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Pentagon Shutting Down Some Blogs, Raising Red Flags Among Soldiers

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The Pentagon is shutting down soldiers’ blogs, or miliblogs, that it says reveal too much information. In some cases, it is fining or demoting soldiers who fail to follow military guidelines substantially tightened last year.

But some soldiers are saying the military’s real goal is to silence or sanitize blogs that reveal the truth about daily life fighting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“The ones that stay up are completely patriotic and innocuous, and they’re fine if you want to read the flag-waving and how everything’s peachy keen in Iraq,” New York Army National Guard Spc. Jason Christopher Hartley, who was demoted from sergeant and fined because of information on his blog, told Newsday.

Jon Peede, director of Operation Homecoming — a National Endowment for the Arts program that is creating a collection of soldiers’ blogs, letters and essays — told the newspaper that the effect of shutting down some miliblogs is that overall, such blogs are becoming less compelling.

There’s less of the informal, often coarse language that gave a feeling of authenticity and attracted thousands of readers both in and out of the military, he said.

Coincidentally, the Newsday article came out just as a new Military Times poll was released. The poll, conducted in November and December, finds support for President Bush and for the war in Iraq has slipped in the last year among members of the military’s professional core. Approval for Bush’s Iraq policy fell to 54%, down from 63% a year ago.

The drops in support seen in the Military Times Poll are “real drops, but I see them as reflecting the tone of the country,” David Segal, a military sociologist at the University of Maryland, told the publication.

Is Bush Administration policy creating fodder for the very milibloggers being shut down?

The military’s reasoning is “loose lips sink ships.” It makes you wonder why the Pentagon ever allowed miliblogs to exist in the first place.

It took nearly two years for the Air Force, Army, Marines, and Navy to adopt stricter guidelines, and to create special security squads to monitor milblogs. Could the military have been so naive as to think that soldiers would only write information unrelated to troop location or activity?

“When you put your blog out there, you cannot forget that not only the good guys, but the bad guys are accessing it,” Marine Capt. Don Caetano told Newsday. He spun the stricter military guidelines, saying, “The limitations on blogging basically mean, ‘Don’t make it easy for them. Don’t readily give up information'” that would endanger U.S. troops.

But soldiers question whether Al Qaeda is actually wading through hundreds of miliblogs in the hope of getting information which by default is past tense — informal references to troops moved, shots fired, battles fought.

Some also wonder whether the military is going overboard in what it censors. One blog was cited for posting photos of an Abrams tank pierced by a rocket-propelled grenade; the military said the photos could show Iraqi insurgents where to aim.

In past wars, the U.S. military didn’t have to deal with blogs — or e-mail, text messaging or videophones, which are not apparently subject to the same monitoring. But it did have to deal with hand-written letters, and diaries, which could have been intercepted.

Could you imagine what might have been of some famous wartime letters, had the current policy been in effect? Consider this Civil War-era letter from a corporal in the 5th Iowa Infantry, which describes troop movements. Or would we have ever seen photographs such as this (or does it give away information on where enemy soldiers were killed?) or this (or does it show where U.S. troops are heading?)

Entire books have been filled with letters from soldiers, and no doubt, some of those letters revealed information that the military would have deemed sensitive.

As a nation, we have learned much about our soldiers from unofficial sources — from Revolutionary War letters to the Abu Ghraib prison photos. It’s not always what the miltary wants us to see.

No doubt the military works under rules that the average American does not. But while the military worries about what messages are being sent by its soldiers’ miliblogs, it should also consider what message it sends when it turns to censorship.

This item first appeared at Journalists Against Bush’s B.S.

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About David R. Mark

  • Dave Nalle

    ‘Miliblogs’ sounds like a multilegged bug. I think that’s why everyone calls them ‘Milblogs’.

    Any idea how long this shutting down blogs business has been going on or how many blogs have been shut down? That seems like vital, central information to this topic and it’s not in the article.

    Also, it seems essential to determine whether these blogs are being shut down for tone or – as I suspect – because they reveal too much information. I know that’s the reason why at least one recent, highly-publicized shut down took place.


  • Justin Berry

    Is the military only stopping the blogs operated by active military in a combat zone or ar they also censoring the blogs ran by recently discharged veterans? Censoring blogs by recently discarged veterans would indicate that the military is trying to shape public opinion. If the only censor the activ military blogs then they are more than likely doing so in an effort to limit the release of security sensitive information. Just an observation.

  • david r. mark

    I honestly don’t know how many have been shut down.

    The military set up a team to monitor the blogs sometime last year. I would assume it took action soon thereafter.

    I have no problem with the military censoring classified information, just as I had no problem with the military kicking Geraldo Rivera out for revealing such information on Fox News. I’m sure it’s a case-by-case basis.

    But some soldiers (and the observer referenced) are upset, and my point is that the military may be going overboard. Perhaps censoring a particular post, rather than shutting a blog down altogether, would be an appropriate middle ground.

  • Joanie

    Most deployed Milbloggers are required to adhere to a specific set of guidelines when posting information. They are not able to give detailed information that reveals precise location of troops, their activities, or other sensitive information.

    That has been the case since Milblogging began. My friend was one of the first Milbloggers and had to abide by those rules. There wasn’t a problem with any other content on his site. Then again, he has fairly high standards regarding what he publishes anyway.

    Any blogs that have been shut down failed to meet the guidelines set forth to protect the troops. The only way a blog being written by a deployed troop could shut down outside of those guidelines likely falls under the category of expected conduct and use of military networks.

    Those are the rules. Anyone who fails to play by the rules when using government supplied access will pay the price. It’s the same with private companies. They provide the means, they get to set the rules.