RICHMOND, Va. - From the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan to here at home,
soldiers blogging about military life are under the watchful eye of some of
A Virginia-based operation, the
Army Web Risk Assessment Cell, monitors official and unofficial blogs and other
Web sites for anything that may compromise security. The team scans for official
documents, personal contact information and pictures of weapons or entrances to
Author Matthew Currier Burden stands
at the Pritzker Military Library with a copy of his book containing a
collection of entries from bloggers who served in the war called , 'The
Blog Of War,' in Chicago, Ill., in this Oct. 26, 2006 file
In some cases, that information can be detrimental, said Lt. Col. Stephen
Warnock, team leader and battalion commander of a Manassas-based Virginia
National Guard unit working on the operation.
In one incident, a blogger was describing his duties as a guard, providing
pictures of his post and discussing how to exploit its vulnerabilities. Other
soldiers posted photos of an Army weapons system that was damaged by enemy
attack, and another showed personal information that could have endangered his
"We are a nation at war," Warnock said by e-mail. "The less the enemy knows,
the better it is for our soldiers."
In the early years of operations in the Middle East, no official oversight
governed Web sites that sprung up to keep the families of those deployed
informed about their daily lives.
The oversight mission, made up of active-duty soldiers and contractors, as
well as Guard and Reserve members from Maryland, Texas and Washington state,
began in 2002 and was expanded in August 2005 to include sites in the public
domain, including blogs.
The Army will not disclose the methods or tools being used to find and
monitor the sites. Nor will it reveal the size of the operation or the
contractors involved. The Defense Department has a similar program, the Joint
Web Risk Assessment Cell, but the Army program is apparently the only operation
that monitors nonmilitary sites.
Now soldiers wishing to blog while deployed are required to register their
sites with their commanding officers, who monitor the sites quarterly, according
to a four-page document of guidelines published in April 2005 by Multi-National
Spc. Jean-Paul Borda, who has indexed thousands of military blogs for a site
called Milblogging.com, said in an e-mail interview that the military still is
adapting to changing technology.
"This is a new media - Blogging. Podcasting. Online videos," wrote Borda, 32,
of Dallas, who kept a blog while he was deployed in Afghanistan with the
Virginia National Guard. "The military is doing what it feels necessary to
ensure the safety of the troops."
Warnock said the Web risk assessment team has reviewed hundreds of thousands
of sites every month, sometimes e-mailing or calling soldiers asking them to
take material down. If the blogger doesn't comply with the request, the team can
work with the soldier's commanders to fix the problem - that is, if the blogger
doesn't post anonymously.
"We are not a law enforcement or intelligence agency. Nor are we political
correctness enforcers," Warnock said. "We are simply trying to identify harmful
Internet content and make the authors aware of the possible misuse of the
information by groups who may want to damage United States interests."
Some bloggers say the guidelines are too ambiguous - a sentiment that has led
others to pre-emptively shut down or alter their blogs.
"It's impossible to determine when something crosses the line from not a
violation to a violation. It's like trying to define what pornography is or bad
taste in music," said Spc. Jason Hartley, 32, who says he was demoted from
sergeant and fined for reposting a blog he created while deployed to Iraq with
the New York Army National Guard.
According to Hartley, the Army had forced him to stop the blog even before
the oversight operation existed, citing pictures he had posted of Iraqi
detainees and discussions of how he loaded a weapon and the route his unit took
to get to Iraq.
Warnock contended that soldiers should not be discouraged from blogging
Military bloggers "are simply expressing themselves in a wide open forum and
want to share their life-changing experiences with the rest of the world,"
Warnock said. "Giving soldiers an outlet for free expression is good. American
soldiers are not shy about giving their opinions and nothing the Web Risk Cell
does dampens that trait."
Matthew Currier Burden, 39, a former intelligence officer who wrote "The Blog
of War," a collection of entries from bloggers who served in the war, said
soldiers' Web sites can go a long way toward portraying positive aspects of the
war and other "stories that need to get told."
But he said it's legitimate to fear that some information could be used the
"The enemy knows the value of the blogs," Burden said. "The biggest thing
that we fear is battle damage assessment from the enemy. We want to deny them