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Pentagon Weighs Social Networking Benefits, Risks

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2009 – A Defense Department review is weighing the benefits of social networking and other Web 2.0 platforms against potential security vulnerabilities they create.

In a memo issued last week, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III directed a study of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube in hopes of establishing a policy by October, Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters today.

“We’re addressing the challenges from a security standpoint, but also the impact and the value that they have to the department to be able to communicate in a 21st century environment,” Whitman said.

Per his deputy’s memo, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is slated to receive a report on the threats and benefits of Web 2.0 tools before the end of the month. Both Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have embraced the new technologies.

The Pentagon’s chief information officer is taking the lead on the review, which was catalyzed by concerns raised at U.S. Strategic Command, Whitman said. Stratcom is responsible for overseeing the use of the “dot-mil” network.

In the meantime, there are no department-wide orders banning the use of social networking and other Web 2.0 applications, Whitman said, adding that standard local restrictions to such sites may occur due to bandwidth or security concerns.

“But as a department, we recognize the importance of taking a look at this issue because there are legitimate security concerns,” he said.

In an interview with a blog site yesterday, Price Floyd, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, emphasized the importance of maintaining operational security, or Opsec, in an era of Web-based social networking.

“Opsec is paramount. We will have procedures in place to deal with that,” Floyd told Wired’s “Danger Room.” “The [Defense Department] is, in that sense, no different than any big company in America. What we can't do is let security concerns trump doing business. We have to do business. ... Companies in the private sector that have policies like us don't dare shut down their Web sites. They have to sell their products and ideas -- and this is how it's done.

“Opsec needs to catch up with this stuff. This is the modern equivalent of sending a letter home from the front lines,” he added. “Opsec needs to be considered on this stuff, but the more our troops do this stuff, the better off we are.”

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Biographies:
Robert M. Gates
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen

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