Army Threatens Critic Over Blog Policy

By Justin Rood

May 9, 2007 12:01pm

The U.S. Army has apparently threatened a government secrecy expert for posting online a new unclassified Army policy document, just days after he was quoted criticizing the policy itself as "outrageous." From the Washington, D.C., offices of the Federation of American Scientists, Steven Aftergood publishes "Secrecy News," a Web site and newsletter on government secrecy, his area of expertise. A Wired News article last week quoted Aftergood disparaging the Army’s new, more restrictive regulations intended to keep service members and civilian contractors from disclosing sensitive information about troop movements or operations. Some fear the new rules, which appear to require that communications in any form be reviewed by senior officers or advisors, will silence military bloggers and others communicating from war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. "Outrageous," Aftergood said to Wired News about the requirements, which state that writing about innocuous details like the number of cars in a parking lot or the frequency of orders from a pizza restaurant could violate operations security, or OPSEC.  "That’s not OPSEC, that’s stupidity." Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage. When Wired News published the unclassified policy document on its Web site, Aftergood downloaded it and posted it on his own site, along with dozens of other reports, studies and statements from Pentagon offices and other government agencies. Two days later, Aftergood received an e-mail that appears to be from the U.S. Army. "You have Army Publications hosted on your website illegally," stated the e-mail, which appeared to be from an Army publications employee Cheryl Clark. "There are only 5 Official Army Publications Sites, and you are not one of them." The e-mail stated that Aftergood could link to Army publications but could not host the documents on his own computer. What’s more, she noted that the document, while unclassified, was stamped "For Official Use Only," meaning it was "not intended for public release." "Please remove this publication immediately or further action will be taken," the e-mail concluded. Unclassified government documents generally are not restricted in their use under law and are considered publicly owned. While it may be a violation of Army rules to disclose the internal document, Aftergood — a civilian — is not bound by those rules. Yesterday, Aftergood replied to Clark that he would not remove the document. "Our publications are not illegal nor in violation of any applicable regulation," he wrote. He offered to add a disclaimer to his Web site "indicating that ours is not an official U.S. Army web site." Wired News, which also offers the controversial Army policy document on its Web site, confirmed to ABC News Tuesday afternoon that the U.S. Army had not asked them to remove it. "I don’t know if it’s a clumsy attempt at intimidation, but it’s not persuasive," Aftergood told ABC News on Monday. He said he believes the note was "some combination of zeal and ignorance." Neither the Army public affairs office nor Clark responded to requests from ABC News to comment for this story.

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