The Blogs of War

The USAF has recently clamped down on access to blogs on internal networks as reported at Wired and elsewhere. There is no point in my joining in the general outcry. The AF is already getting an earful. I guess I will say that I’m disappointed that my readership is going to plummet from its recent peak of about ten to more like two as it has already been confirmed that it is blocked at Electronic Systems Command. The two of you still here from Army CECOM stick around, I’ll try to switch back to SOSCOE soon…

By emphasizing only “official news sources” the Air Force will clearly be limiting its access to all manner of valuable information such as Michael Yon’s inside look at what’s going on in Iraq. But maybe more specifically, I can’t imagine why Cyber Command would want to limit access to blogs like The Dark Visitor and Tao Security. The long tail IS where it’s at in this space. You can’t rely on CNN to learn about Chinese hackers and network security monitoring trends.

I spent a decade in the Navy and I can intuitively understand how a hierarchical military culture will respond to external stimuli such as the web. Control it, contain it, deny it and certainly don’t let anyone even appear to be having fun with it! (Fun will only be authorized between the hours of 1900 and 2100 in designated areas with approved fun augmentation devices such as a volleyball – unless of course the command is sponsoring mandatory fun at the Morale Welfare and Recreation Club in which case fun will be required between 1500 and 1700 and may involve egg tossing).

When I left the service and began the arduous process of de-institutionalization I learned some important lessons from one of my first bosses, Jay Brown. Chowderhead (a colleague of mine, also ex-Navy, and with a somewhat unconventional and unfortunate call sign that stuck with him) and I would be trying to figure out how to better control some situation or another and Jay would just sit back and say nothing. Jay simply excelled at letting stuff play out a bit, letting it percolate, and eventually evolve into a good solution. He encouraged us to do the same thing more often than it seemed to make sense. For a couple of ex Naval Officers with a strong “J” preference at the end of our Myers-Briggs, this “letting things happen” could be absolutely maddening. But, over time I really came to appreciate what he was teaching us. How (and when) to let things go and trust in the evolving wisdom of the people that worked for us.

As warfare becomes more networked and traditional hierarchical command and control becomes less applicable to at least some areas of the modern fight, I think the lesson that Jay taught Chowderhead and I is becoming more and more relevant to a whole generation of military leaders. It boils down to expectations. If you expect your people to frivolously waste time and that only by you actively controlling them will they accomplish anything useful, you will process their visiting blogs in one way. If you expect them to be aggressively learning, adapting and sharing information and trust them to do it, you will see their use of blogs in a completely different light. Some of them will violate that trust and goof off, but so what? Everyone else will be so much more productive and engaged.

So, with that as background I’m going to briefly take on the orthodoxy a bit. Out here in blog land it is easy for us to know better and say it – “Let them read blogs!” Back seat drivers, Monday morning quarterbacks, … we are like them in that we can take a position without owning the risk. Though I suspect that at least part of this blog shutdown is driven by the kind of reactions that I describe above, I doubt the Air Force is saying everything that factors into the decision. I’m betting that the AF is also seeing trends like this (from Sinan Eren’s recent Blackhat presentation)…


…and reacting to avoid widespread deployment of new classes of botnets on NIPRNet.

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