Information Shifts: 4 Defense Snapshots – February 2009
Defense Industry Daily came across 3 snapshots in recent months that illustrate the changing nature of the front-line information war, and of the environment in which industry and government must operate. We’ve now added a 4th.
These 4 examples have broad reach, from tactical reconnaissance and information warfare, to strategic reconnaissance, to front-line “public diplomacy,” to the halls of politics and power…
1. Tactical: You’re on Candid Cellphone!
2. Google Earth is Watching You… as You Watch Others [NEW]
3. From Front-Line Transparency to Policy Debates: US Navy Blogs
4. Informed Reporters Who Work from Home: The US V.A. Department Experience
Tactical: You’re on Candid Cellphone!
From an October 2008 report on a US operation to capture al-Qaeda operative Abu Ghadiyain in Syria:
“A Sukkariyeh resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his life, said he saw at least two men taken into custody by American forces and whisked away by helicopter. Another villager displayed amateur video footage he took with his mobile phone that shows four helicopters flying toward them as villagers point to the skies in alarm. An Associated Press journalist saw the grainy video Monday.”
DID reader Trent Telenko correctly points out that the prevalence of cell phones with video cameras means that all future operations in populated areas should be assumed to be under hostile video surveillance. Surveillance that can be transmitted over mobile phone networks, and which should be assumed to eventually become public.
The corollaries is multifold, but one of the procurement consequences is a higher tactical value on acoustic reduction, and on other developments that can help to shorten advance warning in other ways.
- = note that the accompanying photo is not from that operation.
Google Earth is Watching You… as You Watch Others
Recent days have seen a flurry of stories covering the presence of American Predator hunter-killer drones at Pakistani airbases. What would once have been a routine and murky flurry of admissions, retractions, and denials became something else entirely, due to Google Earth. Or, more precisely, due to Google Earth v5.0. Ogle Earth may have the best summary:
“On February 12, 2009, Chairwoman of the US Senate Intelligence Committee Senator Dianne Feinstein said at a hearing, perhaps unwittingly, that the CIA’s unmanned MQ-1 Predator drones used to hunt Taleban and Al Qaeda cells on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border were deployed from a base in Pakistan. (Pakistan quickly denied Feinstein’s account… On February 17, The Times of London ran a story alleging that the US was flying MQ-1 Predator drones out of Shamsi airbase in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan. Exhibit A in its investigation was the delivery of a special kind of fuel to the base, as revealed by the website of the Pentagon’s fuel procurement agency. There was no mention of satellite imagery in the article.
On February 18, Pakistan’s The News reported it has seen satellite imagery from 2006 showing what is most likely three US Predator drones deployed at a remote air strip in southwest Pakistan. It also reported that the imagery was still available in Google Earth… On February 19, The Times of London ran a follow-up article that made the 2006 satellite image available – it clearly shows three drones deployed at the airbase, with dimensions that fit that of the Predator. It also reported that the imagery was no longer available on Google Earth.”
Didn’t matter. Horse. Barn. Gone. Interestingly, Ogle Earth makes a case that the media’s source for the pictures was not Google Earth directly:
“Note that the Times’s image does not carry the Google Earth logo, and has a higher contrast that the Google Earth version. Without being conclusive, this suggests the Times’s source for the imagery is not Google Earth, but perhaps a direct purchase from DigitalGlobe’s online store, which has the same imagery available as that visible in Google Earth.”
The Americans are probably wishing they had a system similar to the British approach. They use the ballistic missile early warning radar network, and other sources, to track commercial satellites with reconnaissance capabilities, then issue alerts to ground forces telling them when those satellites are going to be overhead.
The implicit assumption is, again, one of hostile surveillance that can be bought on the open market by their enemies. As micro-satellites and similar platforms continue to proliferate, and continue to improve, it may become harder to find open “windows” that are free from potential coverage.
From Front-Line Transparency to Policy Debates: US Navy Blogs
Moving from the purely tactical level to a point midway between operations and policy and procurement, is the US Naval Institute’s February 2009 issue of Proceedings Magazine: “The Navy Can Handle the Truth: Creative Friction without Conflict.” Many of America’s military and security services now run blogs written by senior personnel. In a change that parallels the rise of “wired organizations” in corporate America over a decade ago, more junior personnel are also becoming involved:
“The brainchild of [the USS Russell/ DDG-59's] executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Chris van Avery, who also earlier maintained his own blog, “The Destroyermen” (destroyermen.blogspot.com) was a collaborative effort among the ship’s crew to “deliver an authentic, unvarnished, informative and entertaining account of life aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer.”6 The blog started upon deployment of the Russell and received more than 30,000 visitors in its first 45 days.
“The Destroyermen” did not pass through any public affairs officer or the Navy’s Chief of Information (CHINFO) at the Pentagon. Largely self-regulated, posts were written by the crew and reviewed by the executive officer and commanding officer to ensure there was no violation of operational security or issues that might have been a violation of Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which restricts contempt of officials.”
The article also discusses the growing role of the military blogosphere, as a growing supplement to traditional media and paper or online magazines.
Informed Reporters Who Work from Home: The US V.A. Department Experience
The US Department of Veterans’ Affairs has had some sharp encounters with this latter phenomenon. DID offers snapshot #4 from The Detroit News, as it covers changing forms of media scrutiny and their influence in the halls of politics:
“Two of the biggest news stories about the Department of Veterans Affairs in recent months didn’t come from the newsrooms of the New York Times or the Washington Post. Or from any newsroom.
…Late last year, Scott, 62, broke the news that VA employees were shredding veterans’ claims documents, an embarrassing revelation that ultimately led the agency to change its policy on how documents are handled [DID: link]. Then last month, VAWatchdog was the first to report a VA computer bug that caused incorrect patient information to be displayed. For the VA, it is getting more difficult to ignore Scott, especially when the staff of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs chairman, Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., reads VAWatchdog.”