Army Kills Milblogging

Milblog logo Noah Shachtman reports that, “The U.S. Army has ordered soldiers to stop posting to blogs or sending personal e-mail messages, without first clearing the content with a superior officer, Wired News has learned. The directive, issued April 19, is the sharpest restriction on troops’ online activities since the start of the Iraq war.”

Army Regulation 530–1: Operations Security (OPSEC) (.pdf) restricts more than just blogs, however. Previous editions of the rules asked Army personnel to “consult with their immediate supervisor” before posting a document “that might contain sensitive and/or critical information in a public forum.” The new version, in contrast, requires “an OPSEC review prior to publishing” anything — from “web log (blog) postings” to comments on internet message boards, from resumes to letters home.

Failure to do so, the document adds, could result in a court-martial, or “administrative, disciplinary, contractual, or criminal action.”

Despite the absolutist language, the guidelines’ author, Major Ray Ceralde, said there is some leeway in enforcement of the rules. “It is not practical to check all communication, especially private communication,” he noted in an e-mail. “Some units may require that soldiers register their blog with the unit for identification purposes with occasional spot checks after an initial review. Other units may require a review before every posting.”

But with the regulations drawn so tightly, “many commanders will feel like they have no choice but to forbid their soldiers from blogging — or even using e-mail,” said Jeff Nuding, who won the bronze star for his service in Iraq. “If I’m a commander, and think that any slip-up gets me screwed, I’m making it easy: No blogs,” added Nuding, writer of the “pro-victory” Dadmanly site. “I think this means the end of my blogging.”

Given the option to shut down the blogs, period, or to risk their careers with a spot check policy, I’m confident most commanders will choose the former.

Blackfive‘s Matt Burden has an extensive roundup on the issue. He tells Shachtman, “This is the final nail in the coffin for combat blogging. No more military bloggers writing about their experiences in the combat zone. This is the best PR the military has — it’s most honest voice out of the war zone. And it’s being silenced.”

There are, to my knowledge, in four-plus years of blogging from Afghanistan and Iraq, zero instances of soldiers giving away information that seriously jeopardized the operational security of the mission. Indeed, soldiers have an incredibly powerful incentive not to do that apart from any regulations: Their lives are at stake.

This policy is incomprehensibly stupid.

Not surprisingly, there’s about a dozen posts on this issue up at MilBlogs. Army Lawyer is much more confident than Burden and I that commanders will exercise good judgment in this matter, using it only to safeguard OPSEC. The problem is not that commanders are too dumb to be trusted with discretion — they’re not — but that even the ones who don’t go into CYA mode are likely to view policing blogs and emails as a distraction from their mission and see a blanket prohibition on blogging is simply the easiest way to get back to work.

Greyhawk implies that the attention that non-military bloggers are putting on this may lead to quick reversal; let’s hope that’s true. The reaction of Alabama’s Senator Richard Shelby in his interview with Hugh Hewitt gives some hope in that regard.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Iraq War, Military Affairs, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. mmcc says:

    The same day they cancel milblogging they set up a govt run yahoo page showing “live military action”. Hypocritical scum across the board with generals acting like whores for the administration.

  2. legion says:

    There are, to my knowledge, in four-plus years of blogging from Afghanistan and Iraq, zero instances of soldiers giving away information that seriously jeopardized the operational security of the mission.

    This policy is incomprehensibly stupid.

    It’s also entirely predictible; indeed, I’m surprised they ever let milblogs exist at all. This administration has long held the position of ‘if we can’t control the message, there will be no message’ – this is just the latest trackling down of that image-is-everything meme. The benefits of milblogging & the lack of actual operational compromise, to say nothing of the freedom of speech argument, mean nothing if it can’t be spun into another tool.

  3. Tlaloc says:

    All it means is that now we’ll know the milblogs are army propaganda pieces instead of just strongly suspecting it, like before.

    Big deal.

  4. legion says:

    Ha! Well played, Tlaloc, well played.

  5. Wayne says:

    It sounds like not to many posters so far have served in ground combat arms, MI or other intelligence units. What may seem insignificant to some can be result in someone’s death including something as small as a glove.

    The dilemma is that it helps if the public is well inform but informing the public can result in informing the enemy or otherwise hurt our efforts. Showing live action if done right is much less chancy then other information. Where is the balance? It is hard to say. The military tend to be on the conservative side on this.