Web site tries to recover as Air Force backtracks on alert
By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 15, 2008
WASHINGTON — Air Force officials admitted this week to unfairly singling out a networking Web site aimed at military personnel as an "OPSEC nightmare" earlier this year, noting the company does not pose any extra risk than most chat rooms or other online communities.
But site owners said the retraction may have come too late to help their online business.
TogetherWeServed.com, designed to bring together troops in service-specific online communities, launched its Air Force site last December. President Brian Foster said at that time the California company had been operating its popular Marines and Navy sites for years without complaints.
But after signing up more than 50,000 members in the first few weeks, participation in the site suddenly slowed as a PowerPoint presentation from Air Force Maj. Mark D. Hedden began circulating online, Foster said.
The briefing, for the 1st Special Operations Wing, incorrectly identified the company as based in Germany and questioned the security of allowing active-duty troops to post some personal information there. It also recommended blocking the site from official Air Force computers.
"Since then the Web site has gone into the doldrums," Foster said. "When the PowerPoint hit every command, they just locked us out."
Site officials petitioned the Air Force Inspector General to look into the incident, noting they had received no specific complaints of OPSEC violations on the site.
Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan said a clarification of the presentation was sent out in early spring, clearing up ownership and operations questions about the site.
"The Air Force has since requested the briefing cease to be propagated and will continue to take action to remove the briefing if instances of its use are discovered," officials said in a statement this week.
Air Force officials emphasized this week’s clarification is not an endorsement of the site, and that all airmen are expected to follow rules regarding operational security when posting information on any social site.
However, Morgan said nothing about the site has shown any additional risk beyond those general concerns about those types of online communities.
Foster said the site has lost significant money and momentum because of the negative publicity, and that Air Force officials still have not offered an apology for the problem.
"Right now, we’re still feeling a bit wounded," he said. "But we’re not going to close the site down, because we believe it’s a service to our airmen."
TogetherWeServed, which is free but makes money through upgrades to member’s complementary accounts, expects to launch an Army-specific site this summer.
Foster said he has begun contacting service officials ahead of the launch to answer their questions about the venture and attempt to prevent what happened with the Air Force.