STEVE INSKEEP, host:
A new policy is changing the way U.S. military personnel may use the Web. The Pentagon is now blocking sites like MySpace and YouTube on its computers. The Defense Department says it doesn't have the bandwidth and has also cited security concerns. Just last month, another regulation aimed at restricting military bloggers went into effect and Noah Schachtman has been watching this story. He writes a national security blog for Wired magazine.
Mr. NOAH SCHACHTMAN (Wired Magazine): When we talk about military bloggers, there's all kinds of people that call themselves milbloggers. There is both soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, Department of Defense civilians that are working in the bowels of the Pentagon, and there are family members who miss their loved ones who are deployed abroad and, you know, just want to write about it.
INSKEEP: As somebody who does his own national security blog, do you find yourself looking up these milbloggers for information or stories?
Mr. SCHACHTMAN: Absolutely. I mean these guys are the most authentic, most honest voices out there. And they're some of the best sources you'll find on how progress on the ground is really developing.
INSKEEP: Can you give me an example of one of the places that you'd go to find particularly interesting milblog information?
Mr. SCHACHTMAN: Yeah, absolutely. There's a fellow named Matt Burden out of Chicago, he's a former paratrooper. And he has soldiers and Marines and airmen writing in to him all the time from Iraq and Afghanistan telling the stories about what's going on in the ground and he republishes them. He's sort of the... (unintelligible)
Mr. SHACHTMAN: Yeah, he is sort of the superblog. It's called BlackFive.net. And you learn all kinds of stuff that, you know, will only show up in the papers days and weeks later.
INSKEEP: And what of this is being cut off now?
Mr. SHACHTMAN: Well, the Army has issued a new regulation. And it says the letter of the law says there should be no updating of blogs. There should be no emails. There should be no letters. There should be no posting on Internet chatboards without checking with your superior officer first.
Now, the Army recognizes, I think, that this is an unenforceable policy because no commander is going to sit there all day every day and check his private and sergeant's email. Nonetheless, that rule is on the books now, and it's sort of a Sword of Damocles that hangs over every soldier's head telling him in effect watch what you say.
INSKEEP: Is there a legitimate reason to do this?
Mr. SHACHTMAN: There are two camps right now in the military, okay. There's a camp that really wants to fully embrace these digital media and feels like there's an information war that's running side by side with the one with bombs and bullets and in an insurgency situation they're about equally important. There's another camp that is scared to death of this stuff, that figures that if you give every soldier a microphone, there's no telling what he might say.
INSKEEP: Well, what if a commander says, listen, al-Qaida's reading these blogs?
Mr. SHACHTMAN: Yeah, that's probably true. Al-Qaida is probably reading these blogs and the American public is probably reading these blogs and other people in the Army are probably reading these blogs. But the thing is, right, is that all these soldiers get briefed early, early on, on not divulging secrets, real secrets. That's a big no-no. And nobody has accused any of these blogs of divulging classified information.
What they're concerned about is that somehow al-Qaida is going to piece together a word from this blog and two sentences from that blog and piece it all together into some picture that's going to spell doom for American interests in Iraq, let's say.
INSKEEP: I wonder if I can read you one item from this Web site that I brought up. It's called Anbar Sitrep from an NCO. Anbar, a province at Western Iraq. Sitrep is, what's that?
Mr. SHACHTMAN: Situation report.
INSKEEP: Situation report, thank you, from an NCO, a noncommissioned officer, who writes: You really have to come here to understand just how well things are going, at least here in Anbar. Goes on to say later: I know there are hot areas but I read all the intel reports and we are creaming these fools.
Hard to believe the Army wouldn't want to get that message out.
Mr. SHACHTMAN: It is hard to believe and actually some of the Army's top commanders, including David Petraeus, the top commander for U.S. forces in Iraq, has been very supportive of military blogs. But there is a battle going on right now within the military and some people feel really strongly that we can trust a soldier with a gun and the power of life and death but somehow we can't trust that soldier with the digital equivalent of a microphone.
INSKEEP: Well, Noah Shachtman of Wired magazine, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Mr. SHACHTMAN: My pleasure.
INSKEEP: He writes a national security blog for Wired. And you can get links to the military blogs and some others at npr.org.
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