The following letter was sent to Senators Cornyn and Hutchison, Representative Doggett, President Bush, Secretary Gates, Acting Secretary of the Army Geren, General Pace and General Casey. I will admit I based this letter on (and borrowed some of its text from) a letter from Russ Vaughn which had been posted on Michelle Malkin's website.
I recently became aware of the newly updated Army Regulation (AR) 530-1, Operations Security (OPSEC), and the implications for soldiers’ weblogs (milblogs) and other electronic communications. The reason given for this change in regulation is interest of operational security. While I am all for the highest degree of vigilance in matters of OPSEC, I feel that the new policy is heavy-handed and counterproductive for the following reasons:
1) Every website created by any service person is readily available for routine scrutiny by military monitoring agencies. At the first sign of misuse, the military has the capability to block the offending site and deal appropriately with its owner.
2) Milblogs are the 21st Century’s letters home from the war, a means of communicating from the combat zone with family and friends that far exceeds the capabilities, in both time and content, of previous wars. They are a definite morale-builder, both with serving troops and the folks back home keeping tabs on their loved ones.
3) Milblogs are tools for training and orientation from those who are there now to those who will be. Such exchanges can be highly beneficial for those deploying to combat for the first time. Such “pearls” from the trigger-pullers to those yet untested can make the transition much easier and perhaps safer for the new warriors.
4) Under such prohibition, only the dutiful soldiers will be affected. The disgruntled and disobedient will evade this restriction and find ways to use such internet podiums to spew their harsh criticisms. Only one view, that most favorable to the military, will be stifled.
5) Last but not least, those affected by this restriction on freedom of speech are precisely those who are placing their lives on the line to preserve that very freedom. To deny them that right unnecessarily, as is now being done with this new policy, sends a very wrong message to the world about our true commitment to our Bill of Rights.
I am aware that after these new regulations became public, the Army came out with a “clarification” saying the regulations did not, in fact, require every electronic communication to be cleared with a commander or OPSEC officer. However, from my point of view, if the Army felt it needed to “clarify” the AR 530-1, the new regulations are not clearly written, since many in the milblog community have not interpreted AR 530-1 so liberally. It would be at a commander’s discretion to order his soldiers to run all electronic communications through him, or to shut down any milblog out of an abundance of caution.
If a soldier wishes to exercise their First Amendment rights and maintain a weblog, there should be no prohibitive restrictions; a soldier should be asked to inform a commanding officer of the weblog, the soldier should be given a keen awareness of the consequences of OPSEC violations and the penalties that attach to them. By informing the commander, the soldier’s weblog would become part of a central registry, maintained by a DoD agency with the responsibility to routinely monitor content of all milblogs owned by active duty personnel.
In keeping up with this issue, today, a post on a milblog, The Fourth Rail, written by DJ Elliot, a retired naval intelligence analyst, points out the worst violators of OPSEC are senior Pentagon staff. Milblogs are too important a part of the Information War we are fighting against the terrorists. I urge you to not allow the Pentagon to throw out the baby with the bath water.