Sunday, June 1, 2008

"The Pentagon's Internet Civil War"

It's painful watching our vintage 20th century governmental institutions struggling with 21st century realities. Davis Axe reports on the "internet civil war" between the Army and the Air Force in the 1st part of a 3 part series at the Washington Independent:

This winter, the Air Force, as the Pentagon’s point agency for Internet operations –“cyberwarfare,” in military jargon – banned access from official networks to many blogs, declaring that they weren’t “established, reputable media.” The Air Force didn’t seem concerned that America’s greatest enemies, international jihadists, had long ago latched onto websites as cheap, effective tools for sharing ideas.

Indeed, the Air Force’s ban was part of a widening military crackdown on so-called “Web 2.0” Internet sites, including blogs, YouTube, MySpace and Facebook, all often grouped together as “social media,” because of their potential for easy, global communication. Mostly, Website-banning Pentagon officials were worried that U.S. troops, in using these popular Web 2.0 sites, might inadvertently release secret information on the Internet.
The Army cleverly dodged the bans, setting up its own versions of popular Web 2.0 sites, but hiding them behind password-protected portals. In that way, the Army appears to have found a middle ground between Internet proponents and skeptics. On this toehold, the land combat branch is steadily building new Internet tools that might help the United States catch up to Internet-savvy jihadists. In late April, the land-warfare branch even launched an official blogging service for officers. The blogs combine the best of the civilian Web 2.0 with old-fashioned military-grade security.
MilSpace represents the kinds of long-term solutions likely to result from the Pentagon’s internal Internet struggle. The military will develop its own Net tools, similar to the civilian versions, optimized for spreading ideas and information more quickly. But the armed services may restrict access to some tools in an effort to keep the ideas and information out of the wrong hands.

A coherent military Internet strategy can’t come soon enough: America’s enemies continue to take huge leaps forward online. In May, The New York Times profiled a Belgian woman, Malika El Aroud, who runs Al Qaeda online recruiting campaigns from her home office, using popular Internet forums. Some critics have questioned whether such online campaigns work. They do, according to a January report from the Combating Terrorism Center, a New York-based policy organization. “People [were] deciding to pick up arms after spending time on the forums,” editor Erich Marquardt told The New York Sun.

“It is now possible for them [Islamic extremists] to communicate instantly with supporters (or potential supporters) in nearly all parts of the world,” the nonprofit EastWest Institute reported in February.

EastWest, which has offices in New York, Brussels and Moscow, also pointed out that “as powerful as the Internet may be for violent extremists, cyberspace is a neutral vehicle for the rapid transfer of ideas, beliefs and agendas. Thus it can, and must, be used by those seeking to counter violent extremism.”

That’s a lesson that many within the military have been slow to learn. Only the Army, with its compromise approach balancing the free exchange of ideas with the need for security, seems to truly appreciate the Internet’s value – something jihadists understood years ago.

(Emphasis mine)


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