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Military blocks YouTube, MySpace

DENVER – Soldiers serving overseas are losing some of their online links to friends and family back home under a Department of Defense policy that an Army official said formally takes effect on Monday.

The Defense Department is blocking access “worldwide” to YouTube, MySpace and 11 other popular Web sites on its computers and networks, according to a memo sent Friday by Gen. B.B. Bell, the U.S. Forces Korea commander.

The policy is being implemented to protect information and reduce drag on the department’s networks, according to Bell.

“This recreational traffic impacts our official DoD network and bandwidth ability, while posing a significant operational security challenge,” the memo said.

The Defense Department cut off access to about a dozen popular Web sites last week on all department computers worldwide. Warnings of the shutdown went out in February, and allowed personnel to seek waivers if accessing the sites was necessary for their jobs.

The armed services have long barred members of the military from sharing information that could jeopardize their missions or safety, whether electronically or by other means. The new policy is different because it creates a blanket ban on several sites used by military personnel to exchange messages, pictures, video and audio with family and friends.

Members of the military can still access the sites on their own computers and networks, but Defense Department computers and networks are the only ones available to many soldiers and sailors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Iraqi insurgents or their supporters have been posting videos on YouTube at least since last fall, and the Army recently began posting videos on YouTube showing soldiers defeating insurgents and befriending Iraqis.

But the new rules mean many military personnel won’t be able to watch those videos ” at least not on military computers.

If the restrictions are intended to prevent soldiers from giving or receiving bad news, they could also prevent them from providing positive reports from the field, said Noah Shachtman, who runs a national security blog for Wired Magazine.

“This is as much an information war as it is bombs and bullets,” he said. “And they are muzzling their best voices.”

The sites covered by the ban are the video-sharing sites YouTube, Metacafe, IFilm, StupidVideos and FileCabi; social networking sites MySpace, BlackPlanet and Hi5; music sites Pandora, MTV, 1.fm and live365; and the photo-sharing site Photobucket.

Several companies have instituted similar bans, saying recreational sites drain productivity.

Bloggers who operate military and security sites say new Army rules will inhibit soldiers from blogging.

“The old regulation said you had to register your blog, and if you had any questions about operational security you were supposed to inform your commander,” said former Army Maj. Matthew Burden, who served in the Gulf War and in intelligence.

The new rule is more general. It says soldiers must “Consult with their immediate supervisor and their OPSEC (Operational Security) officer for an OPSEC review prior to publishing or posting information in a public forum.”

Meanwhile, the Army announced that beginning Monday it would block access to YouTube, MySpace and other popular Web sites. “This recreational traffic impacts our Department of Defense network and bandwidth ability, while posing a significant operational security challenge,” said an order signed by Bell.

In announcing the new blogging regulations, the Army said the intention of the new rule is not to have soldiers clear every public posting with commanders. “Not only is that impractical, but we are trusting the soldiers to protect critical information,” said Army Maj. Ray M. Ceralde on May 2. The Army also said rules published in 2005 already required soldiers to clear postings with security officers.

However, the 2005 regulation, provided to The Associated Press by Burden, required soldiers to consult only before posting “sensitive and/or critical” information.

It required soldiers to, “Consult with their immediate supervisor and their Operational Security program manager, prior to publishing or posting information that might contain sensitive and/or critical information in a public forum _ this includes, but is not limited to letters, e-mail, Web site postings, Web log (Blog) postings, discussion in Internet information forums, discussion in Internet message boards, or other forms of dissemination or documentation.”

Burden said no commander can ignore the new regulation or liberally interpret it. “He’s going to read it black and white.”

Iraq-based soldiers are disappearing from Burden’s blog since the new rule was announced, though many soldiers still e-mail him and he posts their comments under different names, he said. His Web site, http://www.blackfive.net, has 3 million hits a year.

A two-day posting on Sunday from a soldier in Iraq, whose name was withheld, said he was astonished support for the war has declined so much because no one in America was being asked to sacrifice anything except soldiers and their families. “The only ones who have TRULY sacrificed are my brothers and sisters in arms who have been killed or wounded and their families that live with that pain everyday. For the rest of America what has been given up? I saw in the news that the stock market is at record levels.”

Noah Shachtman, who runs a national security blog for Wired Magazine, said no one questions the Army’s right to protect intelligence, and soldiers wouldn’t purposely endanger themselves or their buddies. “This is as much an information war as it is bombs and bullets. And they are muzzling their best voices. The functional result is any soldier who blogs will have a sword of his head. And he can be busted for anything he says.”

John Noonan, a U.S. Air Force captain blogger who declined to be further identified, said: “Officers will just say you can’t blog because that is the safest way to do it. It will have a chilling effect.”

Burden said the Army had initially welcomed e-mail because it was such a morale booster. Army public affairs officers e-mail reporters in their hometowns with news of their successful campaigns.

The Army’s 2005 Review said: “Internet blog sites and troops’ letters home are full of anecdotes about the gratification U.S. service members get from helping people who have suffered so much.”

Recently, the Army began posting videos on YouTube.com showing soldiers defeating insurgents and befriending Iraqis. Iraqi insurgents or their supporters have been posting videos on the site since last fall.

Army memo: http://tinyurl.com/2x2qka

Army YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/profile?userMNFIRAQ

Army 2007 directive: http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/G-3_(DCSOPS)_1.html


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