Monday, June 11, 2007

Troops in Iraq Blocked from YouTube

The Vietnam War brought the first televised war into the living rooms of Americans, where families could gather around the tube and watch war correspondents report on the war. Since then, the birth of the Internet and the YouTube boom has changed the dynamics of video footage and war correspondence. The theater of war’s direction has shifted from the embedded journalist’s camera and reporting to the actual soldiers’ raw and unscripted footage.

Not any more. US forces Korea commander, General BB Bell, released a memo indicating that the Department of Defense will put the kibosh on this practice, blocking US military portals that provided military personnel access to YouTube, MySpace and 11 other popular sites. According to the memo released by Bell, the policy is being implemented to protect secure information and to reduce the drag on the military’s computer system:

“This recreational traffic impacts our official DoD {Department of Defense} network and bandwidth ability, while posing a significant operational security challenge,” the memo said.
The armed services already has a policy that prohibits military personnel from sharing information that could jeopardize their missions or safety – including anything from classified information to declassified information. The new blanket policy is different because it blocks all communications on these site mediums, where troops had been exchanging messages, videos clips, and audio bits with friends and families.

Whether or not this new policy has had any impact on Iowa soldiers and their families remains to be seen. “We haven’t had a single call yet from family members regarding this policy change,” said Lt. Col. Greg Hapgood, Iowa National Guard Public Affairs. “If their was a major concern, I imagine somebody would have called by now.”

Military personnel and their families can still access the sites on their personal computers; they just cannot use the DoD networks. Although, this poses a problem for soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters of war, for this is the only access for most soldiers. The new policy doesn’t cut off communication between soldiers and their family and friends. “Soldiers still have access to their own personal e-mail account provided by the DoD, and they can send messages and images through these accounts,” said Lt. Col Hapgood. “They also have phone cards and access to satellite phones, but again, access to these modes of communication depends upon where they’re located.”

Recognizing the unprecedented capability of disseminating information and portraying the positives or successes of its mission abroad, the Pentagon began posting its own videos on YouTube. Targeting a younger audience, the Pentagon’s channel, the Multi-National Force-Iraq, has posted videos showing soldiers in action and performing acts of kindness towards the citizens of Iraq. In just two months, the “M-F F-I” channel has climbed to 16th in YouTube’s most subscribed-to listing and has surpassed the one-million views mark. The following videos illustrate the two types of video strands the Pentagon has been posting. The first video captures soldiers in a firefight, while the second focuses on the troops’ goodwill efforts.

Baghdad Firefight, March 2007

Troops Give Gifts to Iraqi Children

Although the DoD cites safety and band width as its primarily rationale for implementing the new regulation, the concern or lack of control has to be on their minds. With public support of the war in Iraq dwindling in America and abroad, the military can ill-afford another Abu Ghraib unfolding during its watch, or worse, broadcasted for the entire world to see on YouTube. Alleged war crimes and abuses committed by American soldiers have already been broadcasted on YouTube, although, given the raw nature of the footage and the lack of authenticity of the videos, it’s hard to determine if soldiers have violated any laws

(Warning: The following video has violent images and profamity. Please view at your own discretion.)

Witness to a war crime - US Soldiers Shoot Unarmed Civilians

In the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, the YouTube boom adds another dimension to the communication, security, and information dissemination issues the DoD already faces. Blocking YouTube and similar sites is one way to help control some of these concerns, but if there’s a will to get something up on YouTube, soldiers are bound to find a way around the block to make it happen.

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