28 April 2009

Gentlemen, Start Your Proxy Servers!

William S. Lind, one of John Boyd's key acolytes, and one of the key architects of maneuver warfare theory and 4th generation warfare theory posted a recent article at Defense and the National Interest regarding the recent ban on viewing a number of milblogs from government computers.

Dr. Richards brings up an interesting story about the benefits of open-source intelligence:

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.

I encounter the dreaded "You've been caught" screen dozens of times each day. I'm surprised I haven't been shut down by this point, to be perfectly honest. The ban on websites obviously has some practical application--I doubt the military could handle the bandwidth of thousands of Soldiers surfing Youtube all day, and obviously, you need to block out the kiddie porn and whatnot.

But there's many legitimate sites the military blocks: The Captain's Journal, Zenpundit, Sic Semper Tyrannis, Armchair Generalist, War is Boring, Icanhascheezburger. Want to translate an Arabic language newspaper into English? Hope you're not used to using Google Translator, as that will get you shut down in no time flat. Even some of the US State Department's official blogs are blocked, simply because they use the word "blog" in the URL. And I probably won't be able to read General Ray Odierno's interesting comments on the Iraq War on Facebook while on a government computer, either.

Many of these sites provide not only good open-source intelligence, but they also provide interesting analysis of military and defense policy, as well as key news stories and analysis that I sometimes get before the military reports on it.

While I have to admit, the Army has come a long way in acknowledging the New Media as a source for professional discussion, information sharing, and news updates, there are many who still continue to fear it, and I believe that it's largely out of ignorance. I've literally heard an instructor at a professional military course claim that posting a picture of yourself in uniform on "The Myspace" was going to lose the war in Iraq. Indeed, while there's certainly a number of issues raised with operational security, the benefits of sharing information with the world far exceeds the risk.

After all, our enemies certainly use the Internet.

Focus: We've discussed this before--the list of sites banned by your workplace's proxy server. Honestly, I can't think of a new angle.


Boss Mongo said...

Some of the best intel I ever got my hands on was from protocols that data-mined open source.
I'd tell you all about it, but it's classified.
Are we squared away, or what?

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