November 18, 2022

Facebooking the War in Afghanistan

So I’ll have to admit, I’m torn on this one. New York Times journalist James Dao has a new article out about internet and cell phone use and “Facebooking” by troops deployed to Afghanistan.

I’ve never been to Afghanistan, or to Iraq for that matter, so I am hesitant to criticize commanders on the ground in Afghanistan for allowing this unprecedented level of cellular and social media access in a war zone. But the disciplinarian in me is concerned that this trend dangerously allows problems at home to become problems down range - as if there weren’t already enough problems for deployed units to deal with.

I certainly understand the rationale for allowing such unprecedented levels of access to cell and social media services on deployment. Communication with and access to families and friends back home have to be significant morale boosters for many troops. Allowing troops to watch births via Skype reduces the expense and disruption of sending troops home for such occasions. And enabling them to monitor the daily or weekly routines of life back home via Facebook can alleviate the worry that results from the wandering of the mind and the problem of assuming the worst case scenario.

But that very same monitoring can also lead to the highly disruptive micromanagement of personal affairs back home. And as the widely under-acknowledged problem of adultery and infidelity is discovered or becomes suspected because of the availability of information, even circumstantial, the effects can wreak havoc on individuals, units, and missions abroad.

Furthermore, although commanders insist that cell phones and portable games are prohibited on foot patrols, the example of one service member paying more attention to his blackberry than to the horizon while on a vehicular patrol is equally disturbing. And as we all know, for every one case that is witnessed, there must be one thousand cases that are not.

I tend to agree that a deployment should be a focused period of time where the service member is largely disconnected from life back home. With proper pre-deployment family and personal affairs planning and shorter deployment cycles, achieving this mission-optimal state should be possible.

Read the original New York Times article here: Staying in Touch with Home, for Better or Worse

OPSEC and PERSEC for Military Families

What is OPSEC? OPSEC stands for operational security. Intelligence collection and analysis is very much like assembling a picture puzzle. Intelligence collectors are fully aware of the importance of obtaining small bits of information, or “pieces” of a puzzle, from many sources and assembling them to form the overall picture.

What is PERSEC? PERSEC stands for personal security. Service members and military family should be careful to not post personal information anywhere on the internet, especially an address, phone number, workplace, etc.

This week has been full of surprises for me, both good ones and bad ones. My mom’s debit card number was stolen, and the thieves went crazy shopping with her number. She’s not sure how they got it because she doesn’t use her card online at ALL! A young professionals group that I am a part of had their website hacked and had the site’s words were changed to a different language. Who knows what it said. My email account for the non-profit organization I work with was also recently hacked.

So this got me thinking, wow… what is this world coming too? If these people wanted to, they really could have messed me up. Just crazy! It seems like everything around me was hacked or stolen this week. It has taken a lot of work and care to build up my personal image. So I was taken aback at the possibilities recently when I saw a couple of pictures in which my friend had photo-shopped me into certain places. It looked SO REAL!

I watched this weekend on Facebook, nearly, and all my friends were posting things like “at the mall with so and so” or “checked in at Pretzel Palace, 30 min ago.” I was amazed that these people were posting this type of information while the rest of their families were at home and left unprotected. If someone was stalking you or wanted to find out more information about you, all they would need to do would be to check Facebook (or impersonate one of your friends on Facebook) to find out your every move.

I also saw statuses about my friends dropping their spouses off at train stations or airports. To me, that just said, “Hello, I am vulnerable now. Come get me.” Seriously no matter who we are, women or men, we need to practice just a little bit more OPSEC and PERSEC.

I once read a quote  from the Chief of Staff of the Army:

“The enemy aggressively reads  our open source and continues to exploit such information for use against our forces. Some soldiers continue to post sensitive information to Internet websites and blogs, e.g., photos depicting weapon system vulnerabilities and tactics, techniques, and procedures. Such OPSEC violations needlessly place lives at risk and degrade the effectiveness of our operations. Our mission success and soldiers’ lives depend on aggressively denying the enemy any advantage.”

I really take this serious. Now don’t get me wrong - 6 months ago I was in love with Four Square, but now I just don’t find it as important. I now feel that this kind of technology has changed the world of cyberspace - everything is public and you can’t take back what is posted. Little pieces of information can cause serious trouble, not just for you but for other military families as well.