Restrictions on e-mail to, from deployed troops under consideration
March 13, 2003
ARLINGTON, Va. — Some deployed troops might be restricted in the types of e-mail traffic they can send home for fear that seemingly benign messages could pose a security threat.
Some unit commanders are reportedly clamping down on e-mail, fearing that information and photos of cramped tents, for example, might be compromising unit safety, several officials have told Stars and Stripes.
Thus far, however, leaders from the Central Command, running operations in Afghanistan and who will be tasked with leading any possible war with Iraq, have not issued a blanket policy to limit or ban e-mail, CENTCOM spokesman Air Force Lt. Col. Ed Worley said during a phone interview from Qatar.
But it’s under consideration.
“[M]ilitary commands and units throughout the CENTCOM area of responsibility are attempting to balance the morale-enhancing benefits of personal e-mails between servicemembers and their families and friends with the real security concerns associated with preparing for possible combat operations,” said a spokesman, Marine Maj. Pete Mitchell, also in Qatar.
“A number of disparate pieces of seemingly harmless information, when woven together, can create real security breeches which would potentially risk the lives of those servicemembers in forward locations.”
Across the services, the decision on what restrictions, if any, is left to the unit commanders, officials said.
“All commands practice security at the source, training servicemembers on what can and cannot be said and leaving it to those servicemembers to safeguard classified or sensitive information,” said Navy spokeswoman Lt. Brauna Carl.
“It is also possible to monitor electronic mail or to cut it off altogether, depending upon the commander’s estimate of the situation.”
On submarines, however, the policy is slightly different, Carl said.
“The submarine force brings stealth, endurance, mobility, and firepower to the battlefield. Stealth is our greatest asset and must be protected. E-mail traffic on submarines is reviewed in both the ‘send’ and ‘receive’ modes to ensure operational security is not breached,” said Lt. Cmdr. Bob Mehal, a spokesman for the commander of Naval Submarine Forces, in a prepared statement.
On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that the Air Force last week warned airmen that it might limit or block electronic messages because some had transmitted sensitive information, including digital pictures that might have compromised unit safety.
On another front, Marines of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, who set sail March 4 with the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group out of Norfolk, Va., on a routine deployment, have not been restricted from use of phones or unclassified e-mail systems, said the MEU spokesman Capt. James Jarvis.
Marines are sometimes reminded of safety measures during nightly Commander of Troops meetings, but the issue of e-mail safety measures has not been the target of any focused briefing, said Jarvis, also quoting the MEU commander’s policy:
“If we can trust a Marine or sailor to carry a weapon into harm’s way with live ammunition, than we should be able to trust them that they are not going to divulge classified information to their wife, girlfriend or parents back home,” he said, quoting Col. Andrew Frick, the commanding officer of the 26th MEU.