So now it is Youtube, Facebook and other Internet sites. Last month it was blogs and even personal emails without their commander's approval. This is the new information tightening that our soldiers in Iraq, at home, and around the world are facing. The DOD claims that they are worried about security information getting out and lack of bandwidth because these sites use so much to download. But what the DOD isn't telling you is that these new regulations will greatly impact and discourage the real time war information that is coming from the troops.
Over two years ago, I began to receive letters from troops in Iraq or who had recently come home about logistics problems in the war and concerns about the contractors in the battlefield. My project, Follow the Money Project, is trying to see how the war money was being spent and whether is benefiting the troops as the Administration claimed. Here are some excerpts from the letters I received:
-- Within four months of being in Iraq, our post had a computer center to email family back home, a big screen TV, satellite phones and all types of morale items. However, after repeated requests to get more night vision goggles for my squad so that we could see at night, I kept running into the same answers: different variations of the word No. It was the same with body armor, and repair parts for our vehicles. We got to the point that we had to strip parts off of broke down Iraqi vehicles to get ours to run for a little while longer. We didn't have the necessary supplies to secure the perimeter of the camp or enough troops to do so.
-- ...our Chief of Staff didn't like watching the daily brief on a projector screen so he made us buy 60-inch, plasma, flat screen televisions at $15,000 a piece. We went through ten of them during the year because the TVs couldn't stand up to the dust and heat. Mind you many of our soldiers were without a second desert uniform or desert boots. None of our vehicles were armored.
I received these types of emails for months until recently, when they have dramatically dropped. Now I am getting some emails from troops who have left the military but their information is several years old. These earlier emails led me to so many stories of problems that I decided to write a book with the help of my co-author, Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War. We investigated these emails which lead to many new sources and documents, including troops associated with IAVA, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. In the book, we follow 11 soldiers and contractor employees, novel style, though the buildup of the war until the end of 2006. We tell the story of how using contractors in the battlefield with little oversight led to the Army getting over-billed for luxury items at the large bases from the contractors but could not get the combat equipment that the troops needed to fight from the Army logistics command. We used this information to explore why the high number of contractors in Iraq actually worked to the detriment of the soldiers because the inherent problems of using contractors in a hostile war zone.
I know that congressional committees and other groups have also received these types of letters from the troops and letters from their parents who were very concerned for their safety. Without real time information on how the logistics is working or not working in Iraq for our soldiers, we cannot tell if the so-called reform and crackdown on contractors and the shifting money to combat equipment is working. Unfortunately, the few Army people tasked at the bases to oversee the contractors and the money for equipment are overwhelmed and there are few government civilian oversight personnel willing to do a stint in the hostile areas of Iraq. Our troops were our first line defense of whether we are supplying them with what they need with the two billion dollars a week that we are spending in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now there are new regulations that will deter and discourage them from telling the public and the Congress what we need to know.