Army's Rules for Blogging from the Battlezone

Attention bloggers in uniform: the Army is on to you. In April, the Multi-National Corps Command in Baghdad issued a policy memo on the rules governing blogging from the front lines.

The most stringent aspect of the policy is the registration requirement. Military bloggers in Iraq are required to register their sites with the chain of command. Anyone who writes for those sites is required to register as well. That means, in theory, there is a list somewhere of Soldiers’ websites and who contributes to them. I wonder if the rest of us can see that list… I’m always looking for some more raw news from the field.

Unit commanders are required to review the sites on a quarterly basis, but odds are that most sites are subject to closer scrutiny. Former Army SPC Colby Buzzell could tell you from first-hand experience. His fantastic blog, “My War” broke new ground and pushed the legal limits for MilBlogs.

What is the point for the Army? Mainly operational security, which isn’t an unreasonable request. In that respect, this isn’t a new policy. Soldiers in the field have long been muzzled when it comes to the details of where, when, who and how. And that makes sense. You don’t want PVT Snuffy letting the world (and the bad guys) know that his squad is leaving in a fuel convoy from Forward Operating Base Yahoo at 0600 hours, with five vehicles, along Route Irish. The only thing that has changed is the medium – this is the first war broadcast in real time across the Internet.

But there are a few interesting lines in the policy memo that suggest the military hasn’t quite figured out this whole blogging thing. For example:

“Risks of the release of information must be weighed against the benefits of publishing to the Internet.”

OK. I think I understand that, but it’s pretty safe to assume that the Pentagon’s list of “benefits of publishing to the Internet” is pretty short. And exactly who will be responsible for weighing those benefits? A group called the Army Web Risk Assessment Cell, or AWRAC for short. Apparently these guys have free reign over what makes it to the web and what doesn’t. Cross the AWRAC, and you’ll be politely asked to close your site until corrections have been made. Or, if the violation is deemed sufficiently egregious, you should probably consult Section 6, paragraph H, of the new policy:

“This is a punitive policy. Servicemembers in violation to (sic.) this policy may be subject to adverse administrative action or punishment under the UCMJ.”

In other words, you should probably keep it to pictures of you and the guys handing out candy, or you can reasonably expect to get your blogger-butt kicked by the folks over at AWRAC. Just ask SPC Jason Hartley of the New York National Guard. While in Iraq, Hartley ran a blog called “Just Another Soldier” that candidly described everything from the insurgency to taking a dump. The Army busted him down to Specialist, accusing him of operational security violations and disobeying an order to keep the blog offline. He discussed the case recently on NPR.

A bad policy? A good policy? Too early to tell, but it sure seems like the Army decided to cover it’s ass on this one, even if it isn’t quite sure what a blog actually is.