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DOD and social media: The battle lines are drawn

FCW readers are sharply divided about the wisdom of allowing military personnel to access social-media sites through official networks.

We received a raft of comments on two stories we published: “Army gives soldiers access to Twitter, Facebook” (June 11); and “DOD: Be wary of social media's 'loose lips'” (June 22), with readers generally taking a hard line on one side or the other.

The pro-social media argument is captured nicely in this comment:

* It's a matter of balance. Perfect security is likely to mean perfect stasis. The flux of shared ideas and critique can be key to the development of innovation. Even security people will get significant benefit from discussion of concepts and possibilities contained in various reports and snippets of information. The real craft lies in balancing these needs.
-- Arty

The anti-social media position, which is more popular so far, is stated elegantly by this reader:

* Some of the comments on this article indicate a blithe naivete. When the intelligence operative can identify and establish personal contact with someone in possession of potentially valuable information, he or she has surmounted a difficult obstacle. Of course, the target won't be reviewing top secret stuff at Starbuck's, but the social environment is a perfect place in which to initiate a personal relationship that a skillful operative may be able to develop into data source. In fact, if the operative is truly skillful, the target may not even realize that valuable clues are being divulged. Much of the tradecraft of intelligence operatives is seemingly trivial, and it is very valuable to the operative to maintain that profile.
-- Anonymous

Perhaps that reader makes the most persuasive argument, but I wouldn’t say he or she is representative of like-minded readers. They are far more outraged by the idea.

Here are excerpts of just some of the comments we received. Let us know what you think by posting a comment here or on the stories linked above.

* Yea, who needs security ...
-- Anonymous

* While I admit I don't work in military operations and don't know how encumbering the protocol is, I'd rather it be that way -- on the federal side, protocol is something that gets followed on a whim.
-- Anonymous

* Back in the 70s and early 80s the big social tool for many of us was the CB radio in the car. I was in a special forces group at the time and we had an exercise in which we were told in advance that the opposition would be doing 'spy work' against us and to do due-diligence in all our communications and talking in the chow hall. To make a long story short, we did not do very well. The obvious stuff was okay, but what gave much of our planning away was idle chatter on the CB. Nothing any one person said was important, but taken in aggregate, it gave a good picture of our ops plan.
-- RayW

* Perfect security is no operation at all. Our counter-intelligence people always assume the enemy has unlimited resources and that the way to guard against it is to ensure our own operations are so encumbered by protocol to an extent the enemy wish he could cause! If it were up to these security people the U.S. would not export 50 percent of what it does, and our military would communicate very little with each other, there would be no free press and no Internet. We could start by being honest about the fact that most information marked sensitive is not at all. Let us move forward into the new age. Shall we? Our enemy will.
-- M

* The question not raised is this: Does the benefit of the Intel Professionals group on Linkin, which allows them to discover each other and collaborate, outweigh the OPSEC threat?
-- joemaz

* All this information is freely available from government and related association public sources, not just social-networking sites. You can look up bios on Defenselink.mil, see presentations from conferences posted online by the government, etc. The information has always been there; it is just the ability to aggregate data more quickly that has changed with online sources.
-- Anonymous

* Perhaps the answer would be a super secure social network for governmental activities and agencies. Outsiders could be let in on an "as required" basis but taken off as soon as the need for them to be there goes away. Access could be tightly monitored and "just because I want them on the network" would not be a valid reason.
-- Anonymous

* Even that may not be a reliable method unless you can control access to the network connecting to the super secure social network. All it takes is access to one logon ID, and you can assume the identity of that person. Despite all of the encumbrances it would bring, the answer may be closing the military's unclassified network to the outside world, and having a separate, unclassified system for Internet access.
-- Anonymous

* If any of my soldiers are using your tax money to play on Facebook, it is because I have failed as their leader and fail you.
-- SFC, US

* If leaders instill in their soldiers good sense of operational security, what's the problem in trusting the soldiers with a Web site? After all, we give them automatic weapons and trust them to police third-world countries where they can't even speak the language. Don't be so paranoid, and have a little more faith in our troops.
-- Romanandpan

* This is a good decision that will have the intended effect of getting out the word about all the great things that the Army and other military services are doing to make the world a better place. It will assist commands, staffs and soldiers in collaborating and coordinating. The unintended affects will always plague us. But we trust our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to make good choices and to protect our sensitive information. Kudos to our visionary leadership.
-- LTC Mark J. Grgurich MacDill AFB

* This is not good ... get ready for the leak investigations to begin ...
-- Anonymous

* Great Idea! What possible risks could there be with warfighters posting their minute-by-minute activities to a semi-public site?
-- Anonymous

Posted by John S. Monroe on Jun 23, 2009 at 12:14 PM


Reader comments

Thu, Jul 2, 2009 Matt B.

"* If any of my soldiers are using your tax money to play on Facebook, it is because I have failed as their leader and fail you.
-- SFC, US"

Sorry, but just reading "play on Facebook" tells me this person has no clue what social networking is and what it can do. I agree that we should continue to be vigilent in OPSEC, but there also needs to be a balance of reality and paranoia.

Wed, Jun 24, 2009 M

I don't buy that a skilled operator is going to be significantly boosted by facebook. A skilled operator can go to the right church, club, or coffee shop as his target. Shall we ban our people from those institutions? Would you have failed as a leader if your people attend those? I am sorry but some Luddite attitudes are showing. All these same comments could have been made about telephone books. I am just embarrased for the counterintel community?

Wed, Jun 24, 2009 Anonymous

Unbridaled enthusiasm + a pinch of security - common sense = potential disaster on a wide scale "Safety doesn't happen by accident" - old saying

Wed, Jun 24, 2009

Social media is way too much information. It's as though people have become so self-absorbed as though every thought, expression matters. With social media you can kiss security out the window, hackers, terrorists, foreign governments must be licking their chops waiting to pounce.

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