Thursday, September 28, 2006

So much for surgical precision

The new CF policy entitled "GUIDANCE ON BLOGS AND OTHER INTERNET COMMUNICATIONS" directed at uniformed Canadian military personnel is a blunt object:


Look, I get the OPSEC and PERSEC issues, here. And they have to remain paramount, no argument from this quarter.

But telling a CF member that they have to clear every single piece of information regarding the CF with their chain of command before posting it anywhere on the internet is practically the same as telling them they can't post about it at all. If a soldier has to go through all the hassle of clearing each post or comment with the brass, and then waiting for the decision-maker to dot all the i's and cross all the t's before putting it up on a website, then he's probably not going to bother. It's just not worth the aggrevation.

Besides, what does this policy say to the individual? It says "We don't trust you. If we trusted you, we'd remind you of the security issues, make clear to you that you'll be disciplined for violations of those security issues, and then let you govern yourself accordingly with limited supervision."

That's what the U.S. armed services do (pdf file), as I indicated in a previous post:

b. Personal web sites and web logs. Personal web sites and web logs produced in a personal capacity and not in connection with official duties need not be cleared in advance. However, it is the responsibility for MNC-I personnel to ensure that any personal webe sites and web logs do not contain prohibited information as defined in this policy....

c. Web Publishing. All information residing on a publicly accessible website is public information, even if it is intended for an internal audience. Information contained on websites is subject to the policies and clearance procedures listed here and in appropriate regulations for the release of information to the public.

The entire policy is only four pages, and concise for a directive from brass at that. The key elements are registration of the blog with the chain of command, accountability for any information going up on it, and periodic monitoring by the command for compliance.

I wonder if the uniformed military participants at a site like this understand that technically, they're not allowed to post anything about the CF on the forums without prior clearance of the material with their superiors?

I wonder if the letter of the law is going to be enforced? If so, how? And just how counterproductive would that be? Conversely, if it's not going to be enforced, or if it's going to be enforced only selectively, what use is the policy as written?

This is a buckshot solution to a paring knife problem, and it's profoundly disappointing to me, since I believe the CF needs to become less insular about soldiers' stories if the Canadian public is ever to support the military as it deserves. Every roadblock NDHQ puts up to communication between ordinary Canadian soldiers and ordinary Canadian civilians pushes us further away from that ideal.


Blogger Chris Taylor said...

Well they don't call it Fort Fumble on the Rideau for nothing.

The US military has to cope with an enormous number of potential mil-bloggers that it can not possibly police, not to mention all that First Amendment stuff they take so seriously. Their policy makes sense, especially given their historical and cultural underpinnings.

Canada, on the other hand, has a tiny number of potential mil-bloggers and our culture -- let alone military culture -- has always had a nasty paternalist streak. This gag-order-by-proxy (which has the appearance of acceptance) is exactly what I would expect from the average bureaucrat aiming to avoid anything new that might generate problems down the road.

I'm not saying it's the right thing to do, but it is the easy thing to do. If there's one thing you can always count on from the Puzzle Palace (or heck, any bureaucracy, civil or military), it's taking the path of least bureaucratic resistance.

Disappointing in the extreme.

5:06 p.m., September 28, 2006  
Blogger VW said...

Actually, I shouldn't worry too much about this one.

The exact phrase is "consult with the chain of command." This does not mean the blog entry has to be actually approved by the top brass; instead, the blogger merely needs to show it to his/her immediate superior prior to posting. What's being checked for is anything that can be red-flagged as an EEFI, which is extremely important in a field operation. A second opinion is always helpful.

Besides, if top brass approval was necessary, then the succeeding paragraph would not have been promulgated, the one about being careful about what to say to third parties.

You have to remember that this is a CANFORGEN we're talking about, not a QRO or DAOD that's set in stone. As more people in the CF get exposed to good blogging, it'll be amended.

11:29 p.m., September 28, 2006  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

So, VW, did you check with your superior before posting that comment? Because, technically, you're supposed to.

The exact phrase is "consult with the chain of command." This does not mean the blog entry has to be actually approved by the top brass; instead, the blogger merely needs to show it to his/her immediate superior prior to posting.

I don't understand your shading here. If your superior officer told you not to post something, would you do it anyhow if you disagreed with the reasons given? I mean, if you don't require his or her approval, just consultation, you should be able to make that decision yourself, right?

Nobody - and I mean NOBODY - in uniform questions the need to protect OPSEC and PERSEC. The question is whether this policy pursues that goal in too heavy-handed a fashion.

IMO, Chris is right: the policy as written (as opposed to "as enforced") is paternalistic in the extreme.

11:34 a.m., September 29, 2006  
Blogger VW said...

No, I didn't have to check with my superior before making that post. I didn't have to; I'm not in an operational combat zone.

Bear in mind that there are only certain circumstances under which a superior can actually stop a milblogger from posting. Is the blog being hosted on a DVD server? Is DND equipment being used to access the site for posting purposes, or is it being done on a blackberry? If the former, then access can be cut off; otherwise there is very little the superior can actually do -- other than moral suasion -- to stop a blog entry.

Further, if I had access to blogposting on board ship and if my superior told me not to post something, he would have to explain why. The way the divisional system works, my superior would be obliged to explain, to me, what EEFIs are being exposed or what DAODs are being violated. If we disagree we can call over one of the public affairs people and get his / her advice. I can then decide if I go ahead, amend the post or not bother.

Is a consultation necessary? Yes -- particularly in the case of photo and videoblogs where scenery could be used to ID an operational location. Second opinions are always a good idea.

In short, a milblogger who knows what (s)he is doing can work with the CANFORGEN as expressed. You might lose the spontaneity that comes with the habit of blogging off the top of one's head, but the resultant prose gains in terms of thoughtful reflection.

5:14 p.m., September 30, 2006  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

No, I didn't have to check with my superior before making that post. I didn't have to; I'm not in an operational combat zone.

I'm curious where you read that in the CANFORGEN. Personally, I don't see it anywhere.

Look at point 4 again, VW: "CF members are to consult with their chain of command before publishing CF-related information and imagery to the internet, regardless of how innocuous the information may seem." It doesn't say "CF members in an operational combat zone."

The policy may well be enforced as you say it will be. But as written, it remains a blunt object.

4:43 p.m., October 03, 2006  
Blogger VW said...

Look at the first paragraph. That's where the CANFORGEN identifies the reason for its existence:

Recently there has been considerable information posted to the Internet describing the experiences of CF members, particularly those deployed on operations. These postings have included commentaries on personal websites, web-logs (blogs) and e-mails, and uploaded still and video imagery.

Remember that the big concern this CANFORGEN has is information about operations, since blogging is essentially dissemination to the public.

5:44 p.m., October 03, 2006  

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