On War #302: Blinders

by William S. Lind
28 April 2009

At the height of the Cold War, a U.S. army corps commander in Europe asked for information on his Soviet opposite, the commander of the corps facing him across the inter-German border. All the U.S. intelligence agencies, working with classified material, came up with very little. He then took his question to Chris Donnelly, who had a small Soviet military research institute at Sandhurst. That institute worked solely from open source, i.e. unclassified material. It sent the American general a stack of reports six inches high, with articles by his Soviet counterpart, articles about him, descriptions of exercises he had played in, etc.

What was true during the Cold War is even more true now, in the face of Fourth Generation war. As we have witnessed in the hunt for Osama, our satellite-photo-addicted intel shops can’t tell us much. But there is a vast amount of 4GW material available open-source: websites by and about our opponents, works by civilian academics, material from think-tanks, reports from businessmen who travel in areas we are interested in – the pile is almost bottomless. Every American soldier with access to a computer can find almost anything he needs. Much of it is both more accurate and more useful than what filters down through the military intelligence chain.

Or at least he could. In recent months, more and more American officers have told me that when they attempt to access the websites they need, they find access is blocked on DOD computers. Is al Qaeda doing this in a dastardly attempt to blind American combat units?
Sadly, no. DOD is doing it. Someone in DOD is putting blinders on American troops.

I do not know who is behind this particular bit of idiocy. It may be the security trolls. They always like to restrict access to information, because doing so increases their bureaucratic power. One argument points to them, namely an assertion that the other side may obtain useful information by seeing what we are looking for. That is like arguing that our troops should be given no ammunition lest muzzle flashes give away their positions in a fire-fight.

But the fact that websites of American organizations whose views differ from DOD’s are also blocked points elsewhere. It suggests political involvement. Why, for example, is access to the website of the Center for Defense Information blocked? CDI is located in Washington, not the Hindu Kush. Its work includes the new book on military reform America’s Defense Meltdown, which has garnered quite a bit of attention at Quantico.

The goal of the website blockers, it seems, is to cut American military men off from any views except those of DOD itself. In other words, the blockaders want to create a closed system. John Boyd had quite a bit to say about closed systems, and it wasn’t favorable.

Intel officers supposedly can go all the way to the top of their chain of command with a request to view a blocked website; their petition may or may not be granted. But this just intensifies the problem, because it gives the intel community a monopoly on information. In 4GW, it is essential that everyone do intel, not just a few specialists. Every private has to understand the environment he is operating in. Many websites can help him do that. But if he tries to access them on a DOD computer, he finds them blocked. He is thrown back to pure kinetics, which leads to our defeat.

Never could it be said more truly that we have met the enemy, and he is us. People on our own side are blinding our men. One person in a senior position could put an end to this absurd practice. Secretary Gates? General Petraeus? Jim Jones? Surely you all understand that putting blinders on our own side is less than helpful. Anyone listening out there?

As I said, I don’t know where this mindless action originates. Whoever is responsible for it should get the Order of the Black Turban, First Class. They are doing our opponents a great favor.

Rigid control of information through a compartmented, stovepiped process is characteristic of the Second Generation. Once again we see why Second Generation militaries cannot win Fourth Generation wars. Our defeats are less a product of what our enemy does to us than of what we do to ourselves.

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact (no e-mail available):

Mr. William S. Lind
Free Congress Foundation
1423 Powhatan Street, # 2
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

Direct line: 703 837-0483

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Filed in Uncategorized | 16 responses so far

16 Responses to “On War #302: Blinders”

  1. dkenbluon 29 Apr 2009 at 5:56 am 1

    arrrggghh. I am a little tired of the guy who doesn’t know how to turn on a computer making these accusations. It’s “rumours on the internets” all over again… I am sitting here in the Pentagon with CDI up on my other browser window. It is not blocked; not by the Army at least, and I have downloaded ADM here at my work computer (and here I am commenting on DNI! Hi, security guys!).

    There are an awful lot of problems with the geniuses that DoD seems to put in charge of computer security. But someone send Mr. Lind a typewritten message – delivered by carrier pidgeon – to the effect that when he gets the details wrong, it detracts from his overall theme (which by the way I agree with)…
    -Dan

    [CR: Dan, thanks for the update.

    Would appreciate hearing from others on this. Bill is obviously getting different reports from the field than what Dan has seen.]

  2. loggie20on 29 Apr 2009 at 6:25 pm 2

    dkenblu,

    Doing a little survey:

    Are you A&AS contractor support, GS, NSPS or Military?

  3. senor tomason 29 Apr 2009 at 10:20 pm 3

    “They are doing our opponents a great favor.”

    Not the first time this has happened. The Strategic Hamlet Initiative backfired big-time and led to increased sympathy for and increased recruiting by the Viet Cong.

  4. ericon 30 Apr 2009 at 1:20 pm 4

    Center for Defense Information is blocked by the USAF-see below

    Access Denied (content_filter_denied)

    Your request was denied because of its content categorization: “AFNOC NTO 2008-303-003;Government/Legal”
    Reference AFI 33-129, Web Management and Internet Use.

  5. rmhitchenson 30 Apr 2009 at 1:39 pm 5

    Absolutely 100% dead on, Mr. Lind. My feeling is that this is due more to the cybersecurity nazis than overzealous DOD control freaks. But it also afflicts the Intelligence Community inside the beltway. A friend works for DOE Intelligence and when they organized a new division to work multinational energy security issues, they insisted on having unfiltered Internet access outside the DOE firewall, so as to get what the real world gets. Elsewhere in the IC and the federal government at large, heavy-duty Internet filtering is the order of the day.

  6. loggie20on 30 Apr 2009 at 7:53 pm 6

    The last contract job I had where I got on a DoD computer I could not get on my brokerage accounts.

  7. dkenbluon 01 May 2009 at 7:40 am 7

    loggie: contractor support, Army G4

  8. Maxon 01 May 2009 at 9:44 am 8

    Of course, but IF you’re really SMART.
    M

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/01/technology/01filter.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&pagewanted=all

    The Iranian government, more than almost any other, censors what citizens can read online, using elaborate technology to block millions of Web sites offering news, commentary, videos, music and, until recently, Facebook and YouTube. Search for “women” in Persian and you’re told, “Dear Subscriber, access to this site is not possible.”

    SNIP

    College students discovered the key first, then spread it through e-mail messages and file-sharing. By late autumn more than 400,000 Iranians were surfing the uncensored Web.

    The software was created not by Iranians, but by Chinese computer experts volunteering for the Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that has beem suppressed by the Chinese government since 1999. They maintain a series of computers in data centers around the world to route Web users’ requests around censors’ firewalls.

  9. resareon 02 May 2009 at 8:14 am 9

    Access OK from NMCI (Navy internet) from the Pentagon.

  10. jonesmlon 04 May 2009 at 7:18 am 10

    I can access CDI from my computer in the OSD domain.

    However, I did find access blocked once back in 2007 when I tried to get to the site on an NMCI workstation in Headquarters Marine Corps.

    But, you know, this sinister DoD suppression of independent sources of information really is a terrible problem . . . I can’t for the life of me think how I might get access to such websites if I weren’t able to do it from my desk in the Pentagon . . . :-)

    Plenty of real targets to shoot at in the realm of Pentagon closed-mindedness — this is really not one of them.

  11. Rob Pon 07 May 2009 at 9:53 am 11

    Overseas is a lot worse than CONUS. Google Earth is routinely blocked, erased from computers and is a Article 92 violation if you use it. This was as of 2007 in both Iraq and Kuwait. Security concerns were cited, but anyone with a passing knowledge of Google Earth’s system knows this is ludicrious unless your computer is hacked (in which case you have lots of other problems).

    Most other sites could be blocked due to offensive words in the website title, to include articles. If you were following the legal proceedings against a rapist or pedophile, that website would be blocked. Same for any site that uses words that could be considered indicative of Sedition against the USA, promoting a drug culture, or sexually explicit. Basically the word list is generated somewhere then applied to government computers and updated as necessary. This leads to unintended effects, like blocking websites that focus on 4GW tactics as well as Sports Illustrated online (swimsuit edition) but all G-6s I talk to in CENTCOM state that I am not there to cruise the Internet and go to S-2 to get your intel.

    The best workaround is to bring your PC to MWR computer trailers on most big bases or to pay the locals to install a satellite server (to go with the Sat TV you already have) at your smaller COP, FOB, whatever.

    [CR: So it’s OK for the bad guys to have Google Earth, but not us?]

  12. senor tomason 08 May 2009 at 11:45 am 12

    “any site that uses words that could be considered indicative of Sedition against the USA”

    This could include Confederate heritage websites. I was once ordered to remove a Confederate flag I had displayed in my work area when I was in the United States Navy. The United States Armed Forces can be truly ridiculous. I know. I have seen it firsthand.

  13. Maxon 08 May 2009 at 5:29 pm 13

    CR: “So it’s OK for the bad guys to have Google Earth, but not us?”

    I’m not all that clear anymore on the whole “good guys” “bad guys” thing Chet.

    A subject for future discussion.

    M

    [CR: Max — you’re so easy it’s not even fun any more.]

  14. loggie20on 08 May 2009 at 7:33 pm 14

    The US’ paradigm.

    ………..Tactics without strategy is noise before defeat. Sun Tzu

  15. 3C0x2on 11 May 2009 at 1:41 pm 15

    Long ago, I was the IT guy for an Intel shop in Baghdad. Guess who had to run back to his hooch (which had commercial satellite Internet access) every time an analyst wanted to see the latest insurgent video?

  16. n68188on 28 Jun 2009 at 2:29 am 16

    Self important people trying to protect thier turf and assert themselves by telling us we can’t check our myspace. If self serve intel were allowed to flourish, multiple carreer fields would be in for some serious force shaping. The Air Force is really bad. It seems to be heavily infested with careerists who are so intent on being something that they cannot stand the thought of someone adjacent to them actually doing something productive or meaningfull. And god forbid someone should actually put the mission first. Imagine an org full of phonies so affraid of being shown up or exposed, that they wont let anyone do thier actual jobs. Yes the Air Force really has become that disfunctional. The Frank Burns and hotlips Houlihan types have taken over and there doesn’t seem to be a darn thing anyone can do about it.