Thursday, May 10, 2007

Military Cracks down on Bloggers - The Truth Under Fire

Bloggers can make a difference and some people and some institutions don't really appreciate allowing the truth or personal glimpses of the truth to be heard.

Military Bloggers Eye Army Crackdown on Web Reporting

Thursday, May 10, 2007


The military blogging community is abuzz over the perceived crackdown on bloggers, who Army officials readily admit are providing firsthand accounts that the media generally miss in daily reporting from the war zone.

The bloggers are now awaiting word on whether the Army will make permanent changes to regulations issued last month that attempt to limit the details offered by soldiers writing from the frontlines.
"The regulation was either poorly written or intended to crack down on bloggers," said Matthew Currier Burden, a former defense intelligence officer who runs, one of the most widely read military blogging sites.

"I've been threatened on numerous occasions — two threats in the last two months alone — to be booted out of Iraq," said Michael Yon, a former Green Beret now in Iraq who frequently reports for "Bloggers who express independent views are seen as a threat, while (pro-military bloggers) seem to be viewed as tools. The military is simply trying to keep the tools and mitigate the threats but in doing so caused quite a stir."

But a visit to another of the most popular independent military Web sites,, suggests that many soldiers and their supporters are not deterred from their blogging mission. And blogger Army Lawyer, who identifies himself only as a JAG attorney, wrote in his blog that he doesn't think the Army is trying to censor soldiers' Web sites.

"No, the Army didn’t try to ban blogs. No, the Army didn’t backtrack. No, the Army wasn’t going to be some Communist-like organization where only approved information is uttered. And all the histrionic commentary to the contrary ... looks rather silly and borderline insulting," he wrote.

Still, the April 17 regulation issued by the U.S. Army had military bloggers atwitter at last weekend's 2007 Milblog Conference in Northern Virginia when the language sent a “shock and awe” wave of concern through the milblog community.
“Regulation 530-1” updated policy regarding operational security by requiring all active duty soldiers to “consult with their immediate supervisor and their OPSEC officer for an OPSEC review prior to publishing or posting information in a public forum.”
A "fact sheet" issued two days before the conference attempted to clarify the Army's position.
"In no way will every blog post/update a soldier makes on his or her blog need to be monitored or first approved by an immediate supervisor and operations security (OPSEC) officer. After receiving guidance and awareness training from the appointed OPSEC officer, that soldier blogger is entrusted to practice OPSEC when posting in a public forum," reads the sheet distributed by Andi Hurley, a blogger, spouse of a career solder and organizer of the 2007 Milblog Conference.
Major Ray Ceralde, Army operational security program manager, noted that the new regulations apply to Army civilians as well as contractors and family members.

“Not every blog entry needs to be cleared for content. But to establish a blog, the soldier needs approval,” Ceralde told FOX News. “We want to protect First Amendment rights but we also want to protect operational security,” he said.

Added White House spokesman Tony Snow: “Some of the stories about muzzling the milblogs were overblown.”

Milblogs typically consist of three types of blogs: active-duty troops “in theater,” former military citizens and spouses or family members back home. Burden said the purpose of the blogs is to "stay in touch with family and friends, document the history of their deployment, or provide a place to vent. ... Others are just really great writers that want to express themselves."

He added that bloggers perform a service that the military is getting in short supply — positive news from the war front.

"I worry that we're losing the information war and am trying to find ways to make some victories for our military, which does amazing things every day," Burden said. "When was the last time you read a story about the combat effectiveness of a unit in Afghanistan or Iraq? They are kicking ass against terrorists, working with the Iraqi public and training their soldiers and police, and no one is reporting it."

Efforts to block bloggers have gained some attention on Capitol Hill. Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Jim DeMint, R-S.C., sent a letter last week to Defense Secretary Robert Gates in support of military bloggers.

“We are concerned the regulations may also inadvertently weaken what has proven a significant asset in our media age: the firsthand accounts of American military men and women on the ground,” the letter reads.

That concern is especially significant to bloggers who say that the Pentagon has been its own worst enemy both in fighting the propaganda war and in protecting operational security.

"The worst OPSEC violator in the senior staffs is the Pentagon. I get more advance notice from a Pentagon Press Brief of U.S. movements from Kuwait into Iraq than I get from all other sources combined. The Pentagon acts as if it is not at war, and the leaks emanating from Arlington are enormous," blogger D.J. Elliot, a retired Navy intelligence analyst, wrote on The Fourth Rail.

Badger 6, who identifies himself as an Army officer in Iraq commanding an engineering company, writes on his Web log that operational security is tantamount to success in the war in Iraq, although even he has wondered if the decision to update the regulations may have had a political component to it.

"Some of my comments and the comments at other Milblogs have indicated they think that this is driven by politicians who are skeptical about the mission and call for our return home. On the anti-war side of the blogosphere, I see comments indicating this is a plan by the Bush Administration to keep criticism by Soldiers in the field from leaking out and proving Iraq is a catastrophe. Both strike me as wrong headed," he wrote.

"The Army has a legitimate and important interest in maintaining Operational Security. It is a large Government organization that still does not know how to deal with this technology and capability. I see nothing political in this, it is a bureaucratic issue," Badger 6 continued.

The mere fact that the 2007 Milblog Conference opened up with a videotaped salutation from President Bush demonstrated to many in attendance that bloggers are getting noticed and their role is growing in importance. Burden said that as they become more influential, he would like “to see the military give bloggers the same rules as embed reporters” and see deployments adopt “unit blogging” — one soldier responsible for telling the history and activities of the unit.

"The future of milblogging is heavily dependent on toughminded milbloggers hanging in there," Yon said. "Keep in mind that most of the so-called milblogs ... are mostly written from home in the states. To my knowledge, I am the last remaining full-time blogger in the war who is not on active duty. Yes, the influence seems to be growing, but when my time is up here, probably nobody will be left to cover our troops full time."

Burden also offered words to the wise if soldiers want to stay out of trouble. Paraphrasing blogger “Lt. Smash,” the supposed granddaddy of military blogging, Burden said, “When you publish a post, write it like, one, your mother will read it, two, Usama Bin Laden will read it and three, your commander will read it.”

Griff Jenkins is a contibutor to FOX News Talk.


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