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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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RE: Huh?
By Veedee on 2/28/2008 7:31:19 PM , Rating: 1
>>>When you sign up for the military you basically give up certain rights - and this is true no matter what nation.<<<

Hmm and you don't see anything wrong with that. We put our lives on the line for freedom and democracy, only to lose some of the same in the process. The military censorship you are talking about is geared to preventing military secrets from becoming public knowledge. I agree with that and would hope that there is somebody who spends considerable time preventing that from happening so we can continue to pound the bad guys. However, this one is entirely different. As one tech said, they block first, website at all. Then they look for exceptions. All blogging sites are banned period, including anything that smells like blog, looks like blog or sounds like blog. And that affects anybody on base or deployed where the only avenue is through networks controlled by "cyber command". If that doesn't sound a bit over the top to you, we obviously differ on the concept of rights violations and censorship in general. The zoomies have overstepped the boundaries of censorship. This is not just about censoring outgoing communications, it encompasses the censorship of whole websites. Something the Chinese ARE doing and the Eurpean community is now attacking by trying to include it in trade agreements. What other rights are you willing to give up so the rest of the country can talk behind your back?


RE: Huh?
By mpeny on 2/28/2008 8:08:07 PM , Rating: 2
I am not disagreeing with you. Censorship in the military has a definitive purpose. My point was the reporter was trying to equate military censorship with civilian censorship. Which is quite silly for the most part.


RE: Huh?
By masher2 (blog) on 2/28/2008 11:55:29 PM , Rating: 5
This isn't censorship. This is control of military-owned equipment. Is the policy neccesary, or even wise? I won't hazard a guess...but it's not a violation of personal liberty.

Freedom of speech guarantees you the right to speak. Not for the government to give you a computer, printing press, or private TV network to broadcast it with.


RE: Huh?
By Spazmodian on 2/29/2008 1:38:02 AM , Rating: 2
Air Force Instruction 33-129 http://www.e-publishing.af.mil/shared/media/epubs/...

2.2. Inappropriate Use. Using the Internet for other than official or authorized purposes may result in
adverse administrative or disciplinary action. The activities listed in paragraphs 2.2.1. through 2.2.14.
involving the use of government-provided computer hardware or software are specifically prohibited.
2.2.1. Use of Federal government communications systems for unauthorized personal use.

Allow me to break it down for you. AFIs are directive publications that state at the top of each one BY THE ORDER OF THE SECRETARY OF THE AIR FORCE in nice big bold letters. It is unlawful for an Air Force member to violate this order.

The Air Force blocking blogs or youtube or anything they want on their systems is in no way shape or form a violation of civil liberties. The Constitution does not grant any one freedom to do anything with government owned systems.

This move is an enforcement of AFI33-129.


RE: Huh?
By 1078feba on 2/29/2008 10:43:59 AM , Rating: 3
With reasoning like that, I would hope that you are still somewhat young. If you're anywhere near my age, well, life isn't going to be kind to you.

You used the word "We" in your second sentence, leading one to believe that you are currently wearing the uniform of my beloved Corps or one of it's sister services. Perhaps you're a retiree. Either way, if you are a service member, you're boot camp or OCS experience, it's plain to see, did absolutely nothing for you.

This isn't about your rights, it's about your responsibilities. When I signed, I knew that a good portion of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights would cease to exist for me except in that I have sworn my life to defend them. The reason one gives up those rights is because when Chesty Puller puts a boot in one's ass and tells you to "Take that hill!", one has no "right" to refuse. The expectation of absolute discipline based on legal and moral orders is the very foundation of any effective fighting organization. Give some week-kneed, limp-writed morally-deficient person those "rights" while in uniform, and the potential is there for him/her to get a lot of people dead.

I live on a base and I use Cox for intenet at home. I'm almost certain that this denial of access to blogs does not extend to the baracks rooms, as those computers would have civilian MAC address'. Obviously, if this only applies to Air Force owned computers at the physical place of work, then the Air force is not only entirely legally within their scope of control, they are ethically as well. How you can't see this is, well, disturbing.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am posting this from an NMCI machine, at work. NMCI, for the uninitiated, stands for Navy Marine Corps Internet, or, as we affectionately call it, Non-Mission Capable Internet.


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