Nonprofit: Army misleads troops on site's mission
March 15, 2003
SEOUL — The director of a nonprofit agency trying to help military families communicate with troops overseas says the U.S. Army has unfairly tagged his service as a “terrorist organization out to harm military families.”
Edward Addy is director of the North American Center for Emergency Communications (NACEC). Addy, who receives no pay for his work at the nonprofit organization, said that despite NACEC’s long history of working with the military, the Army’s Computer Emergency Response Team has warned U.S. soldiers not to use his service at nacec.org.
Army officials said NACEC has no official connection to the Department of Defense. They said dangers of using unofficial Web sites include identity theft, possible operational security violations and the chance for adversaries or terrorists to gain access to personal information.
In a written response to a Stars and Stripes query, Col. Thaddeus A. Dmuchowski, director of Information Assurance, U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command/9th Army Signal, said, “We aren’t saying this particular site presents these dangers to soldiers and their families; we are saying, we won’t take unnecessary risk for our soldiers and families.”
Addy said NACEC’s long history of working with the military grew out of “The Desert Voices Project,” a massive communications bridge built during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm to keep families and deployed troops connected.
He points to a former memorandum of understanding between his organization and the Army and letters of appreciation from members of Congress, an Army colonel and the Military Affiliate Radio System.
The controversy stems from “Flashmail,” a service provided on the NACEC site that lets troops send digital letters to NACEC volunteers, who then print and mail the letters, free of charge, to the recipient.
“It’s a way to sheer off about three weeks of travel time for a letter,” Addy said.
At first, troops were required to enter social security numbers to use the service, something that worried Army officials.
“The site originally called for a SSN,” Dmuchowski said. “In today’s environment, this is a bad security practice.”
But after reading the Army’s warnings, Addy changed the Flashmail program.
Now, soldiers use personal identification numbers instead of SSNs. The PINS, he said, let them track their letters’ progress.
But Dmuchowski said the Army offers an official, secure, encrypted Web site, Army Knowledge Online, www.us.army.mil, and an e-mail service to soldiers and their family members within that secure environment.
“The Army Portal is where the Army does its business,” Dmuchowski said. “Hence, this is where we direct our family members to go for Army information and e-mails. In conjunction with the Army family support organizations, AKO permits communications between the majority of families and soldiers.
“Army soldiers and civilians should use the Army AKO Web site as official channels for communicating with their family members,” Dmuchowski said.
Addy agreed that almost every U.S. soldier has access to e-mail. After all, without e-mail, they couldn’t access his site to use the Flashmail service.
The problem, Addy said, is that not all families are on the Web.
“There are a lot of grandparents out there who aren’t comfortable with computers,” Addy said. “There are military families who aren’t doing too well financially … who may not have Internet or a computer.”
That’s where NACEC can perform a service, he said.
But Dmuchowski claims AKO is available to families.
“Those who do not have access can gain assistance from family support organizations in each unit. Those without e-mail connectivity can be connected to someone within the community who can assist,” he said. “That is part of the focus for the family support organizations.”
Addy said that his volunteers only want to help the military community but that the Army warnings have caused an avalanche of hate e-mail.
“We’re getting about 100 hate e-mails a day,” he said.
The hate e-mails are accusing NACEC of doing something underhanded, something to threaten the U.S. military, Addy said.
“We’re not happy about this at all,” Addy said, “after years of service we provided to the DOD.”
Dmuchowski stressed the Army’s decision was based on security concerns.
“Let me be clear: We do appreciate patriotic Americans who want to assist soldiers and military families,” Dmuchowski said. “ … unfortunately, with all the things the Army is responsible for in a time of potential conflict, when assistance is not needed, additional help can become a hindrance, even when offered with the best of intentions.”