The Defense Department wants to be linked in to the world, but must be wary of compromising operational security.
Top Defense Department officials, noting the importance social networking has played in detailing events surrounding Iran’s disputed elections, acknowledge that the Pentagon needs to take a closer look at social media technologies.
“This department, I think, is way behind the power curve in this; it's an area where I think we have a lot of room for improvement,” said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, speaking to reporters at a Pentagon news conference last week.
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“How do we communicate better with [young people]?” Gates asked. “How do we get reactions from them to things that we're doing? How do we get better plugged in with what they're thinking?”
The answer to those questions, in Gates’ view, is to harness social media to enable DOD reach out to the world.
“For leaders ... it's really important to be connected to [social networking tools] and understand it,” said Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noting that he has his own Facebook page. “I think communicating that way and moving information around that way—whether it's administrative information or information in warfare — is absolutely critical.”
While the lure of the social networking is increasing, the phenomenon is not without risk. Jack Kiesler, chief of cyber counterintelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency, cited participation in online discussion groups or blogs by DOD employees or contractors as one avenue foreign intelligence services could use to single out disgruntled military or intelligence agency employees, who then could be recruited or blackmailed.
In addition, according to Kiesler, foreign agents seeking to steal stealth technology might start by trying to identify individuals—via social media profiles—who are working on the technology: figuring out whom they associate with, following their movements, looking for clues about new research and development and so on.
Kiesler noted that an "Intelligence Professionals" group exists today on the social media site LinkedIn.com, and that 163 LinkedIn members listed the Defense Intelligence Agency as their current employer.