BAGRAM AIR BASE, AFGHANISTAN — In January, when I first arrived here, I made an alarming discovery about the state of IT in the Army. Practically all of the blogs and other online tools I use to stay informed and connected to my colleagues (see here, for example) did not work. More accurately, they are deliberately blocked by a series of web filters, both automatically and manually constructed, in an effort to restrict inappropriate uses of the Internet from Army computers. This is a noble goal—I prefer that they block porn from office computers—but it is so unevenly implemented as to make me wonder what its real intent is.
For one, there is the messy issue with the word “blog.” While a lot of blogs could be classified as time wasters, simply banning that says “blog” in it results in some strange blocking selections, like the State Department’s official blog.
On a personal level, Registan.net is blocked. This is not an automatic block, as the category used in the reason line is “local blocks,” or it was manually added. Why an S6 would want to block this blog from being read on Army computers escapes me, but it is nevertheless the case. Many other blogs, including everything on blogspot, are also inaccessible. In fact, at first I was merely annoyed at such a state of affairs, as I can fake my way around these filters using my RSS reader. But when I noticed blogs like Jezebel were actually not blocked—and no offense to Jezebel, I enjoy reading it—I began to wonder: could there be a pattern to these blocks? So I began manually checking a lot of blogs that I read regularly, outside my RSS reader. The results are below:
|Blocked on Army IT||Not Blocked on Army IT|
|http://abumuqawama.blogspot.com||http://blog.bouhammer.com/ (this became available in the last 72 hours)|
|http://www.blackfive.net/||http://www.jezebel.com/ (and all other Gawker sites as well)|
|http://letusbuildpakistan.blogspot.com/||http://www.autoblog.com/ (and all other Weblogs, Inc. blogs)|
|http://www.twitter.com/ (and all other major social networking sites)|
I see no noticeable rhyme or reason to this, aside from some local blocks, like Captain’s Journal, that are deeply puzzling. But it also speaks to a deeper problem in how the military in general is approaching IT issues in the field: it makes absolutely no sense. Many of the blocked blogs are sources for deep, intelligent, and even essential analysis, news, and discussions. In fact, I only know they are blocked because I read them and see value in them. Moreover, when the Army’s own Command General Staff College is requiring its students to blog (how lucky they can actually read that news, as it is on SWJ), blocking other blogs, especially ones written by think tankers and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists of the very wars we are fighting, is nonsensical. The military wants to be relevant, it wants to be able to compete in the “information battlespace” (a wretched term I use only for simplicity’s sake), yet it cripples anyone’s ability to have situational awareness. It would be one thing if the Army were good at disseminating information internally, but they’re not.
As a result, I learn about suicide bombers hitting ECP-3 from my parents in the U.S. wanting to know if I’m okay. Yes Mom, I’m fine. I didn’t even know it happened, thanks to the terrible IT policies here.
I mean, I don’t get it. Does anyone? Does this make even a jot of sense to someone out there?