Thursday, May 03, 2007

Military Blogging: Good to Go?

Many sites are talking about the new OPSEC that continues to impose stricter regulations on military blogging (milblogs) that will have an impact. Blackfive (and again) and Milblog from Mudville Gazette indicate that this will be damaging to the genre and, just as important, to the ability to communicate or go outside of the mainstream media for a "balanced" picture.

1) The last point of the communication regarding AR 530-1: "Commands have the authority to enact local regulations in addition to what AR 530-1 stipulates on this topic". I do not think that Blackfive is without experience or knowledge about the culture of the command structure in the military. By its very nature, commands are necessarily cautious in dealing with any type of media, whether it is of a "professional" mode or amatuer bloggers. Controlling information has always been a keypoint of appropriate battle planning, whether it is the withholding of information or the timely release.

I don't think it is inappropriate to deduce that those who are unfamiliar with or even distrusting of information flow that is not controlled by their command structure will feel constrained to put the most stringent interpretation on these instructions restraining bloggers and eventually or with great probability will cause bloggers to be shut down or ordered shut down.

Further, by simply re-issuing this regulation, it will be imparted and implied that blogging is a problem that needs to be addressed. In the minds of both commanders and those who blog or potentially blog, this definitely sends a negative affirmation. [yes, I meant to say "negative affirmation" as that is how this AR is couched - "okay, it happens, but watch your six" is definitely a "negative affirmation"]

I think that we are being obtuse if we do not recognize that probability. A great example about how this works would be to look at any number of inconsistent orders from one base to another, to one unit or another. Take the hat: who can wear a boony hat? Who can't? I distinctly recall early in the war that regulations came out directing the soldiers not to bend or fold their hats in any manner. How many commanders issued orders or implied that boony hats would not be appropriate at all?

Which brings me to #2:

2) I see no where in discussions, in the communication or the regulation itself where commanders will be given appropriate "guidance" about the appropriate monitoring of this media nor it's inherent value, beyond perceived ills of operational insecurity. It is more than a communication device. It is a very important tool in this war and any other war where 24 hour news cycles have a story in and out so fast you cannot digest the reality of it nor place it in its appropriate context.

But, beyond that, it is an organizing tool that has been instrumental in providing support directly to soldiers AND the war.

Whether it is one soldier asking for clothes, shoes and school supplies to help him in the "hearts and minds" campaign in his AO or a company of medics who get special supplies that help save lives or, again spreads good will to the local populace. There is a real and tangible impact. Blog readers have supplied equipment for sniper units or for nascent Iraqi and Afghani forces.

Many of us are aware that it was bloggers that helped provide significant money with soldiers angels for Kevlar blankets and an even greater amount of money (over 100k) for Project Valour IT providing over 1000 voice activated laptops for the wounded. A device that has proven its importance in the recovery of wounded soldiers. Some who have gone on to continue their careers in the military.

This is where this AR and the military continues to fail in recognizing the value of this media and imparting it to the commanders or their forces in general.

As the field of milbloggers are narrowed by these commanders and this AR, so is the ability of the private sector to respond, as it has so often and so efficiently in the past, to the needs of the military in the field, at home and in the hospitals.

This is hardly an intangible side effect, but an organizing principle of milblogging and notable by the few examples I have provided. As a "military support blog", our soldiers' angels blog and, thus, the organization, has benefited greatly from the relationship with these blogs. These benefits have directly translated to benefits for deployed military and their families. Surely a valuable assett, if not partner, with the military in maintaining readiness and even directly impacting the outcome of this war or those of the future.

In closing, if there was one thing I would wish to have conveyed to commanders who will have responsibility for these decisions and oversight, it is the concept that milblogs are more of an assett than a danger. This should be weighed considerably when making decisions about approving or disapproving blogs.

John the Armorer also has some important comments.

I've made this point before in discussions of the subject - the key here is the commander and how he or she defines their Essential Elements of Friendly Information, which define those topics that relate to OPSEC. The fact remains, however, that the reg allows a commander the default position of any item posted to a public forum. [snip]

Most commanders understand a key rule of leadership: Don't give orders you *know* won't be obeyed. Commanders who go medieval on their soldiers regarding this will simply shut down the supportive and thoughtful voices, and leave the battlefield to the angry and disenchanted. Exactly the opposite of what 1st Information Operations Command wants, if they are thinking strategically.

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