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Military Matters: Muzzling truth -- Part 1

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by William S. Lind
Washington, April 29, 2009
At the height of the Cold War, a U.S. Army corps commander in Europe asked for information on his Soviet opposite, the commander of the corps facing him across the inter-German border. All the U.S. intelligence agencies, working with classified material, came up with very little. He then took his question to Chris Donnelly, who had a small Soviet military research institute at Sandhurst in the United Kingdom. That institute worked solely from open-source, i.e., unclassified, material. It sent the American general a stack of reports 6 inches high, with articles by his Soviet counterpart, articles about him, descriptions of exercises he had participated in and other valuable material.

What was true during the Cold War is even truer now in the face of fourth-generation war. As we have witnessed in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, our satellite-photo-addicted intel shops can't tell us much. But there is a vast amount of 4GW material available through open sources: Web sites by and about our opponents, works by civilian academics, material from think tanks, reports from businessmen who travel in areas we are interested in. The pile is almost bottomless.

Every American soldier with access to a computer can find almost anything he needs. Much of it is both more accurate and more useful than what filters down through the military intelligence chain.

Or at least he could. In recent months, more and more American officers have told me that when they attempt to access the Web sites they need, they find access is blocked on U.S. Department of Defense computers. Is al-Qaida doing this in a dastardly attempt to blind American combat units?

Sadly, no. The U.S. Department of Defense is doing it. Someone in the department is putting blinders on American troops.

I do not know who is behind this particular bit of idiocy. It may be the security trolls. They always like to restrict access to information because doing so increases their bureaucratic power. One argument points to them, namely an assertion that the other side may obtain useful information by seeing what we are looking for. That is like arguing that our troops should be given no ammunition lest muzzle flashes give away their positions in a firefight.

But the fact that Web sites of American organizations whose views differ from the Department of Defense's are also blocked points elsewhere. It suggests political involvement. Why, for example, is access to the Web site of the Center for Defense Information blocked? CDI is located in Washington, not the Hindu Kush. Its work includes a new book on military reform titled "America's Defense Meltdown," which has garnered quite a bit of attention from the U.S. Marines at Quantico, Va.

The goal of the Web site blockers, it seems, is to cut American military personnel off from any views except those of the Department of Defense itself.

Part 2: The dire consequences of cutting U.S. troops off from the open sources they need to be able to access in real time

(William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation.)

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