May 3rd, 2007


OPSEC, Censorship, and Security Through Obscurity.

New Army regulations require soldiers -- including those who have returned from Iraq / Afghanistan -- to consult with their immediate supervisor and an officer that handles OPSEC issues prior to any publication, blog post, forum / discussion post, comment, or public email.

Unfortunately, as there were already strong restrictions in place on what soldiers overseas could say to those back home, and as soldiers are already adequately trained on OPSEC policies and procedures, I strongly believe that this new policy primarily will serve as a form of preemptive censorship.

Already, we are seeing soldiers getting in trouble for saying things which have absolutely nothing to do with OPSEC. Are we to believe that soldiers' already somewhat limited rights of free speech will be honored and protected by their commanders, who will allow them to post whatever they want so long as it doesn't violate OPSEC or criticize their president / commanders, or will they find themselves preemptively censored?

It's one thing to tell a person who has been home for a few months that they are supposed to consider OPSEC before sharing anything with the public... but another thing entirely to force them to get pre-approval for whatever they choose to make public about their time in Iraq. Keep in mind that even soldiers who stop active service and go on to become civilians often sign up as reservists, work as government contractors, or fall under the category of the individual ready reserves, legally binding them to the same preemptive OPSEC requirements as a soldier who is in the combat zone. When do these citizens get their full, complete free speech rights back? For how many years will our government choose to deny them their rights as citizens?

The point isn't that OPSEC is necessary, as some are simplistically framing this argument. This issue -- which isn't denied by those who champion free speech rights for soldiers -- is largely tangental to the new regulation changes, however. Rather, it's the fact that soldiers are no longer trusted to apply what they already know about OPSEC. Rather, they are being compelled into draconian security measures which do little to increase OPSEC, and much to increase censorship.

Every soldier knows that OPSEC is necessary and has been trained thoroughly on how to comply with OPSEC regulations. Soldiers in a combat zone know very well what they can and cannot say to people back home, and are professionals about it. Whenever there's even a smidgen of a potential OPSEC issue on a military forum, I have seen other soldiers chime in "OPSEC!" quite loudly, usually resulting in a thoughtful explanation of why the issue in question wasn't an OPSEC violation, or, in rare cases, an editing of the original post. Oftentimes the reason is that the media has already disclosed the information in question, which is, therefore, a matter of public record.

I have interacted with well over a hundred soldiers over the past few years. During that time period, not a single soldier has said anything so glaringly in violation of OPSEC that it would pose a substantial danger to his fellow soldiers. They, as a rule, don't telegraph their actions in the kind of detailed, explicit manner that would be of much use to the insurgents. Frankly, they rarely talk about where they are going until after they've arrived, and they certainly don't focus on their weaknesses.

The wording of this new policy makes little to no difference in the level of OPSEC for soldiers who are currently deployed overseas, as compared to the previous policies. Rather, it specifically expands the level of OPSEC for soldiers and civilians who are at home. Under these new regulations, returned soldiers, contractors, families, and friends (i.e. me) of soldiers are all put on the spot.

The new policy specifically states that civilian-run websites that focus on army issues should be routinely monitored by the military for OPSEC violations. Likewise, unofficial Army sites or sites run by families of soldiers should also be monitored.

I ask, why am I paying the government to monitor my website and the websites of other civilians, if there isn't the potential that they will respond to / act on what they learn? They could very well warn me, threaten me, harrass me, or otherwise try to compel me to change my content.

Are these new regulations really as non-binding against civilian websites as we private citizens might like to believe, or do the methods already exist in law for private citizens to be compelled to remove their content, perhaps through DMCA takedown notices, laws regarding state secrets, etc?

Also, if I reveal information that was passed on to me by a soldier, then there's a very real risk that such monitoring isn't meant as much to target me, as to potentially target and harass that soldier -- or other soldiers who may use my site who may be falsely suspected of some wrongdoing. For this reason, simply knowing and interacting with me or commenting on my website could become a potential liability for every soldier I know.

That's wrong, frankly. And a clear form of censorship. As a civilian with free speech rights and as a friend of many soldiers, I have to say no. Not just no, but hell no.

I have been maintaining a blog for over seven years now, and because of my unique situation, I have been in touch with numerous soldiers. I have also had the privilege of making blog posts which matter, such as when a friend of mine in the military specifically told me about this issue of Field Artillery Magazine, where it specifically says that white phosphorus was used in Fallujah for lethal "shake and bake" missions.

Prior to my "discovery" of this article, the U.S. State Department loudly proclaimed from their website that claims of WP attacks on Fallujah were enemy propaganda, and that it had been used for illumination purposes only. Afterwards -- and after I commented / spread the news to every blog I could find that was discussing Fallujah -- the media picked up the story and the State Department finally corrected their statement.

In other words, your government lied to you, and it took an honest soldier to correct that lie.

This, by the way, is usually the way most of us get access to the truth over in Iraq. It took soldiers coming forward to bring out the truth of Abu Ghraib. It took soldiers and their families coming forward to expose the fact that they were being sent into harm's way without proper body armor. It took a soldier boldly coming forward during the Q&A session of a speech by Donald Rumsfeld to put an end to improvised "hillbilly armor" on Humvees.

So, if you want to defend proactively requiring soldiers from posting anything without prior approval from the powers that be, fine. If you want to require civilians like myself to mind their P's & Q's to avoid possibly hurting their friends in the military, that's fine too. Just expect to be kept in the dark and lied to a *LOT* more often than you already are, and expect the negative, scandalously dangerous, unsafe, and irresponsible effects of poor government policies to get swept under the rug.

So yes, go ahead and argue for censorship. You might as well be arguing for security through obscurity, however. While there is a place for secrecy and tight control of information regarding security matters, traditionally, that place has been limited by our military's own doctrine. Indeed, one of the relative strengths of the U.S. military as opposed to tightly controlled, top-down, Soviet-style militaries is that soldiers, to speak bluntly, are allowed to bitch, which leads to an organization that adapts and improves on itself far more rapidly.

There is strength and power in the ability of the U.S. soldier to complain, loudly and voiciferously, about their lot in life. Why? Because the squeaky wheel gets the oil. So, while you don't announce the gaping hole in your defenses without a fix in place, you do keep communication as open as realistically possible, because the alternative actually encourages weakness and failure. Accountability -- to both the public and within the military itself -- breeds success. Lack of accountability breeds lies, corruption, tyranny, and moral / ethical decay. To think otherwise is to ignore the lessons of history.

And, if news from the front lines is actually endangering the war effort, then I would argue that in a democratic society, that war effort may not be worth maintaining. Far better to maintain our military strength and our freedoms instead.

Yes, this is a war. Yes, OPSEC matters. But what matters more than that are our freedoms -- the ones that are the basis of any government for and by the people... the ones that soldiers are asked to risk their lives to defend every day. If you must fight as an American to protect anything, protect those freedoms first, last, and always.


A Marine's Life in Afghanistan.

This video would be funnier if it weren't so sad and true. (Here's a mirror of the video, for any who might need it.)

"You know? Your country stinks like ass. . . You smell like ass too."

"So fuckers, it's Christmas Eve, you just got in a firefight... what are your thoughts?"
"I pissed myself."
"I shit myself."

"Waste of fucking time... to climb bigass mountains like that. I've been up there. Of course I have. See that one? Been up there too."

"Beating off three times a day. Can't stop. Wake up in the middle of the night. Beat off. Go to the head every five minutes. Beat off. I look at fuckin' porno magazines and wish I was there."

"There's weed, everywhere. THERE'S WEED! EVERYWHERE!!"

So, really, the situation there isn't at all similar to that of Vietnam. Much.

(Of course, such news from the front is a clear violation of OPSEC.)

Iraq *STILL* underpowered.

I was reviewing the latest quarterly report on Iraqi reconstruction, and found the following snippet that I hadn't seen reported anywhere.

This quarter, the average daily power generation on the grid was 3,832 MW, which is
below reported pre-war levels (4,500 MW).

It's also still below the initial U.S. reconstruction goal for Iraq, which was 6,750 megawatts by the summer of 2004, and the revised goal of 6,000 megawatts by June 2004.

The good news is that the new numbers are a full 66 megawatts higher than the figures for electricity production in January, 2004. And to think it only took a few billion dollars to get there...

So, what's 66 megawatts? That's 66 million watts, or enough to power about 1800 U.S. homes. Currently, the most efficient 2.5 MW generators weigh in at about 350 lbs... so we've advanced about 25 of those over the past two years.

Ironically, 66 megawatts per hour is approximately the same amount of power that's generated every year by the approximately 25,000 participants of the Burning Man festival. Obviously, the answer is to move Burning Man to Iraq. Would anyone really notice the difference?

The truely wacky thing is that their report basically says that pretty much all the money has been spent, but that the longterm goal is to achieve 18,000 megawatts by 2010, which will be needed to meet a peak demand of nearly 15,000 MW.

Na ganna happen.

The Iraqis are soooo screwed, but at least the Iranians have a good market to sell into. Maybe they can even import Iraqi oil, burn it, and sell the electricity back to the Iraqis at a premium... suitable revenge, perhaps, for Saddam's invasion of their country. And given how overtaxed the Iraqi electricity grid is, I'm sure they could even find ways to play interesting undersupply/oversupply games in the process!

They could be Iraq's answer to Enron, if they wanted to be... stickin' it to poor ol' Grandma Melek.

(Please note the particularly dark and bitter humor here, as only a Californian who went through the California Electricity Crisis could adequately express.)