William Lind has a new post up at Defense and The National Interest that addresses the issue of the IT restrictions on the use of the internet by military personnel. This topic has been touched on previous by others such as at the SWC, SWJ Blog, Haft of the Spear, Hidden Unities and many milbloggers, intel and cyberwonks but previously, IT policy varied across services and from command to command. That appears to be changing – for the worse.
At the height of the Cold War, a U.S. army corps commander in Europe asked for information on his Soviet opposite, the commander of the corps facing him across the inter-German border. All the U.S. intelligence agencies, working with classified material, came up with very little. He then took his question to Chris Donnelly, who had a small Soviet military research institute at Sandhurst. That institute worked solely from open source, i.e. unclassified material. It sent the American general a stack of reports six inches high, with articles by his Soviet counterpart, articles about him, descriptions of exercises he had played in, etc.
What was true during the Cold War is even more true now, in the face of Fourth Generation war. As we have witnessed in the hunt for Osama, our satellite-photo-addicted intel shops can’t tell us much. But there is a vast amount of 4GW material available open-source: websites by and about our opponents, works by civilian academics, material from think-tanks, reports from businessmen who travel in areas we are interested in – the pile is almost bottomless. Every American soldier with access to a computer can find almost anything he needs. Much of it is both more accurate and more useful than what filters down through the military intelligence chain.
Or at least he could. In recent months, more and more American officers have told me that when they attempt to access the websites they need, they find access is blocked on DOD computers. Is al Qaeda doing this in a dastardly attempt to blind American combat units?
Sadly, no. DOD is doing it. Someone in DOD is putting blinders on American troops.
I do not know who is behind this particular bit of idiocy. It may be the security trolls. They always like to restrict access to information, because doing so increases their bureaucratic power. One argument points to them, namely an assertion that the other side may obtain useful information by seeing what we are looking for. That is like arguing that our troops should be given no ammunition lest muzzle flashes give away their positions in a fire-fight.
But the fact that websites of American organizations whose views differ from DOD’s are also blocked points elsewhere. It suggests political involvement. Why, for example, is access to the website of the Center for Defense Information blocked? CDI is located in Washington, not the Hindu Kush. Its work includes the new book on military reform America’s Defense Meltdown, which has garnered quite a bit of attention at Quantico.
The goal of the website blockers, it seems, is to cut American military men off from any views except those of DOD itself. In other words, the blockaders want to create a closed system. John Boyd had quite a bit to say about closed systems, and it wasn’t favorable.
Read the rest here.
What is disturbing to me is that Lind indicates that the previous policy, which left IT restrictions up to commanders, seems to be coalescing behind one of systemic, tight, restrictions on access for all uniformed personnel to all kinds of blogs or websites that do not jeopardize information security. Or may even be useful to the conduct of their mission. The previous excuse by DoD bureaucrats was “conserving bandwidth” but it’s hard to see how esoteric sites like the Center for Defense Information or some university PDF on Islamist madrassas in Pakistan clog up a combatant command’s skinny pipes.
Intel and cyber experts in the readership are cordially invited to weigh in here.
ADDENDUM III THE COUNTERPOINT:
Galrahn says Bill Lind does not understand the legitimate cybersecurity aspect that causes blogs and websites to be blocked and then offers some practical advice to the blocked bloggers (such as myself):
….but I’d bet at least 5 shots of Canadian Whiskey (I’m a Crown Royal fan until summer gets here) that the problem that triggered his rant doesn’t originate in the DoD or any government entity, rather the private sector.
But I will say this. There are several legitimate reasons why websites, blogs, and other forms of social media sites on the web are blocked. If your website or blog is blocked, please understand you can do something about it besides whine.
Use Feedburner, or some other form of syndication software to distribute your content, including by email. Organizations including the military may block Blogger but typically they do not block syndication service sites because from an IT perspective, syndication services like Feedburner is a better way to manage bandwidth for larger enterprises. If an organization is blocking syndication sites too, then your organization has a very strict IT policy, BUT if your favorite websites are distributing content by email, problem solved
I used Feedburner previously with my old blogger site when Feedburner was in beta but when it was purchased or absorbed by Google, that account went dormant. I think I will ressurect it and then look into Galrahn’s other suggestions.