Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fighting the war on terror by flying blind

The Air Force blocked its personnel from accessing websites belonging to news media that published (some of) the Wikileaks cables.
WASHINGTON — The Air Force is barring its personnel from using work computers to view the Web sites of The New York Times and more than 25 other news organizations and blogs that have posted secret cables obtained by WikiLeaks, Air Force officials said Tuesday.

When Air Force personnel on the service’s computer network try to view the Web sites of The Times, the British newspaper The Guardian, the German magazine Der Spiegel, the Spanish newspaper El PaĆ­s and the French newspaper Le Monde, as well as other sites that posted full confidential cables, the screen says “Access Denied: Internet usage is logged and monitored,” according to an Air Force official whose access was blocked and who shared the screen warning with The Times. Violators are warned that they face punishment if they try to view classified material from unauthorized Web sites.
The reason is supposedly that Air Force personnel are not allowed to view classified materials for which they don't have clearance. Which is a joke. According to news reports, some 3 million people had clearance -- that's how Bradley Manning got the documents in the first place. There's still no evidence of anyone actually being harmed as a result of the leaks. What the cables did do was throw some sunshine on a lot of dark corners that the public should know about. Mainly, they embarrassed a lot of people in governments around the globe. Apparently avoiding embarrassment has now become a matter of national security.

Nothing prevents Air Force personnel from accessing the websites on their personal computers, so the whole thing is primarily an exercise in institutional hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness. But it does send a strange symbolic message: It's like declaring your intention to fight the war on terror while voluntarily blindfolded. We used to call that cutting off your nose to spite your face.

It's not quite up there with Joe Lieberman's suggesting the New York Times be investigated and possibly prosecuted for espionage, but it's getting there.

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