Loose lips sink ships 2.0

The recent IDF ban on social networking sites is not enough

female IDF soldiers watch computer screens 311 (photo credit: AP)
female IDF soldiers watch computer screens 311
(photo credit: AP)
"The enemy is listening.” “Be careful with what you say in public.” “Loose lips sink ships.”These tag lines and slogans have been part of military discipline for the better part of the past century and rightfully so. In the days when spies were being planted by all sides in a conflict to gain crucial information, a slip of the tongue could cost people their lives.
Fast forward to the 21st century. Things have gotten even more complicated thanks to technology and, of course, the Internet. One thing people tend to forget about the Web is that it was created to bek the best and fastest way to pass along information and disinformation. And it is. When you think about how that applies to military intelligence, it’s both an exhilarating and scary prospect. The two-way street which is cyberspace can provide any side with the information needed to gain an advantage by just sitting and typing away on a computer.
Finally realizing the scary part of the equation is the IDF, which decided to ban social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter in army operational areas. The decision comes after the army kept getting egg on its face from posts uploaded by soldiers who did everything from dancing on patrol to giving away guarded secrets. But it’s not enough.
First, the ban is only partial. Soldiers will still have access to the sites in lounges and other non-operational areas. Second, there is no way to really monitor Web surfing over cellphones and other portable devices which are now commonplace.
THERE ARE two main types of leaks coming from inside the army which have had some devastating effects on the country’s image. The first is human error when someone accidentally sends out sensitive information via the Internet.
The IDF ban is designed to limit such cases. The more serious incidents have been a matter of bad judgment or even stupidity, and for that the ban has no meaning.
Once a soldier puts on a uniform, he or she is representing the IDF and must consider the potential damage that can be caused when disseminating information, be it via text or video, to the wrong people. It’s no different than the business world – if you work for a company and uploaded a video of yourself doing something against regulations, the chances are that you would either be reprimanded or fired.
Just to be clear: Once material is posted on Facebook or information is tweeted on Twitter, it becomes available for all to see – even if that was not the intention of the sender. Therefore it should be considered just like leaking an item to the press. If a soldier goes out and passes any details about what he or she does in the army to a reporter, without authorization, that soldier is in a lot of trouble.
The IDF needs to control the message coming from its own ranks without exception and must ban all such sites completely. I realize that when a soldier goes home or has access to a computer off base, it’s impossible to control what that soldier will be doing, but it must be made abundantly clear that there will be severe consequences if any kind of sensitive information is posted.
The war Israel is fighting in cyberspace should not be taken lightly. We are struggling to win over the hearts and minds of people around the world, including our own citizens. The last thing we need is having harmful materials show up on websites for all to see.
This goes double for IDF soldiers. Not only can actions like this damage our image, they could potentially cost soldiers their lives.
The writer is an independent media consultant, an adjunct lecturer at IDC Herzliya’s School of Communications and a former producer at Fox News in New York.