Note: One reason that I wanted "The Blog of War" published was to preserve several excellent military blogger entries from blogs that were either shut down by the military or the author decided to shut down in order to avoid trouble with the military (The Questing Cat, Armor Geddon, Training For Eternity, This Is Your War, A Day in Iraq, etc.). This topic is a difficult one for me to navigate. I hope this post effectively describes what I think about monitoring milblogs.
I just spoke to an *ackk!!!* AP reporter who talked with JP at Milblogging.com and I about the Army's new unit watching for OPSEC (Operational Security) violations on soldiers' blogs and web sites:
...Unofficial blogs often show pictures with sensitive information in the background, including classified documents, entrances to camps or weapons. One Soldier showed his ammo belt, on which the tracer pattern was easily identifiable...
Noah Schactman at Defense Tech (probably one of the smartest guys out there) discusses the unit and possible ramifications of the DOD watchdog mentality on blogs.
...So you would think that the Defense Department would be doing everything it could to encourage positive coverage of the war –- to bring stories of brave American troops, risking their lives for Mideast democracy, to the Internet browsers everywhere. But Rumsfeld's penchant for secrecy -- and the military's fear that even the smallest, most innocuous detail about American operations could give insurgents the upper hand –- has scuttled this crucial media mission...
I agree. In fact, Andi points out that I "threw a shot across the bow of the DoD" at the first MilBlog conference back in April. I warned the Public Affairs Officers in attendance that cracking down on military blogs (espeically, for minor infractions) would have major negative repercussions. I paid for that shot by being chased down by the PAOs after my panel concluded, and I needed to have Grim (possibly the smartest guy I've ever met) bail me out of "PAO Talking Points Hell" afterward.
I have known of bloggers (one is an author in "The Blog of War") who had their Division Commander approve of what they were doing...only to discover that the Army (DoA) had them listed on a Power Point Presentation about OPSEC violators. Yours truly and "the Donovan" were also listed. This "recognition" effectively killed their blogs which were popular first hand sources of the war experience.
As a former Intel Officer, I agree that there's a need to make sure that blogs aren't violating OPSEC. For instance, if three bloggers are in separate units but witness an event and blog about it, there might not be an OPSEC issue in one blog, BUT if you put the information from all three blogs together, you might be able to piece together Battle Damage Assessment or Order of Battle information. Since the bloggers might be in different chains of command, this might be missed by their 06 commanders who are responsible for blog review. Setting up a group to evaluate this possibility is needed.
However, the watchdog should also realize that coming down on bloggers for some (perceived) OPSEC violations might be a bit ridiculous - especially when there are photos and explicit descriptions of weapon systems and procedures that are publicly available on civilian (ie. FAS) or military/DoD websites.
Warning bloggers of possible violations is a good thing. But mindlessly cracking down on them without considering the consequences to the positive information flow will only create a cadre of negative military bloggers flying under the radar that will become the anti-military poster children for the New York Times and CNN.
And then one of the few alternative sources of information about our military and the war will be gone...