The healing power of death metal

The "Marines Ban Twitter" Story

There's a lot of BS flying around the net about the military, specifically the Marines, banning the social networking sites Twitter, Facebook and My Space.  It is all emanating from a Noah Shachtman article on Wired's Danger Room.  In the article Shachtman says:

The U.S. Marine Corps has banned Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and other social media sites from its networks, effective immediately.

“These internet sites in general are a proven haven for malicious actors and content and are particularly high risk due to information exposure, user generated content and targeting by adversaries,” reads a Marine Corps order, issued Monday. “The very nature of SNS [social network sites] creates a larger attack and exploitation window, exposes unnecessary information to adversaries and provides an easy conduit for information leakage that puts OPSEC [operational security], COMSEC [communications security], [and] personnel… at an elevated risk of compromise.” The Marines’ ban will last a year.

But reading some other sources, it appears this ban, at least in the Marine Corps, is not a recent thing, but instead a restatement of an existing ban:

The Marines long have banned their service members from accessing Twitter, Facebook or MySpace from government computers.

But a new order released Monday allowed some Marines--such as public affairs officers--to apply for a waiver to use the sites. "Social networking sites have always been banned from government computers," said Lt. Craig Thomas, a Marine Corps spokesman. "Bandwidth needs to go to the operators."

The Marine Corps order restated the existing ban in the wake of a warning order from the U.S. Strategic Command that it was reviewing the use of social networking sites from Defense Department computers.

The restatement, though, has brought out an interesting mix to speak out against the ban. Huffington Post, for instance:

If you want to stay in touch, email isn't good enough any more. Those pictures aren't being emailed around -- they are being shared on Facebook.

Facebook is a conversation where you can talk to a lot of people and find out what everyone else is doing. Being stuck without social media is like not being invited to the party -- you get to sit home and hope someone sends you a snapshot the next day.

You and your grandparents can wait for the weekly phone call from home while the rest of the world moves on without you.

Oh, wait -- Grandma is on Facebook, too. Now you're not just shipped off, you're shut off.

This is much worse for the troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and at sea who have no other way to connect.

The ban is going to hurt morale. "An Army of One -- and We Mean You, By Yourself." This ban is going to hurt recruiting. "Join The Navy, See The World, And Don't Speak To Your Friends for Six Months At A Time."

On top of this, it's not going to work. Everyone has access to a $99 iPhone, texting, and the Web. The Iranian government couldn't stop Twitter. We'll look like idiots for trying.

Well, no we don't really look like idiots if you actually understand what is being done. Marines (and other military) aren't being banned from social networking, they're being banned from using military networks for social networking.  Much like many civilian corporations ban such sites from their work networks.

Social networking is not what those networks are for - they're for the operations necessary to the Marine Corps. What a Marine does on his own time is his business.He is free to network away on Twitter, Facebook or whatever.

What about those deployed you say? Well, as you might imagine, deployment means hardship. And few of the line grunts are going to have access to a military network anyway. If they're on the larger FOBs and the like, there's an internet cafe or other outside networks available.

So what were those bad guys in the Marine Corps who banned social networking sites thinking? Well here's a very succinct synopsis of the problem from a commenter on Neptunus Lex's blog site:

Apps like Facebook represent a threat to all 3 sides of the CIA triangle; Confidentiality (OPSEC), Integrity (malware) and Availability (bandwidth). User education is all well and good, but 99.999% compliance with usage rules won’t cut it. All it takes is one user clicking on something they shouldn’t, and the whole network is compromised.

The solution then is obvious - because we all know that .001% guy or gal is out there.  As it turns out, this is a simple matter of OPSEC and priorities, not to mention productivity (you're on duty to do Marine work, not social networking) and bandwidth (and in remote areas, as everyone knows, bandwidth is at a premium and social networking would be a huge drag on availability).

Obviously everyone wants to see the troops get all the comforts and morale boosters available to them. But you have to be reasonable about it. And as you learn when you enter the military in any branch, your first priority is mission. That puts things like social networking on military networks well behind the network availability, integrity and confidentiality in the big scheme of things.

That's not to say that perhaps more availability outside those networks can't somehow be fashioned and made available. But there's no real story here as I see it. That doesn't mean there aren't those out there who're going to try to use it to make the military look uncaring about troop morale.  But those will be people speaking out of abject ignorance. The real reason is OPSEC and network availability for operators dealing with limited bandwidth and with missions critical to the support of those very same troops.