May 14, 2007

Banned Aid

How good of an idea is this?

Soldiers serving overseas will lose some of their online links to friends and loved ones back home under a Department of Defense policy that a high-ranking Army official said would take effect Monday.

The Defense Department will begin blocking access "worldwide" to YouTube, MySpace and 11 other popular Web sites on its computers and networks, according to a memo sent Friday by Gen. B.B. Bell, the U.S. Forces Korea commander.

The policy is being implemented to protect information and reduce drag on the department's networks, according to Bell.

"This recreational traffic impacts our official DoD network and bandwidth ability, while posing a significant operational security challenge," the memo said.

The armed services have long barred members of the military from sharing information that could jeopardize their missions or safety, whether electronically or by other means.

The new policy is different because it creates a blanket ban on several sites used by military personnel to exchange messages, pictures, video and audio with family and friends.

My gut reaction? While I can understand the infrastructure demands that these and similar sites place upon defense networks designed first and foremost with military applications in mind, the ban once again shows a fundamental lack of understanding by military officials the importance online communications can and should play as part of a modern military's communications strategy.

Predictably, users of these sites will simply shift to similar sites that are not banned, and the military will waste more time and resources attempting to keep up in an ever-expanding, cat-and-mouse challenge as our ever-resourceful troops find new ways to keep lines of communication open with their stateside friends and family.

Instead of attempting to muzzle communications between soldiers and their social networks, the military should encourage communications between the troops in the field and their friends and family members back home. Time and again, the most positive messages coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan are those being voiced by our soldiers to friends and relatives in emails transformed into in blog entries and newspaper editorials.

The War on Terror is every bit as much a war of pixels and pictures and mindshare as it is a war of bullets and bravery. al Qaeda and the various insurgent groups know this instinctively, and dominate social networking and file-sharing sites. The Pentagon should engage their own Army of Davids and have our troops counter terrorist propaganda with their own frontline perspectives. Instead, those in senior positions who do not understand the communications battlespace plan to flee the online field, ceding it to the enemy.

There is no other way to address this than to call this flawed policy what it is: military communications shortsightedness of epic proportions.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at May 14, 2007 10:52 AM

I excerpted and linked at DoD blocks MySpace, YouTube, others (and part of this blog). I've been surprised how little I've seen this mentioned on other pro-troop sites, even after I emailed some of them to make sure they knew about it. I'd probably have seen your post earlier if I hadn't been busy redoing my site to make it less dependent on Photobucket, one of the sites that's apparently blocked now. I was hoping the brass learned something from the milblogs fiasco but apparently not.

Posted by: Bill Faith at May 14, 2007 10:05 PM

I know someone who XXXXX that processes all the XXXXX into and out of Iraq. They said the pipe is indeed limited.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at May 14, 2007 11:01 PM