by DAVID AXE
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 at Danger 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:
Floyd on his goals:
When I was interviewed for the job, the Secretary said in the interview that the person who comes in here, he doesn’t want them be a spokesmen, caught up in the day-to-day back and forth with media. He wants someone doing two things: using the technology — both the Websites and software out there now — that enable him to engage and hear from people in a way and manner that wasn’t possible before. The example he gave was when he was president of [Texas] A&M [University], he gave out his email address to anyone … [and] he would respond to them all. The entire pool of people was 75,000 … [N]ow the pool is the 3 million people that make up the civilians and military personnel at DoD, plus the general public in the U.S. and around the world. Giving out your email … you just can’t do that anymore. With that in mind, what I did when I first started here [around a month ago], I started using Twitter site on Dod.gov, so I can put out my thoughts. …
We’re also going to launch a new site in August that will have links to Facebook and Twitter. And at the right [of the site], people can vote on questions they’d like answered by the Secretary — and they can do same thing [voting] on policy. The idea is that the software out there … it’s not that I pick questions and people vote on them, it [the site] can aggregate … If people are saying [in comments] that we should pull out of Iraq sooner, the top five questions will come out [reflecting] whatever they are saying. We’ll have things there that are not DoD policy. The Secretary’s answer to is, that he can’t image why that would be problem. He really gets it.
It’s not so much that the DoD is finally getting into this area: lots of DoD components have been there for quite some time. European Command … I think those guys do a great job. [EUCOM commander] Adm. [James] Stavridis … has been doing a fantastic job. He’s had his blog for what seems like forever. We’re not new to this game, but we’re trying to raise our profile and trying to be more proactive, instead of reactive. …
In old school public affairs, you wouldn’t even want [people] questioning in your space. … Things don’t work that way any more. For example, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — there’s no problem with that question being on the Website. If indeed that becomes one of the top five questions, the Secretary will answer it. He believes that gives the DoD more credibility, when we’re willing to answer whatever questions there are. He wants to reach people inside the building [the Pentagon] and outside the building. We might be surprised what questions make it into the top five. Maybe it’s a question about health benefits [for DoD personnel].
On getting blogs into the Pentagon’s widely read “Early Bird” memo:
One of first things I did when I started [was get blogs into the "Early Bird"]. They’ve been there now for over a month. My thinking behind that was twofold: one, that’s where a lot of people get their news; and two, often stories begin there before [in blogs] before making it to the mainstream media. ‘By the way, pretty soon we’ll have to stop saying “mainstream media,” because we’re reaching a tipping point [where blogs are mainstream].
On Internet security:
[Internet] security is important. Opsec ["operational security"] is paramount. We will have procedures in place to deal with that. The DoD is, in that sense, no different than any big company in America. What we can’t do is let security concerns trump doing business. We have to do business. … Companies in the private sector that have policies like us, don’t dare shut down their Websites. They have to sell their products and ideas — and this is how it’s done.
On the DoD-wide ban on Myspace and Youtube:
I don’t know about all those particular sites. But on our Website now is links to Twitter and Facebook and Flickr. One of things I’m really excited about is the content we’ve got at DoD … it’s just not packaged right. We need to be everywhere men and women in uniform are and the public is. If that’s Myspace and Youtube, that’s where we need to be, too. … I don’t want to minimize security [concerns]. But this is not a DoD-only issue. It’s not a question of total security or total access to everything. There is a place we need to find [in the middle] where we’re able to go where we need to go and people can come in and see us, and yet we’re also protecting the network.
Most of the troops in the field already access this stuff [Myspace and Youtube] from their personal devices, partly because in this day and age, everyone has own device — also … there are Internet cafes on bases, for folks who are deployed. You have to sign up and you only have half an hour, so lots of people just use own devices. For those folks, [Website bans] aren’t a problem.
On whether troops should be allowed to blog and Tweet without restrictions:
I’ve gone through a personal transformation as a public affairs person. … At my last job, I was the last stop before something got published [by a DoD employee]. My response was no, if you asked me permission to publish something. Since then, I’ve gone through a transformation and realized that trying control that kind of message is unrealistic and doesn’t get you what you want. As opposed to trying to control information, we need to be more [involved in] coordinating it. In a big sense, we need to be comfortable with people saying things that are not [DoD] language-approved. In doing that, it gives us more credibility. … What we need to do is push on opsec. Opsec needs to catch up with this stuff. This is the modern equivalent of sending a letter home from the front lines. Opsec needs to be considered on this stuff, but the more our troops do this stuff, the better off we are.
(Photo: U.S. Army)
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