Intelligence: November 17, 2003

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The Department of Defense has spent four decades trying to figure out what secrets to share with American troops, and which to keep locked up. Back in the late 1950s, lots of information about America's potential battlefield opponents (mainly China and Russia) was published, in unclassified form, for the troops. Then, in the early 1960s, the Department of Defense reorganized it's intelligence operations, established the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) and decided that most of that stuff should be kept hidden from the combat troops. The troops complained, but for nearly two decades, DIA stuck to its inane policy. Eventually, DIA had to open up again, if only because commercial publishers were now putting out excellent books on the subject. Questions were being asked in Washington about why the troops had to go to a bookstore to get what DIA should be providing them with. So in the last two decades, DIA has been increasingly productive in producing (or not inhibiting) the publication of books, posters, videos and web content on potential battlefield opponents. The information has been eagerly consumed by the combat troops, who know that what uniforms the other guy is wearing, what weapons he will use, how those weapons operate and what tactics will be encountered are all life or death issues. In 1985, the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) was created to collect and distribute lessons learned in the Army's new, NTC (National Training Center, which used laser tag like equipment to produce very realistic combat training.) When the 1991 Gulf War came along, CALL was all over it and as the World Wide Web arrived in the mid 1990s, CALL began making much of its material available via the Internet. CALL was a particularly bold move by the military, as the "lessons learned" often contained detailed criticism of current military practices. The main purpose of "lessons learned" was to preserve the practices that worked, and change those that didn't. When the Afghanistan and Iraq wars came along in 2001-3, a flood of new material flowed into CALL. And that's where the trouble began. Not everyone agreed with the wisdom of invading Iraq, and journalists began visiting CALL to find "failures" that could be used to bolster arguments against the Iraq operation. Naturally, no good deed goes unpunished, and the army soon shut down CALL access for civilians. But this also leads to restrictions on access for military personnel as well. With over two million active duty and reserve troops out there, journalists will have little problem getting someone to go into CALL, or similar military web sites, and get what they want. It could be the beginning of the DIA debacle all over again. Will the army (and other services) try and get the media off their case and shut down access to the information the troops need, or do the right thing and keep access open? What's more valuable to a Pentagon bureaucrat; good press or making life easier for the troops? The official word is that access is being reviewed to insure that "sensitive" data is not exposed to the wrong eyes. Defense journalists believe the shut down is an attempt to avoid embarrassing stories. You decide.

 


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