As the Pentagon warns of the security risks posed by social networking sites, newly released government documents show the military also uses these Internet tools to monitor and react to coverage of high-profile events.
The Air Force tracked online messaging service Twitter, video-sharing site YouTube and various blogs to assess the huge public backlash to the Air Force One flyover of the Statue of Liberty this spring, according to the documents.
According to the Air Force One documents released through the Freedom of Information Act, a unit called the Combat Information Cell at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida monitored the public fallout from the April 27 flight and offered recommendations for dealing with the fast-breaking story.
Formed two years ago, the cell is made up of as many as nine people who analyze piles of data culled from the Internet and other sources to determine whether the Air Force’s message is being heard.
A Utah Air National Guard unit, the 101st Information Warfare Flight in Salt Lake City, was also monitoring the social sites. ”To say that this event is being beaten like a dead horse is an understatement,” reads an April 28 e-mail from the unit to other Air Force offices. ”Has really taken off in Web 2.0.”
Both the 101st and the Combat Information Cell are attached to the 1st Air Force, which is based at Tyndall and is in charge of guarding U.S. airspace.
John Verdi of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington said gray zones can emerge while monitoring social networking sites because viewing and participating is based on trust.
”Lots of times individuals upload private or sensitive information that they expect to share with their friends or family and not the whole Internet world,” Verdi said. ”It would certainly be a major problem if the government were accessing that information under false pretenses.”
Part of the solution might be to build an online unmanned air system user community. This has been done elsewhere with some success. In 2007, Dell launched the IdeaStorm Web site, which it described as Ã¢â‚¬Å“our way of building an online community that brings all of us closer to the creative side of technology by allowing you to share ideas and collaborate with one another.Ã¢â‚¬Â This Web 2.0-based community quickly came alive with users helping users, just for the Ã¢â‚¬Å“psychic incomeÃ¢â‚¬Â of sharing their knowledge. In my own firm, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve embraced this approach through a suite of Web 2.0 tools called Hello.bah.com, consisting of wikis, blogs, discussion forums and tag clouds serving user-defined communities.
Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, embraced the value of Web 2.0 in his former role as commander of Strategic Command. He sent a note to his noncommissioned officers, saying: Ã¢â‚¬Å“The metric is what the person has to contribute, not the personÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rank, age, or level of experience. If they have the answer, I want the answer. When I post a question on my blog, I expect the person with the answer to post back. I do not expect the person with the answer to run it through you, your [officer in charge], the branch chief, the exec, the Division Chief and then get the garbled answer back before he or she posts it for me.Ã¢â‚¬Â
A Web 2.0-based UAS community, appropriately secured, would allow UAS teams to share ideas and best practices while also allowing the programs of record to test new ideas and, especially, to listen to what the community says. Such a community could also provide a Ã¢â‚¬Å“corporate memoryÃ¢â‚¬Â to ensure that mission-specific refinements could be reused and further refined by all when needed. And for policymakers, it would provide insight into the responsiveness of programs of record to real needs.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an exciting time to be working in robotics and unmanned systems. Ideas are free-flowing, and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still too early for a morass of Ã¢â‚¬Å“standardsÃ¢â‚¬Â to stifle creativity and innovation. The operational challenges that those Ã¢â‚¬Å“standardsÃ¢â‚¬Â are intended to tame are real and compelling, but there are equally real alternatives to traditional top-down policymaking to solve them Ã¢â‚¬â€ and actually benefit from them.
I believe the leaders in this community will have the vision and courage to embrace these nontraditional approaches to accelerate the continued evolution of this powerful new capability.