Thursday, February 28, 2008

USAF hates blogs

Yep, that's right. Blogs are evil. At least, according to some Air Force brass.

The Air Force is tightening restrictions on which blogs its troops can read, cutting off access to just about any independent site with the word "blog" in its web address. It's the latest move in a larger struggle within the military over the value -- and hazards -- of the sites. At least one senior Air Force official calls the squeeze so "utterly stupid, it makes me want to scream."

Until recently, each major command of the Air Force had some control over what sites their troops could visit, the Air Force Times reports. Then the Air Force Network Operations Center, under the service's new "Cyber Command," took over.


As a result, airmen posting online have cited instances of seemingly innocuous sites -- such as educational databases and some work-related sites -- getting wrapped up in broad proxy filters.

"A couple of years back, I fought this issue concerning the Counterterrorism Blog," one Air Force officer tells Danger Room. "An AF [Air Force] professional education course website recommended it as a great source for daily worldwide CT [counterterrorism] news. However it had been banned, because it called itself a blog. And as we all know, all blogs are bad!"

He's joking, of course. But blogs and social networking sites have faced all sorts of restrictions on military networks, for all sorts of reasons. MySpace and YouTube are officially banned, for eating up too much bandwidth. Stringent regulations, read literally, require Army officers to review each and every item one of his soldiers puts online, in case they leak secrets. And in televised commercials, screensavers and fliers, troops are told that blogging is a major security risk -- even though official sites have proven to leak many, many more secrets. Now there's the Air Force's argument, that blogs aren't legitimate media outlets -- and therefore, shouldn't be read at work.

But this view isn't universally held in the military. Many believe blogs to be a valuable source of information -- and a way for ordinary troops to shape opinions, at home and abroad. Gen. David Petraeus, who heads the U.S. effort in Iraq, has commended military bloggers. Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, who replaced Petraeus as the head of the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, recently wrote (in a blog post, no less) that soldiers should be encouraged to "get onto blogs and [s]end their YouTube videos to their friends and family."

Within the Air Force, there's also a strong contingent that wants to see open access to the sites -- and is mortified by the AFNOC's restrictions. "When I hear stuff this utterly stupid, it makes me want to scream.... Piles of torn out hair are accumulating around my desk as we speak," one senior Air Force official writes in an e-mail. "I'm certain that by blocking blogs for official use, our airmen will never, ever be able to read them on their own home computers, so we have indeed saved them from a contaminating influence. Sorry, didn't mean to drip sarcasm on your rug."

One of the blogs banned is In From the Cold, which examines military, intelligence and political affairs from a largely right-of-center perspective. It's written by "Nathan Hale," the pseudonym for a former journalist and Air Force intelligence officer, who spent more than two decades in the service. He tells Danger Room, "If knowledge and information are power -- and no one disputes that -- then why not trust your people and empower them to explore all sides of issues affecting the service, air power and national security?"

Trust people to use their minds? How anti-Bush-policy can you get?


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