Wednesday, November 23, 2005

TODAY: Blog away, but be mindful of security

I got to out-Gonzo the "Gonzo" Journal in this week's column, even though I'd rather not have:

2311Vol030 MRemoved postings restored after storm in a teacup over writings on army life
THIS week, I received calls from concerned friends and relatives who wondered if I had gotten myself into trouble with the authorities because of — surprise, surprise — my blog.

Read more at TODAYonline

As you probably already know, I got myself in the middle of a debate over personal freedom and the need to protect Operational Security.

The Sunday Times had reported how three servicemen (myself included) were "warned" by the Ministry of Defence about the unauthorised posting of articles and pictures of our recent military exercise in Australia.

The reporter had called Mindef to ask if there was a policy about blogging and the posting of pictures about military life.

This set off a chain of events which led to my National Service (reservist) unit's commanding officer calling to tell me that there was some concern in Mindef over my blog posts and photographs, as well as those of other national servicemen.

Being a conscientious citizen-soldier, I took down all the posts on my blog as well as that on "Days Were The Those" ( — a collaborative blog I initiated which takes contributions of national service stories from the public — while the matter was looked into by my commanders.

There was no formal warning per se, but rather, a reminder from my commanders that while the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) encouraged people to talk about their national service experience, individuals had to be mindful of operational security — like the effectiveness of the SAF's weaponry — when doing so.

Not surprisingly however, the foreign press got wind of the story, and couched it in — how do I put this? — a different language.

The Sydney Morning Herald ( declared, "Singapore has barred servicemen from posting unauthorised accounts and pictures of military life on the Internet in a further tightening of restrictions on the growing blogging community here.

"The new rules … followed the conviction of two ethnic Chinese bloggers for posting anti-Muslim tirades deemed as threats to social harmony and political stability in the multi-racial city state."

I've since restored my blog posts, following consultation with my NS unit superiors, who, together with their superiors, agreed that while I should have asked for permission to post photographs first, there weren't problems with the posts about army life.

As you probably also know, military blogs are not new, and have been the focus of some attention, especially from American military officials.

If Vietnam was the first "television war", and the Gulf War from 1990-91 the first "live broadcast" war, then the current American involvement in Iraq has a high chance of being known in the annals as the "blogged war".

There are apparently several hundred military blogs in the United States alone, with military blog portal listing 451 sites by US personnel alone.

The popularity of military blogs has led to renewed debate and some concern over the free flow of and easy access to information online.

In August, US Army Chief of Staff, General Peter J Schoomaker, wrote a memo in which he pointed to the need to protect "Opsec" or operational security.

"Some soldiers continue to post sensitive information to Internet websites and blogs, for example, photos depicting weapon system vulnerabilities and tactics, techniques and procedures. Such Opsec violations needlessly place lives at risk and degrade the effectiveness of our operations," the memo read.

Writing "in real-time", as some analysts put it, raises the immediacy of the action, and probably for the first time, the "live" reporter is the soldier himself or herself.

Typical of such a blog is "A Soldier's Perspective" (, where you're likely to read about things that may have been already reported by traditional media, only from an actual participant's perspective.

So, how do the relevant military authorities deal with the proliferation of personal military blogs?

A call to Mindef's public relations branch revealed that the proper procedure is for a serviceman to follow the proper chain of command if he or she is unsure of the suitability of the matter to be published.

This applies to NSmen (reservists) as well as full-time service personnel.

Mr Miyagi aka Benjamin Lee has been entertaining readers at for over a year, and is still counting down the number of years he has left of National Service obligations.

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