Right now, there are vigilant Air Force cyberwarriors protecting you from attack by lolcats. Well, at least, the Air Force is protecting itself from attack by lolcats. Over the weekend, I created a couple lolcats of my own. You know, those funny cat pictures with misspelled and grammatically loose captions? Proud of myself, I sent links to my lolcats out to some friends and family. One of those who received a link was a family member serving in the Air Force. As usual, however, he could not visit the link. In his words, “The computer Nazi’s blocked the web site.”

I say “as usual” because he typically cannot view anything I send him, including blogs, YouTube videos, etc. He certainly cannot view attachments of any kind. It’s not just he or his base, however. This is standard practice for the Air Force, which has one of the strictest policies of any of the services about what its members can and cannot view from Air Force computers. The default policy is “block it!” This is not the case with all of the services, nor all government agencies. I regularly send links/attachments to friends who serve in the Army or who work at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Department of Energy headquarters. They never seem to have a problem. It’s only ever my family member in the Air Force who gets “blocked.”

The difficulty in this, however, is that the Air Force has recently won for itself the position of defender of cyberspace with the creation of the new Air Force Cyber Command. For the Air Force, though, defense in/of cyberspace is only a technical matter, one of keeping networks up and running; managing bandwidth; preventing attacks with viruses, trojan horses, etc.; preventing denial of service attacks; and, when the time comes, offensively carrying out those kinds of attacks (and more) against enemies of the United States.

This almost exclusive focus on the technical over the social aspects of cyber-defense/offense in part explains the Air Force’s complete ineptitude in the social aspects, even to the point of thwarting the Cyber Command’s own recruiting effort. Just last month, for example, the Air Force Cyber Command sent a DMCA take-down notice to YouTube demanding that YouTube remove Cyber Command’s slick-looking new recruiting video that many of you may have seen on television recently. Even though government content is not copyright protected, and even though the Cyber Command website itself says that “Information presented on the Air Force Recruiting website is considered public information and may be distributed or copied,” YouTube immediately complied and removed the video. Luckily, however, the people at the Wired “Threat Level” blog have their own copy (sent to them by the Air Force!) that they continue to post.

It is precisely this kind of stupidity that has driven many of the most prominent “milbloggers” crazy in recent years. While the majority of the “milblogosphere” is decidedly right of center and supportive of U.S. efforts in Iraq, they have found it increasingly difficult to get the “good news” out about what the U.S. military is doing in Iraq. They (correctly) point out that conflict in cyberspace is not just a matter of viruses and hackers, but also a conflict over whose message wins the most hearts and minds, both at home and abroad. (My AoIR paper last year covered milblogger reaction to Army and DoD attempts in Spring 2007 to limit access to blogs and other social networking sites. Download here.) For now, however, primary responsibility for the defense of cyberspace falls to the Air Force, which has seemed completely oblivious to all but the most technical aspects of the issue, even to the detriment of its own efforts to recruit cyberwarriors. (Lucky for the Air Force there are “hackers” and “pirates” like Wired who are defiantly posting the non-copyrighted recruiting materials that they Air Force asked them to post and then threatened them over!)

As such, we should not be surprised to see more disharmony between the “hearts and minds” types and the “bits and bytes” types in the coming years. While al-Qa’ida members continue to use the Internet for recruiting, communication, intelligence-gathering, psychological operations, and more, the Air Force will “defend” the U.S. military by preventing soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines from taking the initiative to form a “crowd-sourced” public affairs corps to spread the “good news.” And “above all” (as the recruiting video says), Cyber Command will keep the Air Force safe from those insidious lolcats.

[Cross posted here.]

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