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The newly created "Cyber Command" Now controls the Air Force Network Operations Center and bans blog content.  (Source: Air Force)
China, Turkey, Pakistan ... the U.S. Air Force? The Air Force adopts strict new anti-blog computer policy

The U.S. Air Force has adopted an alarming new censorship policy that effectively bans blogs and blogging by troops using Air Force computers and networks.   The U.S. Army has required that bloggers register with their chain of command, but has encouraged them to write appropriate postings.  The Air Force, which did not adopt such a policy, now has turned to a much more restrictive policy that bans any site using the word "blog" in its URL.

The Army reviews its soldiers blogs to be redacted for sensitive information before soldiers can publish them.  This is meant to protect U.S. secrets from accidentally being exposed.  However, soldiers are welcome to speak freely in their blogs and visit blog sites. 

The Air Force feels differently, and states that blogs and various other news entities are "not legitimate new sources."

The new policy is partly due to new leadership.  Before the Air Force's internet issues were handled individually by each major command.  These separate units had the right to control their users' access as they saw fit, according The Air Force Times.  Now the internet policy has been placed under Cyber Command, which now regulates the Air Force Network Operations Center (AFNOC) in its entirety.

The new ban by the AFNOC's new leadership eliminates access to all sites hosted by popular provider Blogspot.  Other blogs and news sites, not containing "blog" in their URL are additionally blocked based on "content reviews performed on the base, command, and AFNOC level" according to The Air Force Times.  AFNOC utilizes the Blue Coat Software to categorize sites by content and speed the blocking process.  Says Tech. Sgt. Christopher DeWitt, a Cyber Command spokesman, "Often, we block first, and then review exceptions."

Maj. Henry Schott, A5 for Air Force Network Operations, tried to clarify the stance, stating, "The idea isn't to keep airmen in the dark -- they can still access news sources that are primary, official-use sources.  Basically ... if it's a place like The New York Times, an established, reputable media outlet, then it's fairly cut and dry that that's a good source, an authorized source."

Many, though feel that such decisions are highly subjective and that some blogs can provide as good or better news coverage, in some cases, than that of major news outlets.  These people will likely point to the recent court rulings that have granted bloggers journalistic protection, legitimizing their profession, at least from a legal standpoint.  Others take offense with the new policy as it blocks materials that could be valuable for training and preparedness. 

One Air Force officer, who wished to remain unnamed, tells Wired the following story: "A couple of years back, I fought this issue concerning the Counterterrorism Blog. An [Air Force] professional education course website recommended it as a great source for daily worldwide [counterterrorism] news.  However it had been banned, because it called itself a blog. And as we all know, all blogs are bad!"

Content filtering is relatively widespread in the military, though not on this scale.  Previously YouTube and MySpace were banned by the armed forces for taking up too much bandwidth.  The Army has also been concerned with the large amount of leaked pictures, video, and information appearing online.  Still many including Gen. David Petraeus, who commands U.S. forces in Iraq, have commended military bloggers and state that they're performing a vital function.

Many in the Air Force are furious at the new policy.  Writes one senior officer, "When I hear stuff this utterly stupid, it makes me want to scream ... Piles of torn out hair are accumulating around my desk as we speak. I'm certain that by blocking blogs for official use, our airmen will never, ever be able to read them on their own home computers, so we have indeed saved them from a contaminating influence. Sorry, didn't mean to drip sarcasm on your rug."

While the Air Force spends $81M USD to publicize its new advances, an Air Force officer states that the regulation of blogs has undermined "some of their most credible advocates."  He points to such sites as In From the Cold, a right-leaning military, intelligence and political affairs blog written by "Nathan Hale," the pseudonym for a former journalist and Air Force intelligence officer, who served for over two decades in the armed forces. 

He states, "The Air Force isn't getting the planes that they want because they are incapable of communicating their usefulness and applicability in this new war. Because Air Force officers talk more like corporate bureaucrats than cocky war fighters, no one is inspired or convinced of their pressing (and quite legitimate) need to modernize the force.  Air Force bloggers spoke the lingo of someone heavily invested in the fight, because they operate outside the survival-minded careerist world of public affairs, with many of them penning blog posts from theater."

The U.S. has been highly critical of other nations, such as China's internet censorship efforts, particularly attempts to silence bloggers.  The new policies by the United States Air Force are certain to strike many as a bit hypocritical in this regard.


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This accomplishes what?
By weskurtz0081 on 2/28/2008 5:34:09 PM , Rating: 3
So, we won't be able to use work computers to check out blogs, BUT, we can use personal computers at home. If anything, it seems all this really does is stop people who are deployed from writing blogs detailing what daily activities might be, or what has been going on. So, they can just email a blog to someone outside of the censored network, and have them post it. All this does is make it harder for people to post/read blogs from base..... pointless move.




RE: This accomplishes what?
By FITCamaro on 2/28/2008 5:43:33 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly. It's real world affect is zero. But the liberals and free speech thumpers out there will make this look to be the next step to a completely authoritarian state.

If you're in the military, you play by their rules. Thats how it is and always will be. If they say jump, you say how high. If you don't like that then don't join the military.


RE: This accomplishes what?
By dever on 2/29/2008 3:17:33 PM , Rating: 2
As long as they are not restricting them from writing about non-military subjects on their own computers and their own time, I don't see what the problem is. It's fairly common to sign non-disclosure statements in the private sector that would get you canned for doing something similar.

I'm more of a free speech advocate than anyone I know, but this is simply complying with a voluntarily entered contract.


RE: This accomplishes what?
By dflynchimp on 2/28/2008 5:44:45 PM , Rating: 2
I'm pretty sure out-going email is being screened by the military too if they're intent on censoring the material. It's not too hard when all the net traffic there has to run through the same servers.


RE: This accomplishes what?
By mmatis on 2/28/2008 6:11:05 PM , Rating: 2
You need to realize that many airmen live on base, and they have no access to computers "at home" other than what USAF provides them. They may be able to go off base to the local library, but when you're an E1 that ain't gonna happen all that often. Not sure how ISP access works in base housing for married types, but I wouldn't be all that surprised if they stuck it to the folks there as well...


RE: This accomplishes what?
By Spazmodian on 2/28/2008 6:48:33 PM , Rating: 3
Any Airman that doesn't have access to unrestricted internet is an Airman that hasn't tried looking for it. I've yet to see any AFB(CONUS/OCONUS/Deployed) that did not have unrestricted internet access available through multiple means.

All this is saying is that the AF is enforcing their AFI that states that government computers are to be used for official business only.


By Master Kenobi (blog) on 2/28/2008 10:38:48 PM , Rating: 5
Yes, this is no different from most civilian companies. I can't visit many blogs, social networking sites, download sites, "tasteless/offensive" sites, joke sites, etc.... All that stuff is blocked. This is no different than corporate america managing its assets and what they can do.


RE: This accomplishes what?
By marvdmartian on 3/3/2008 11:30:05 AM , Rating: 2
Exactly. Airmen (or should it be the more politically correct "airPERSON"??) in the dorms can easily hook up with multiple sources of internet accessibility, be it cable, dsl or even wireless services, if available. It is, of course, at their own expense, but seeing as basic internet hookups can be had for $20, this isn't a huge burden on them.
Also, the base library will have computer access available, with internet hookup, for low or no cost, AND many bases have airmen's centers with computers available and/or wireless internet at no cost set up for them. So the thought of our airmen being totally restricted from the internet is just plain WRONG .

Like Spazmodian said, this simply restricts them from accessing any blogs on the official computers.


RE: This accomplishes what?
By Moishe on 2/29/2008 7:58:12 AM , Rating: 4
quote:
The U.S. has been highly critical of other nations, such as China's internet censorship efforts, particularly attempts to silence bloggers. The new policies by the United States Air Force are certain to strike many as a bit hypocritical in this regard.


Comparing apples to oranges. It's one thing to censor a government network so as to increase security, it's quite another thing to censor an entire nation like a mother covering the eyes of her son. The USAF is not attempting to "silence" anyone.

This is equivalent to the filtering done at my workplace so that employees don't waste company time on YouTube and other sites. The Air Force is not the public. Moreover, they have a duty to protect the sensitive data that makes out country more safe. It seems perfectly reasonable to me.


RE: This accomplishes what?
By Wagnbat on 3/1/2008 4:59:58 PM , Rating: 2
I agree for the most part. Comparing one branch of our armed forces to a psuedo-communist country is indeed like comparing oranges to star-fruit.

And many companies and the military as a whole have blocked websites like Youtube, Facebook, Myspace, etc... Because they eat up employee's time as well as consume an enormous amount of bandwidth.

However, on the "The USAF is not attempting to "silence" anyone.", I don't know if I agree with that. The Army allows blogging, but monitors it. As with your parental reference, this is much like screening what your kids are doing. The air force's policy is a blanket policy that affects everyone equally. Since we're on parental analogies, it would be like one of your kids getting in trouble when he went to the beach, so now none of your kids are allowed to go to the beach...

I don't know how effective this will be though, because it also says they are only blocking the word 'blog'. Those using blogsites may have a rough time, but anyone else with their own hosting will very well be able to just rename the blog portion of the URL on their domain. And the former can just move to blogsites without 'blog' in the name.


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