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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 isn't new...
By 3v1lkr0w on 2/29/2008 5:06:00 AM , Rating: 2
I am a member of the Air Force; i have been for the last 5 years now. Also I am a network admin. While the story is mostly right, each MAJCOM has the right to block/unblock different websites, all MAJCOMS use the same proxy type ( for uniformity imo) and get the same pushes from the company, and most blogs have been blocked for a few years now cause they usually fall under the proxy category "personal". So this isn't really anything new...

RE: This isn't new...
By scorpion05 on 2/29/2008 10:51:32 PM , Rating: 2
I am also a USAF network admin and have been for the last 9 years. I am a contractor admin at a training base. AETC is always the first to suffer from budget cuts and has been since I was active duty in 1972 (I was in TAC).
Since this last war in Iraq, the AF has stripped AETC of needed funds and has started on other commands. This new Cybercommand stood up by starting out blocking every URL that wasn't *.mil. It was only after the stuff hit the fan that Det2 and Cyber allowed access to *.gov and *.edu sites.
I had to file a request to Det2 to try and get access to the template site for Microsoft Office (the AF's own approved software) and the request took two weeks and was denied.
Currently, Det2 and Cyber have blocked PMO (Program Management Office) sites for managed applications necessary for things like Defense Enterprise Printing (DEPCON) and automated maintenance documentation interfaces such as IMIS. Contractor training and resource sites are blocked, which prevents contractors from being able to fulfill mandated training requirements for maintenance personnel.
All functions that were being managed at the local level, such as new account creations, mailbox management, user validations, etc., have all been moved to the CHD (Consolidated Help Desk) a mid-level agency between the local NCC and Det2.
What used to take five minutes for the group CSAs (validating new users, account creations, registration, joining systems to to the domain, etc.) now takes as much as two weeks.
Groups on base have been told they will have to pay for their own electricity bills (it was always paid by Wing). When ports are exceeded in a building, contractors are being told they will have to use their own funds for purchasing new network equipment and "donate" it to the base comm sq. NCC accounts.
The new Cybercommand's commanding officer is aptly named Lord, and he is the epitome of a growing trend in the USAF to break things now and try to fix them later. When support units like Comm and Cyber do this, real world units like Maintenance take the hit and the aircraft and crews will eventually feel the effects.
The rah rah fan club is nice, but the real story is that what they did was totally unnecessary and is very very dangerous. Cyber has caused more harm to the real world Air Force than any terrorists have to date.


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