02 August 2009

This week's theme is "Blogging and Senior Military Leaders"

Basically, the topic of military senior leaders and "the new media" has reached somewhat of a crescendo this week. There are a number of articles from blogs and mainstream media sites that have been exploring this very issue (to include a post just the other day). A quick rundown...

Offiziere.ch (Swiss Military blog in English, with David Axe reporting)

A fight could be brewing between the office of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and U.S. Strategic Command, over the military’s use of “social-networking” Websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and Youtube. Just a few weeks ago, Gates hired a new Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, tasked with bringing the Department of Defense “into the 21st-century of communication,” according to a spokesperson. Price Floyd’s (pictured) first act as the new social-media czar, was to launch an official Pentagon Twitter account, for instantly communication short text messages to subscribers.

But Floyd’s mission could run counter to recommendations last week by Strategic Command, which is broadly responsible for so-called “cyber-defense” — that is, defending military computer networks from hackers. According to Noah Shachtman atDanger Room, Strategic Command is quietly calling for a total ban on accessing social networking sites from military networks. “They make it way too easy for people with bad intentions to push malicious code to unsuspecting users,” a Stratcom source said of networking sites.

“What we can’t do is let security concerns trump doing business,” Floyd said on Wednesday. I spoke to Floyd to understand his vision for military social-networking:

Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV at DefenseLink (relayed via Small Wars Journal)

It was “probably one of the toughest times in Iraq,” Caldwell recalled of his time as Multinational Force Iraq’s deputy chief of staff for strategic effects. Mounting U.S. casualties and sectarian violence dominated the news headlines.

Caldwell, who commanded the 82nd Airborne Division before arriving in Baghdad, knew the coverage wasn’t telling the whole story.

“Men and women were doing incredibly great things every day, and not just heroic things,” he told American Forces Press Service. “They were building schools, helping establish government systems, empowering the Iraqi police forces to take on more responsibility, training Iraqi army forces.

“We were doing a lot of incredibly great things,” he continued, “and the stories weren’t getting out because they were overshadowed by the kinetic things going on and the loss of American life and the fact that casualty rates were up.”

So at the urging of his younger staff, Caldwell took the monumental step of launching Multinational Force Iraq into the world of social networking.

“A ‘You who?’” Caldwell recalls asking when his staffers first recommended a YouTube site. “I had absolutely no idea what it was.”

But the staff talked him through the process, sat him down with a commercial server and showed him how YouTube worked. “I immediately understood the incredible power that would exist if we could leverage that,” he said.

The problem was that access to the YouTube site had been blocked within the U.S. Central Command theater. So Caldwell took the issue up with Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Multinational Force Iraq commander at the time, and got approval to establish an official YouTube site.

The site went live in early March 2007 and amazed even Caldwell with the following it attracted. “Within the next six months, it was in the top 10 of all YouTube sites visited in the world,” he said. “Viewership was phenomenal.”

Officials put word out to the theater, urging troops to send videos that helped to explain the work they were doing. “We were looking for a variety of things -- we wanted kinetic and nonkinetic [activities], and we wanted personal stories,” Caldwell said. “Nobody was out collecting. We just asked people, ‘Feed us what you’ve got.’”

And feed they did -- clips showing troops engaged in everything from firefights to the destruction of bomb-making factories to delivering medical care to wounded Iraqis.

Officials reviewed the videos to ensure they didn’t violate operational security considerations, use profanity or show sexual, overly graphic, disturbing or offensive material, then posted the clips as quickly as possible.

“The entire rest of the time I was there, it was an enormous hit,” Caldwell said. “The number of people going to it and looking at it on a daily basis was phenomenal.”

YouTube was just the start of the command’s effort to deliver a more complete story of what was happening in Iraq to a broader audience. And as Caldwell discovered, social networking offered a whole new range of outlets for sharing that story, without the traditional media filters.

“It eliminated the gatekeeper,” he said. “We now had the ability to help inform and present information that people might want to hear about or see in a way that was never there before.”

Command officials urged people to come forward with ideas about how to leverage social media as part of a broader communications outreach. Meanwhile, Caldwell ratcheted up his media engagements with a growing array of outlets. His team, taking the lead from the enemy they were working to defeat, redesigned the command’s Web site to make it more interactive, visually stimulating and user-friendly.

David Axe at the Washington Independent, "How the Army is Winning the Military's Internet Civil War"

This winter, the Air Force, as the Pentagon’s point agency for Internet operations –“cyberwarfare,” in military jargon – banned access from official networks to many blogs, declaring that they weren’t “established, reputable media.” The Air Force didn’t seem concerned that America’s greatest enemies, international jihadists, had long ago latched onto websites as cheap, effective tools for sharing ideas.

Indeed, the Air Force’s ban was part of a widening military crackdown on so-called “Web 2.0” Internet sites, including blogs, YouTube, MySpace and Facebook, all often grouped together as “social media,” because of their potential for easy, global communication. Mostly, Website-banning Pentagon officials were worried that U.S. troops, in using these popular Web 2.0 sites, might inadvertently release secret information on the Internet.

To many in the military, the need for secrecy outweighed the Internet’s value for rapidly and widely sharing ideas. While jihadists built entire intelligence and recruiting machines online, huge swaths of the U.S. military were walling themselves off from the Internet.

But not entirely.

The Army cleverly dodged the bans, setting up its own versions of popular Web 2.0 sites, but hiding them behind password-protected portals. In that way, the Army appears to have found a middle ground between Internet proponents and skeptics. On this toehold, the land combat branch is steadily building new Internet tools that might help the United States catch up to Internet-savvy jihadists. In late April, the land-warfare branch even launched an official blogging service for officers. The blogs combine the best of the civilian Web 2.0 with old-fashioned military-grade security.

Small Wars Journal, "The Admiral's Full Circle: Welcome Aboard, Sir", in response to Vice Admiral JC Harvey's recent interest in blogging and posting at SWJ (to include some excellent insights in response to an article about PowerPoint written by a particularly smart-allecky captain):

...[Admiral Harvey says] With respect to your comment concerning participation in the blogosphere and the upcoming milbloggers conference, let me speak pretty plainly - most of the blogs I’ve dropped in on and read on a regular basis leave me pretty cold. Too many seem to be interested in scoring cheap, and anonymous, hits vice engaging in meaningful and professional exchanges. There is also a general lack of reverence for facts and an excess of emotion that, for me, really reduces the value of the blog. Incorrect/inaccurate data and lots of hype may be entertaining for some, but just doesn’t work for me.
My best example of a truly worthwhile blog, worthy of our time and intellectual engagement, is theSmall Wars Journal. The tone is always professional, the subject matter is compelling and the benefit from participating is significant.
All that said, here I am - I recognize the reality of the blogosphere and the potential that exists for worthwhile exchanges that enhance our professional knowledge and overall awareness. My intent is to continue to participate when I can and where I see I can make a contribution to a professional exchange, but my view today is that the bloggers generally see their activity as far more meaningful than I do right now. I do, however, remain hopeful...
David Axe (again), "Internet Connects Future Army Leaders With Virtual 'Front Porch'" at World Politics Review (you have to pay to read the whole article, though):

It was a decades-old Army tradition that junior officers would eat lunch together every day in Army-run dining halls. There they would trade ideas they'd picked up in their training. But in the last decade, to save money, contractors such as Kellogg, Brown and Root have replaced the old dining halls with civilian-style cafeterias, some boasting big-screen TVs. The officers stopped gathering . . . and stopped talking. That had the effect of isolating young leaders, preventing them from getting answers to life-and-death questions -- and from sharing their own answers they might have learned the hard way.

Lt. Cols. Tony Burgess and Nate Allen were captains in the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division in the mid-1990s when they started noticing the absence of this traditional "informal knowledge-sharing." Besides the demise of old-school chow halls, a growing wave of political correctness had killed off the tradition of leaders drinking together at the Officer's Club after work. So Burgess and Allen instead had taken to hanging out on each other's front porches at night, talking shop. But they wanted some way to bring more people into the conversation. They turned to what was, for the mainstream Army, a fairly new technology: the Internet. ...

1 comment:

New Orleans Ladder said...

Hi Starbuck,
here's one for you:
"US Senator Mary Landrieu demands probe of Corps workers’ attacks on critics"
My question to you and your PA folks is this:
How far do you think We The People will get with the DOD Inspector General?
It turns out that these vicious attacks on citizens weren't just a couple of isolated operatives who may have read your blog here, but a coordinated, well timed with articles, operation of over 700 comments (in just one 6 week time, though now estimated in the 1000s over a 3 year period).
That averages out to about 25/8-hr day, all coming from the Corps HQ on Leake Street in New Orleans.
Again I have to ask: Who are these people, Starbuck?
Here is a link to today's Times-Picayune (site of the crimes) to bring you further up to speed.
This whole Op started to get exposed around Nov-Dec of last year and was blogged about over at "Soldiers in the Blogosphere", where I found you linked today.

Americans are getting increasingly worried that You Folks are trying to invade our Internets and push propaganda. That sounds simplistic, but it appears in the latest news that y'all push Commander Communications on social media Over that of the enlisted ranks. We aren't talking about OpSec here either.
Looks that way to me. The soldiers are much more restricted in their speech than their commanders.
That is just fine on the battle field, but when y'all try to enter our public commons with "Information", the rules change a bit in a Democracy.
You will be judged in the same Court of Public Opinion as any other cheesy Public Relations Firm.

But, I would like you folks to look into this computer fraud by the US Army, in this case the Corps of Engineers.

If you have had the good fortune to know any of our fine Troops from Louisiana (who incidentally had to be in Iraq while the Corps of Engineers flooded their mommas' homes and drowned their auntes in New Orleans) then you would understand why they are PO'd to no end over this type of skulduggery in their own back yard by their own military.

I have already hollered at Maj Bruhl about this, so perhaps y'all could get together and confab this fubar? We'd certainly appreciate the help on clarifying y'all position on Blog'Ops against American Citizens.

Thank you for your service,
Editilla~New Orleans Ladder