a public forum.” (sec. 2-1).

It was reported by Noah Shachtman in “New Army Rules Could Kill G.I. Blogs (Maybe E-mail, Too),” Danger Room, May 2.

The terms of the Army regulation are so expansive as to create innumerable new opportunities for violations and infractions. Just this week, for example, the Army’s own 1st Information Operations Command ironically posted a briefing on “OPSEC in the Blogosphere” (pdf) marked For Official Use Only.

(Thanks, again, to Entropic Memes.)

• Update: The Army issued a fact sheet (pdf) that appears to retreat significantly from the provisions of the new Regulation.

• See Army to Bloggers: We Won’t Bust You. Promise. by Noah Shachtman in Danger Room, and

• Army clarifies blogging policy by Jason Miller, Federal Computer Week.

• ‘Army Clamps Down with New OPSEC Policy’

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