ARLINGTON, Va. — When you look at Defense Secretary Robert Gates, 65, and Adm. Mike Mullen, 62, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first word that comes to mind is not likely “Twitter.”

But the Pentagon leaders told reporters Thursday that they were encouraged by the role social networking media has played in subverting Iran’s control over its population during the post-election turmoil continuing there, calling the new mediums of Web 2.0 a clear advantage for U.S. interests abroad.

“I think it’s a huge win for freedom around the world because this monopoly of information is no longer in the hands of the government,” said Gates, a former head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s operations branch who worked in Cold War intelligence for much of his career in government service.

“There is no question that the easy availability or the easy access to Western communications and media played a part in the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Eastern Europe,” he said.

Today, that advantage remains “a huge strategic asset” for the United States.

“It is increasingly difficult for an authoritarian government to maintain control of all of these communications that available to its citizens,” he said.

And where economic strife combines with modern technology, as it has in Iran, he added, “It makes the control of communications by a government extremely difficult.”

Several other countries have tried with varying success to stop Internet and other forms of communication going into, out from, or among its population, the secretary said, but that none seem able “to draw the net tight enough.”

“And if you can’t text, then you Twitter. And my guess is in some of these countries that the leadership is kind of like me: I don’t have a clue what it’s about,” Gates said, chuckling.

Gates said he does not have a Facebook page. Mullen said he does. His press aid later clarified that Mullen has a Twitter page. His aides are still "developing" a Facebook page for the chairman.

Both men said the Pentagon had to understand the communication tools preferred by millions of young people from the bulk of their twenty-something U.S. forces to the foreign populations in which the U.S. is engaged.

“That’s the age, or if not younger, of many of the people around the world that we’re trying to reach — and how do we reach them in a way that they understand?

“This department, I think, is way behind our curve in this and that’s an area where I think we have a lot of room for improvement.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now