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DoD News Briefing with Rear Adm. Hight from the Pentagon

Presenters: Vice Director, Defense Information Systems Agency Rear Adm. Elizabeth Hight and Deputy Chief Information Officer U.S. Army Vernon Bettencourt
May 17, 2007 2:30 PM EDT
             STAFF: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us. Our roundtable this afternoon is on the department's measures to ensure DOD computer networks are available for operations and the recent decision to restrict DOD computers and networks from accessing certain recreational websites.  
 
            With us today to discuss this issue is the Defense Information Systems Agency vice director, Rear Admiral Elizabeth Hight, and U.S. Army Deputy Chief Information Officer Mr. Vernon Bettencourt. Admiral Hight has an opening statement she would like to read, and then she and Mr. Bettencourt will be happy to take your questions. 
 
            At the conclusion of the roundtable, the admiral will make herself available for individual on-camera interviews if desired. 
 
            With that, ma'am, I'll turn it over to you. 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: Great. Thank you. 
 
            Well, thank you so much for joining us today for this discussion and allow us to clarify some information that may be on your minds regarding this recent decision by the Department of Defense to limit DOD computers and networks from accessing certain recreational websites. 
 
            To ensure DOD networks are available for combat operations and critical activities, the department issued a directive on May 14th that prohibits DOD computers from accessing specific recreational websites. The measure is intended to preserve military bandwidth for operational missions and enhance DOD network security. 
 
            The selection of these particular sites was based on the volume of traffic moving from DOD networks to the Internet. This is in no way a comment on the content, purpose or uses of the websites themselves. As necessary, additional sites may be added in the future as part of ongoing efforts to ensure DOD networks have sufficient throughput available to conduct operational and supporting missions as well as enhance DOD network security. 
 
            It's important to point out that this directive does not prohibit any individual, including DOD personnel or their families, from posting to or accessing these recreational websites from their personal or commercial network providers. It only restricts the use of DOD computer network resources to access these sites. 
 
            It's also important to point out that in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of these sites, as well as others, have already been blocked by DOD for more than two years, and in some cases for more than four years. Consequently, this directive has no impact on our deployed forces in Southwest Asia and does not prevent deployed DOD personnel from communicating with family members or loved ones. There are a wide variety of communication services, such as e-mail, telephones and video teleconferencing, at many locations in Southwest Asia, in addition to commercial Internet cafes. 
 
            In addition, the Army Knowledge Online, Defense Knowledge Online network is available to military members and their families, providing a rich information-sharing environment including e-mail, file sharing of pictures, videos and documents, discussion forums or blogging, Instant Messaging chat rooms and video messaging. 
 
            Mr. Vernon Bettencourt, the Army deputy CIO, who is here with us today, can discuss and answer any questions you may have regarding Army Knowledge Online and the communication services available to deployed personnel. 
 
            DOD morale, welfare and recreation facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan offer commercial Internet services and are widely available. These services are not affected by this directive. Deployed personnel can still access recreational Internet websites from these MWR Internet cafes and other facilities in many locations around the world. These alternative sites do not rely on military bandwidth. 
 
            I must point out, though, that there will always be a small number of troops in combat conditions and at remote bases who may not have immediate access to commercial Internet services or non-DOD computer networks. Their missions and the often austere conditions within which they work preclude this. But again, they have various means available to them to communicate with friends and family, and can always use the services I've discussed when they return to garrison. 
 
            Thank you again for attending today, and we're happy to answer your questions. 
 
            Sir? 
 
            Q     Bill McMichael, Military Times papers. You can do a quick Google search and find all sorts of work-arounds that promise users -- that can get through fire walls and task filters and so forth and so on. These are pretty widely available, just by searching for them. Why not block those as well? Because it would appear as though they would be available and possibly could be accessed through DOD or dot mil computers. 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: Are you talking about websites that offer that advice? 
 
            Q     Yes, ma'am. 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: What we did was, as we did our trending analysis, we simply looked at those websites that -- at websites that have the highest volume of information flow between the DOD networks and the Internet. And so, quite frankly, we are much more -- my organization is much more interested in the network services and network security than it is content. So folks who deal with content would be those who are really looking at websites to avoid information flow from, not the network security issue -- 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- from these websites you can get a hold of computer software that would allow you to -- it's called work-arounds. 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: Yes. Well, in that case, let me say that the DOD network touches the Internet in a very limited number of places. And it's in those very limited number of access points that we control that information flow. 
 
            Q     I'm sorry. 
 
            I'm not quite getting the answer I'm looking for here. These things allow you to go through the dot mil computers and use -- once you get to that site, you're still using the same amount of bandwidth. So what happens -- 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: The -- well, maybe -- I'm sorry. Perhaps I don't understand the question. And we could take that one offline, and I could get back to you on that. 
 
            Q     Vis-a-vis this software that you can use to access -- to get around firewalls, to get through filters from possibly a DOD computer, and then -- someplace like YouTube -- and then you're using just as much bandwidth. 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: Right. But these are not -- this is not a software -- I'd like to answer that one offline and get some technical guys to make sure that I understand the question. So if I could do that, that would be great. 
 
            Sir? 
 
            Q     How much bandwidth are we talking about here? Because my understanding is this is a bigger security issue than it is a bandwidth issue. Because I talked to General Raduege, the former director of DISA, and he mentioned that in 2003 there was four gigabytes of bandwidth already. So how much is there now? And then is it more of a security issue than a bandwidth issue? 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: It's really a balance of those two things. And of course in 2003, when he was the director of DISA, we were just heading into that theater. And so things have changed since 2003, so let's just think about the activity in MySpace and YouTube and other sites that involve newer technology. 
 
            So as that technology has grown and the use of that technology has grown for recreational services, I would say we're also seeing that technology grow for official uses. So we just simply cannot accommodate the growth in the bandwidth demands of this newer technology for both official reasons and recreational sites. 
 
            So what's very important to us is that we accommodate our soldiers', sailors', airmen and Marines' recreational uses with alternative means, and that's what we've tried to do. 
 
            STAFF: Sir. 
 
            Q     So the directive has been in effect since Monday. Have you been able to notice any measured drop in usage? 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: Yes, in places other than Southwest Asia, because they were already blocked in Southwest Asia, and we have noticed a decreased bandwidth requirement. 
 
            Q     Numbers -- can -- 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: I don't have those, quite frankly. I'm sorry. 
 
            Sir. 
 
            Q     When you say MWR facilities, they still have access, are you talking about the free services that a lot of the bases will have or are you talking about the paid-for Internet cafes that are available on a lot of bases? 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: Yeah, but an MWR facility will normally offer it for free, especially in-theater. If you're in the continental United States they might offer it for a fee, but of course you could pay the same fee at home when you go home, so -- but in-theater those are offered for free.   
 
            Sir.   
 
            Q     Admiral, I'm assuming that there must have been some sort of red line in terms of bandwidth that you were approaching. Can you tell us how close you got to it before you imposed this?   
 
            ADM. HIGHT: Well, actually there was not a red line, but in the last six to nine months we have seen this increase over time. And so because we work in this technology and we know that the more we use the technology for official reasons, the less it can compete with the recreational users. And so we're in a proactive mode here to make sure we never get to a red line, but we're always very concerned about any time that we might have any conflict between recreational and --  
 
            Q     And if I could just follow, it sounded from your statement as if you'd like people to use the Army Information online service. Is that a service that the Army is able to monitor to check content, what's going, what's being passed back and forth? How much privacy do users of that service have?   
 
            MR. BETTENCOURT: Well, of course we are able to monitor it. But we don't really -- we don't monitor the sites heavily. And there is -- users can set up sites where they control access.  You can have a soldier and his family set up a site where only they can get into the site. And so they can -- the soldiers and their families can control how many users are able to get to their site.   
 
            ADM. HIGHT: But I will say that that directive was not associated with content as much as it was bandwidth and security.   
 
            Yes, sir.   
 
            Q     (Name inaudible) -- with The Washington Post.   
 
            I just wanted to get a clarification on something you spoke about, about the use of these sites for official reasons. Is that to imply that the government is using YouTube and MySpace for official reasons?   
 
            ADM. HIGHT: I think that there are some military organizations that will use those popular sites for recruiting purposes, for instance. And the directive allows waivers for official use for those operational users who have a need to be there. So if in fact, you know, a recruiting command is using that site to help a youngster understand what the military has to offer them, then that's considered an official use of that site, not a recreational use.   
 
            Q     To elaborate a little bit more on the issue of the bandwidth, is this a matter of just the sheer volume of traffic of people using these sites or the actual -- the fact that they stream video or music and that sort of thing? 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: It's primarily that technology are true bandwidth hogs, as you well know. I mean they take lots and lots of bandwidth. Streaming -- it just takes -- streaming versus text, you know, just a huge challenge for us. 
 
            Sir? 
 
            Q     Are you able to put a rough percentage of how much of your bandwidth was being taken up by a recreational use from these sites, just to give us an idea of the proportion of the problem? 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: Well, I'll tell you why that's very difficult for us to do. We span the globe. We have over 5 million computers. And any number I gave you would just be an average of the world. So rather than mislead you, I'd rather not -- I'd rather not do that. 
 
            Q     Could you also just, perhaps for the layman, give a -- obviously you won't want to get into too much operational detail, but what are some of the reasons in today's military that use of bandwidth is so vital for? What kind of things do you use it for? 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: Oh, well, we use it for everything, especially in areas where infrastructure is fragile we rely specifically on commercial and military satellite bandwidth. And we use it for everything from ordering supplies to sending orders to providing logistics information, scheduling people to get on an airplane, scheduling goods to move from point to point, et cetera, et cetera. So we use these networks -- these DOD networks are basically an intranet for the department, and we use them to provide all kinds of information everywhere, all over the globe. 
 
            Sir? 
 
            Q     With this new memo -- and I know it's not new in Iraq or Afghanistan, it's more for everybody else -- and then the memo on blogging that came out maybe two weeks ago now, it seems the Army or maybe DOD is having some trouble getting their arms around and understanding kind of the Web 2.0. Can you offer some comment on that? I mean, is that something that you guys are trying to kind of understand on the fly? Because when you look back at the history of warfare and communications with home was mostly letter writing, and then you were able to kind of censor some of that if you thought it was operational security issues. But now it's like immediate.   
 
            You know, if you want to e-mail at home, boom, it's there. And is that a concern, the Web 2.0 environment?   
 
            ADM. HIGHT: Well, at first I guess I need to separate what we're doing with network bandwidth and security from content. So I believe the blogging directive had to do with content, and that's not what this is about. This is looking at trends for the network, making sure that we do not approach a point where we put the network in jeopardy. Remember, this network is there to make sure that a soldier, sailor, airman and Marine can accomplish their mission in as quick and safe manner as possible. So this network is critical for our effective and efficient and safe combat operations.   
 
            Q     But just to follow up on that, in a lot of ways it is part of content. Because as soldiers are downloading video or music, that is the content and that is what's taking the bandwidth issues and that could be the security issue. And in fact I was talking to someone in industry. And they were saying, it's probably more of a security issue than a bandwidth issue, because there's ways to deal with the bandwidth in terms of scripts to say, you can only use this much bandwidth at certain times of the day or even block it from, you know, forgive me, nine to five, which I know, no war is fought from nine to five, but there's ways to --  
 
            ADM. HIGHT: Sure, yeah, well I would say that that's certainly true, but I'm -- so now I'm going to go back to the scale problem of five million computers all over the world. I would say that there is a security component to this, and we're trying to find the right balance between security and bandwidth. And part of the security component is, anytime any of us, whether we're at work or at home, go out and reach the internet, there are potential vulnerabilities there.  
 
            So just as you use network protection capabilities, whether it's anti-virus or intrusion prevention systems at home, we do that in the Department of Defense. So to me as a network provider within the department, I'm just as concerned about ensuring that that network is available; it's reliable; it's there when a soldier needs it to perform his or her mission. And so consequently there is a security component and a bandwidth component.   
 
            Yes, sir.   
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- just clarify, you talked about the availability and the security of the network. Had someone used one of these sites to penetrate the network and try to do something nefarious?   
 
            ADM. HIGHT: No.   
 
            Q     Or is this simply a matter of clogging the network?   
 
            ADM. HIGHT: To answer your first question, we're trying to get ahead of that, so that does not occur. And it is as much about making sure that we don't tie up the network with recreational users when we need official users to have it available to them. 
 
            Sir? 
 
            Q    Have you gotten any reaction from the troops in the field with the new restrictions?  
 
            ADM. HIGHT: No, although I noticed some media have. But we haven't gotten any. As a matter of fact, we began the process of discussing this with the field some six months ago. And the overwhelming reaction from the field is, because we have alternative methods that move recreational users off of the official networks and onto commercial providers or other means, then they were overwhelmingly supportive of this.  Remember that the people that we're talking to are people who depend on this network to get the job done.   
 
            So -- sir? 
 
            Q     Shortly after the directive was issued, Congressman Ed Markey sent a letter to the Department of Defense requesting that maybe they reconsider and actually try to, instead of blocking the assets, rather limit the access, so that when critical bandwidth was needed, that those sites would go offline. Was that ever a consideration to -- maybe you'd consider partially blocking or limiting the time that the -- 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: We looked at a variety of options. So -- I mean, all -- I have to bring you back to the scale problems. 
 
            Q     Okay. 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: This global environment with only a few access points -- we just could not find a technical range of options that was available to us that would allow us the same advantages of -- as of the direction that we chose. And because we're very appreciative of the NWR and commercial Internet providers that are out there that provide alternative access to these sites, it did not appear to us to be a huge issue.   
 
            And to get to the letter that was sent to the department, I haven't read that letter. So my apologies for not being able to address that immediately. 
 
            Sir? 
 
            Q    We were told by the Department of Defense that the initiative directive on this went out in late January or early February, but it took effect May 14th. Why the delay? 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: We send what we call a warning order, and we do that in order to gather comments from the field, to make sure that there are not significant issues associate wit the implementation of a directive. And so in this case, one of the results of that collaboration with the field was to include in the directive an ability for an operational commander to request a waiver based on official requirements to actually access those sites. Consequently, things like the Recruiting Commands, who have a need to use those sites, are being granted a waiver to that. 
 
            Sir? 
 
            Q     Is DOD doing anything to facilitate more access through commercial providers in places where folks were using this bandwidth? Are you, you know, making it possible for commercial people to move in in greater numbers so that there are alternatives available beyond what had been available up till now? 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: No, we're not. And I, quite frankly, think that there is a tremendous market approach to whether or not service providers need to be where they need to be. So in other words, I think that commercial providers go where the demand is. 
 
            Q     Well, I'm sure that's true domestically. But I would wonder about how true that is in some places around the world where maybe folks aren't as wired as they are here. 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: And that's certainly -- see, that's exactly the reason that we're limiting bandwidth, because they're not going to be wired for military communications any more than they're wired for commercial. So that's exactly one of the reasons that we're looking at this trending data. 
 
            Sir. 
 
            Q     A simple question. What is the gig's bandwidth, how many megabytes or gigabits per second? 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: Oh, it depends. So at the backbone, at the spine, it will be hundreds of megabytes, and at the tactical edge, where the rifleman is or the soldier, it might be in kilobytes. So the gig is not a homogeneous entity, it is in fact a very heterogeneous entity. You can kind of think of it as a spider web, and those at the tactical edge, the folks that we're really working for, have significantly reduced bandwidth. 
 
            Q     There's no average or anything? 
 
            MR. BETTENCOURT: No. If I could, the Army, over the last four years, has deployed a system called the Joint Network Node system. And down at the battalion level, that's bringing up to 4 megabytes per second into the battalion. And recently, over the last six months, we started to deploy what we can an SPOP, or a Small Point of Presence, down to the company level and down to the training teams, for instance in Iraq, and some of the outposts in Iraq. And that also is 4 megabytes per second. And that provides the soldiers the ability, when the operational load allows, that they can go on to Army Knowledge Online and conduct communications with their families -- 
 
            Q     Thank you. 
 
            MR. BETTENCOURT: -- when they're out at the very tactical edge that Admiral Hight is talking about. 
 
            Q     You said there was no content decision here. I wonder if there was any conversations about that, though. When we're talking about YouTube or MTV, that's a little different than the folks who were using MySpace to keep in touch with family and friends back home when they're deployed overseas. So did that conversation even come up? 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: No, it was never a content discussion. There are other people in the Department of Defense who have that as their subject area. We are looking at providing assurances that the network is there and available. 
 
            Q     So was that not taken into consideration at all, then, when the decision came down, or was that taken care of by someone else? 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: It was taken care of by someone else. 
 
            Yes, sir? 
 
            Q     Will this affect recruitment? 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: Because we have alternative means for recreational use of those sites as well as waivers for recruiting sites, we don't think so. 
 
            Q     Well, for the impression of the military, if I'm interested in going into the military and I hear that they don't allow access to my five favorite websites at work, do you think that could potentially hurt recruitment? 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: Well, I guess if you consider it your right to recreational browse at work, it might affect your decision. But I would hope not. I'll just leave it at that. 
 
            MR. BETTENCOURT: And I would add that, for instance, with the Army Knowledge Online and now Defense Knowledge Online, expanding out to the other services, the technologies that we're talking about at these sites are incorporated into those for the official computer usage. And so the soldiers and civilians that work in DOD, and the other services soon, have that same capability that they can use officially on their job. We do a lot of collaboration on the job through Army Knowledge Online and Defense Knowledge Online. 
 
            Q     Can I follow that up? Is there a reason, then, why the AKO site and those services weren't targeted instead of YouTube or MySpace? Is there a reason that they're not taking as much bandwidth off? Is it just they're not as popular? 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: As a matter of fact, the Army Knowledge Onsite (sic) today has 1.9 million users. Lots of people not only conduct official interactions on personnel and health issues on Army Knowledge Online, but they also communicate with their families if they are separated from their families. AKO has also pioneered a low bandwidth option for their site. And so it may not have quite all the frills that you would have on YouTube and MySpace, but what that does is it allows us to reduce the load on the network and preserve as much bandwidth as possible for official needs. 
 
            MR. BETTENCOURT: They are also not streaming large amounts of music or video or that type of thing. So it's not the bandwidth hog that Admiral Hight is concerned about with the commercial sites. 
 
            Q     Can I follow up on the AKO question? My understanding is that there's only -- there's a limit to how much, for instance, an e- mail -- how big an e-mail can be, 50 megabytes, which is, when you think about it, pretty small if you're going to try to send a picture or even a 30-second video that says, "Hi, Mom. Everything's fine. Don't worry." You know, something simple.   
 
            One, is there any more to increase that bandwidth or increase that size, I guess I should say? And two, it's also -- I know you meant to be clear it's not a content thing, but there's also something weird about sending maybe a message that is anti-this-war on AKO. (Laughs.) I mean, I'm not a soldier, but if I was, I don't know if I'd do that. 
 
            But -- on YouTube maybe I'd be more willing to because it's -- 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: Then you can just go to your recreational site. 
 
            MR. BETTENCOURT: We are -- we have the 50 megabyte limit for e- mail storage and then also another 50 megabytes for individual -- for content storage. But we also have, as I mentioned earlier, we have chat rooms, we have discussion groups, we have very important Army family readiness groups, which are websites down at the unit level that the spouses and families that are home, their rear detachment commanders use that to give them information through the net. But the soldiers also can access that from overseas. 
 
            So there are a lot of places that they can store content, and we do also provide video talk. That's a new service since last November, where they can send a link to a video e-mail, if you will. 
 
            STAFF: One or two more. 
 
            Q     Do you think it's hypocritical for the U.S. military to use these websites for official purposes and then not allow an individual soldier, sailor, air man and Marine to use them? I mean, you know, we know MNF-I for its videos on YouTube. We know that there's MySpace recruiting sites for the services. Do you think it's hypocritical? 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: No, because I think it's a limited resource, and so because we have provided alternatives -- recall that we have never said, "Seaman Jones, you can't go down and put anything on that website." We haven't said that. We've just simply said, please don't use this DOD resource that's used for many other things. We have given you an alternative network to use. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- for official DOD purposes? 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: Sure. 
 
            STAFF: One more. 
 
            Q     Yeah, you talked about a lot of Army Knowledge Online. Does DKO have the same features as well as an ability to set up steps where they can -- you know, you can control access or -- (off mike)? 
 
            MR. BETTENCOURT: Right. We're bringing DKO online now, as you probably know, and I think the target is `09 to have it complete. But it's being built on -- the current iteration of DKO is built on the AKO backbone, so it will have the same technologies that AKO had. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- 
 
            MR. BETTENCOURT: DKO? 
 
            Q     Yes, sir. 
 
            MR. BETTENCOURT: There are -- I think they're in the neighborhood of between 15,000 and 20,000 users on DKO now. It's coming online. There's both DKO and there's also JKO, which is the Joint Forces Command site within DKO. All of those are becoming -- they're minimally functional now, and they're growing as we progress here. 
 
            Q     One last question. Also, you admitted earlier that many of these sites were blocked for at least two years in Afghanistan and Iraq and some as many as four. Can you tell us which sites were blocked for two years and which went back further? 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: I don't have that with me, I'm sorry. 
 
            MR. BETTENCOURT: Thanks folks. Appreciate you coming. 
 
            ADM. HIGHT: Thank you.
 
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