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Is there an air-tight case against the use of social media in DOD?

To some FCW readers, the idea of allowing military personnel to access social-media sites at work is nothing less than a national security disaster waiting to happen.

They make compelling arguments -- so much so that one might wonder if the best option might be for the Defense Department to take its cue from NASA and develop homegrown social-networking technology and limit its use to service members and employees. In this scheme, commercial social media sites -- Facebook, Twitter, et al -- would be limited to public outreach campaigns.

Two comments in particular seem irrefutable. But is that case? Or is there an argument to be made for allowing military personnel at all levels to use Facebook, Twitter and similar sites at work? If so, we would love to hear it.

Here are excerpts from those the comments. You can read more here (scroll down and click on “View all comments”).

* I was at a company in Sunnyvale, California many years ago. Without having direct access to the plant buildings but just by hanging out in bars, meeting folks in the park, monitoring telephones, watching where folks parked and walked to, a small group identified a building next to us that we thought was not important as being a highly classified program, what they were working on, and as I recall, some more items that were too classified for our briefing (we were only at the secret level after all). Social networks makes the prep work for data gather[ing] so much simpler, as many folks forget that spying is not the movies where one guy gets the data, it is many people gathering a lot of information, sifting, gathering more based on the sifting until a pattern develops. Even personalized license plates of the people who worked in the building mentioned was part of the datum that lead to the identification of what was going on. As I recall, it was a small group of people who were tasked to find out what was going on at the plant that might be interesting, so they had 30,000+ people to winnow through to find the ones that were useful. And we did not have the Internet system back then like we do now where your laundry is hung out to dry. Americans are overly trusting, lazy and ignorant when it comes to what other entities want to do -- just ask some folks who live closer to threats than we do.

* Balance is indeed a fundamental concern, and work must certainly “get done,” but 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. This same kind of self-assured know-it-all-ism is what led some people to pooh-pooh the identification of Valerie Plame. But just the knowledge of who she was and where she had worked likely endangered or even condemned some of her sources. The key to security is informed vigilance, and to quote Boorstin, “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”

Posted by John Stein Monroe on Jun 25, 2009 at 12:14 PM


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