Wheeling out the usual suspects

Three headlines I saw today, suggesting the shape of arguments to come:

1. Bandwidth leap for British forces

2.  US Military takes Iraq war to YouTube

3.  US blocks soldiers from websites

I find the trend interesting and just slightly worrying. Let me explain why. Of course the military have the right to make judgment calls on the economics and security of technology investments. It’s not just the military, every commercial enterprise has that right.

The trouble is, I fear the reasons for the pushback are different. My suspicion is the following:

Enlightened people in the US military encouraged adoption of toolsets like YouTube. This was a hard and sustained argument, and the outcome was reason for optimism. The same thing seemed to be happening in the UK as well, by the way, I remember a story about a satirical version of the Amarillo video making its way on to YouTube; the video was made by a UK soldier.

Then something changed, and the usual suspects were wheeled out:

  • They’re using too much bandwidth, this has got to stop.
  • They are meant to be working, this has got to stop.
  • What they’re doing is a threat to security, this has got to stop.

The question is, why? What event made the enlightened group lose momentum and give up the high ground? How come the usual suspects were allowed to surface again? This argument is going to surface and resurface at pretty much every major enterprise, so we all need to learn. Any comments or views?

3 thoughts on “Wheeling out the usual suspects”

  1. Regardless of my personal feelings about what we are doing in Iraq, I feel obliged to argue that there is validity to the security argument, whether or not it is one of the “usual suspects.” Remember that, during the Second World War, letters from the front were subject to censorship. Loose lips COULD sink ships, even (perhaps especially) when they were “speaking on paper.” There is a lot of value to that kind of normative practice, and my guess is that it just took the higher levels of command to figure out that it was harder to control communication through electronic mail and other digital media.

    Thus, it is not a matter of the “enlightened group” losing the “high ground.” It is just that (as has been demonstrated in their relations with the broadcasting media) military command as too long of a learning curve! Indeed, that learning curve may have been helped along by the enormous amount of public attention that was directed to all those digital communications coming from the front. In other words its success was also its undoing.

    I was personally very surprised to see so many impressions of so much sensitive information coming to light so easily (just as I was surprised that is was so easy for personal photographs of practices of torture to surface). (Regarding the latter, I got to hear Philip Zimbardo on Book TV last night!) On the other hand I also know that changing the day-to-day practices of military operations can take longer than changing the course of a battleship. However, the norm has been restored; and in this isolated case I am just as glad that the norm has “reclaimed the high ground!”

  2. Possibly based on my personal feelings about war in general, and in particular the war in Iraq, I see the added transparency that was allowed as a good thing in making war more difficult to initiate and sustain. This alone is one reason the military may have wanted to stop posting of personal video – would we know about Abu Ghraib if it were left to the authorities, and would the Bush government (and Blair’s (now Brown’s) and Howard’s) be in such electoral danger if we weren’t so aware of the reality in Iraq?

Let me know what you think

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