Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Friday, May 04, 2007

  US Army: American "media" are a threat to the nation

The Army now classifies the media as a threat in parallel to al-Qaeda and drug cartels. I kid you not.

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The above slide occurs at page 5 of a new Operational Security Training Program briefing from the U.S. Army 1st Information Operations Command (h/t Noah Shachtman at Wired). The briefing, entitled "OPSEC in the Blogosphere," exists to warn military personnel against posting sensitive information on the internet. (Ironically, this OPSEC briefing marked "for official use only" was posted on-line by the Army.)


Some background: The briefing is part of a major effort by the Pentagon to clamp down on the release of information through unofficial channels. Last month saw the publication of aggressive new OPSEC regulations. This directive, perhaps justifiably, reflects concern about the nature of some information being posted at military blogs.

However the scope of the new regulations has drawn complaints that the Pentagon is over-reaching, specifically that it wants to silence voices who challenge the official versions of events in Iraq

As I read this OPSEC directive, the Army is moving beyond its own realm of responsibility and going into, as put, "big brother mode", to control any information it doesn't want published, or republished.

Indeed, the military proposes to scrub public websites of information it deems inappropriate. At page 20 of the new OPSEC directive (section 2-21) we read:

The Commander of Army Web Risk Assessment Cell (AWRAC) ...will...

c. Conduct routine checks of web sites on the World Wide Web for disclosure of critical and/or sensitive information that is deemed a potential OPSEC compromise...

d. Recommend actions to remove inappropriate security and personal information from publicly accessible web sites on the World Wide Web.

Even more significantly, however, the new OPSEC regulations also criminalize the very act of investigating any information considered "sensitive", as Steve Aftergood remarks.

The regulation also encourages Army personnel to view attempts by unauthorized persons to gather restricted information as an act of subversion against the United States.

"All Department of the Army personnel and DoD contractors will... consider handling attempts by unauthorized personnel to solicit critical information or sensitive information as a Subversion and Espionage Directed Against the U.S. Army (SAEDA) incident," the regulation states (at section 2-1).

"Sensitive" information is defined here (at section 1-5(c)(3)(e)) to include not just vital details of military operations and technologies but also documents marked "For Official Use Only" (FOUO) that may be exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

It follows that inquisitive members of the press or the public who actively pursue such FOUO records may be deemed enemies of the United States.

Paul McLeary comments at the Columbia Journalism Review blog:

Under these guidelines, reporters digging for information about military projects, funding requests, new acquisition strategies, or other military-related stories could be blown in by an antsy DoD worker or soldier who doesn't like the tone of questioning. That's a pretty dangerous road to begin to travel for any country, and for the U.S. it's simply unacceptable. We have no problem with the Army, or the Pentagon, keeping various things secret. In fact, we expect them to. But a reporter's job is to dig for truth, and when the military begins throwing up roadblocks like these, everyone loses.

As a creepy little addendum to this whole sorry affair, we'll quote what Major Ray Ceralde, the author of the new rules, told [Noah] Shachtman in an interview yesterday: "A person doesn't have to be in the military or government to support OPSEC...As a Nation, we are in this fight together, and all Americans are encouraged to practice OPSEC."


And thus back to the OPSEC briefing slide presentation, which takes what is merely implicit in the new OPSEC regulations and makes it explicit: The news media in the U.S. is a "non traditional" threat. Paul McLeary again:

Just to put that into some perspective, the foreign "non-traditional threats" are listed as warlords, and Al Qaeda. In other words, the Army has figuratively and literally put the media in the same box as Al Qaeda, warlords, and drug cartels.

While snake oil salesmen like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh would surely rank the American press up there with Bin Laden and his homicidal ilk, for the Army to do so is shocking, displaying a deep ignorance on the part of at least some segments of the uniformed military over just what the media's role in a democracy is, while sending the unambiguous message to soldiers and DoD employees that reporters are to be treated as enemies.


The utter disdain for journalists and journalism demonstrated by Rumsfeld's Pentagon is notorious. You cannot read Daniel Schulman's analysis of the "weaponization of information" without appreciating that the news media has become both a tool and a target in this campaign. Scott Horton asks:

Is it hyperbole to say that the Bush Administration has gone to war against journalists? Increasingly, this claim is a literal truth. Those who would dismiss the claim should contemplate some hard facts from the real battlefields of the “war on terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, over a hundred journalists have been killed – a multiple of the number who died in World War II – and a large part of that number fell to American arms. I don’t suggest that the U.S. soldiers intentionally targeted them; but it does appear that historical rules that shielded journalists on the battlefield have disappeared, and that this has led to deaths. And with respect to certain foreign press organizations, like al-Jazeera, intentional targeting is now documented.

Thousands of journalists have been arrested by U.S. forces, and a few hundred held for significant periods. Reports of beatings and abuse are fairly routine. Journalists who take pictures or shoot film that the Pentagon and White House don’t want seen on U.S. televisions suffer the worst – consider CBS cameraman Abdul Amir, held in prison for a year, or AP Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Bilal Hussein, now held for over a year – without charges.

In both Afghanistan and Iraq, journalists have had their photographs and film seized and destroyed by U.S. forces, acting on formal orders to interdict the transmission of film footage which would undermine the White House’s message...

While working in Iraq last year, I was warned repeatedly that journalists were targeted and that documents existed establishing this. I was also warned that by defending journalists, I would myself become a target.

Even more chilling: in a series of speeches given across the country, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has assailed journalists and suggested that Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations are successfully infiltrating media organizations and controlling their message.

As indeed Rumsfeld did. See for example this report

Rumsfeld often complains about what he calls the terrorists' success in persuading Westerners that the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are part of a crusade against Islam. In his remarks at Fallon he did not offer any new examples of media manipulation; he put unusual emphasis, however, on the negative impact it is having on Americans in an era of 24-hour news.

More outrageously still, Rumsfeld claims media are receiving terror tip-offs:

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says journalists have received tip-offs from terrorists of impending attacks in Iraq, singling out Al-Jazeera television as "Johnny-on-the-spot a little too often for my taste"...

His comments came just two days after a journalist, Mazen al-Tomaisi, who worked for Saudi television and the Arabic news channel Al Arabiya was killed when a US helicopter fired on a crowd that had gathered around a bomb-struck US armoured vehicle in Baghdad.

Referring to suicide attacks and roadside bombings, Mr Rumsfeld said "it is striking that from time to time at least there is a journalist, quote-unquote, standing around taking pictures of it."

The killing of journalists in Iraq has been an epidemic, and US forces have come in for their share of the blame. In fact, in 2005 Reuters complained to Congress that the American military was "out of control".

Reuters has told the US government that American forces' conduct towards journalists in Iraq is "spiralling out of control" and preventing full coverage of the war reaching the public.

The detention and accidental shootings of journalists is limiting how journalists can operate, wrote David Schlesinger, the Reuters global managing editor, in a letter to Senator John Warner, head of the armed services committee.

The Reuters news service chief referred to "a long parade of disturbing incidents whereby professional journalists have been killed, wrongfully detained, and/or illegally abused by US forces in Iraq"...

"The worsening situation for professional journalists in Iraq directly limits journalists' abilities to do their jobs and, more importantly, creates a serious chilling effect on the media overall," Mr. Schlesinger wrote.


It's a legitimate question, then, whether the US military is aiming still, under Defense Secretary Robert Gates, to chill reporting on the disastrous war in Iraq. The new OPSEC regulations are troubling enough on their own; the briefing slides practically shout contempt for journalists. I'll give the last word to Scott Horton:

The attitude that appears in these frames reflects the theory of total war. It’s a mindset I have come across many times in my career, in the former Soviet Union and in Communist China, for instance. And now: in training slides for the U.S. Army.

crossposted from Unbossed

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