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Jayne Lyn Stahl Headshot

"Operational Security"

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In the military? Disagree with what your government is doing in Iraq, and Afghanistan? Have something controversial to say about the war, bringing the troops home, the president's veto of the war funding bill? Get the feeling "Big Bully" is breathing down your neck? Well, you're right. Under a new Army "directive," issued last month, you'd better speak with your commander, and/or an officer who handles so-called "operational security," and get their permission before you post to your blog, or send any e-mail to a public Web site, or you may find yourself facing court martial. Yes, that's right, as of April, the Army now reserves the right to review (and edit?) anything you post to the World Wide Web, and permission must first be obtained.

While personal e-mails are exempt from scrutiny by what the Army calls OPSEC, any e-mail posted to a "public forum," under this new rule, isn't. What's more, the new regulation doesn't only apply to active service members, but to all in the military, including those who have returned from combat. When queried about the program, Army officials said they opted not to inspect private electronic communications as that would be "impractical," not unconstitutional, mind you, but impractical.

How does the song go? "So it's one, two, three, what are we fighting for?" Surely, somebody seems to have factored the First Amendment out of the equation just as they did on May Day, in Los Angeles, when the LAPD shot golf ball size rubber pellets at protestors and press alike at a legal immigration protest. While a handful were said to have thrown rocks and bottles, surely arbitrarily pelting any of the 25,000 in the crowd, including news anchors, and cameramen, was without justification. LAPD Police Chief, William Bratton, looked duly sober, as well he should. Who'd have thunk the shit would hit the fan and, more importantly, who'd have thunk there'd be video footage when it did. In this city of four million, the police department, like the Army, seems to have forgotten that dissent has nothing to do with descent, and that freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and a free press are First Amendment rights.

What is most alarming about OPSEC, and the Army collision course with the Constitution, is that it is, arguably, precedent setting in its attempt to stifle dissent not merely among the ranks of its active service members, but among those who have already returned from war.

It is equally outrageous that not one candidate for president, of either party, is talking about OPSEC, or the Pentagon's continuing breech of citizen confidentiality inherent in the data mining of anti-war groups including even those most conspicuously innocuous as the American Friends Service Committee, and the Quakers, for their activities. The Defense Department's nefarious practice of keeping of a classified database has now condemned by newly appointed Pentagon intelligence undersecretary, James R. Clapper, Jr. appears to agree that American citizens have the right to organize to disagree with their government's war policy, with impunity, and calls for shutting down the database. Interesting, isn't it, that at the same time top brass at the Pentagon calls for doing away with a dissenter database, the Army presents a new regulation which requires the monitoring of all military public online communications, a practice which, in itself, is nothing new, but now extends to those who have come home from the war, too. It's fair to say that the left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing, or does it?

Interestingly, those at the Pentagon who call for eliminating the antiwar database suggest that the information they've collected isn't worth the condemnation from Congress, and the media, but where, pray tell, is the coverage, let alone the condemnation, from the media, and the appropriate contempt from Congress, as well as from presidential hopefuls? Where is wide scale, broad based press coverage of this new Army regulation, effective in April, which will, in effect, gag service members both past, present, and future from publicly reporting, or opining on this war, and future wars?

What we have here is a campaign issue of the first order. When service members are officially precluded from publicly posting their thoughts, and experiences with impunity, without review, censure, and/or editing, by so-called "Operational Security," when immigrants, in a major American city, are pelted with rubber bullets for protesting on May Day, and when the names of those who lawfully disagree with what they consider to be an illegal war are stored for nearly a half dozen years under the Threat and Local Observation Notice program, it sure looks like we're not too far away from the day when martial law will be declared, when the national guard will be deployed to physically quell dissent, and American citizens will find themselves held without charge, or access to counsel indefinitely, the way we detain countless in Guantanamo Bay, and secret detention cells around the world. Congress, as well as those who offer to lead this country as their next chief executive, owe each and every one of us an answer as to how they intend to guarantee free elections, as well as what they will do to keep the land of the free, home of the brave from becoming a police state.