Clarifications Happen to Other People

I’m without “real” internet access at the moment, as well as access to my usual computers full of notes and things, so this will be brief, and picture-free.)

As I write this, the blogosphere waits with baited breath for the Army to clarify the clarification they gave yesterday, which was slightly lacking in credibility, authority, believability, and, well… clarity.

The thing is, there shouldn’t need to be a clarification at all. The Army takes a dim view on ambiguity, among other things. Leaving things open to interpretation just isn’t the Army Way(tm) – as a common half-joke explains so well, “Who issued you initiative, soldier?”

The Army doesn’t do clarifications. That would be an admission of failure to get things right the first time. They amend things, and they emphasize (and re-emphasize) things, but generally when they say “this is how it’s going to be,” that’s how it is.

But already they’ve “clarified” the new OPSEC rules once, in interviews and a laughable “fact sheet”, and now they’re apparently scrambling to do so again. (Once more, guys, but this time with feeling!)

From where I sit, there are two possible reasons for this: One is the obvious, and cynical choice – AR 530-1 really says what it seems to, and now that it’s been made public, the Army is trying to spin things to make it seem less threatening and Big Brother-ish than it really is.

The other is that – if you’re charitable – the wording is “ambiguous”, and could be improved to better reflect the Army’s intentions. If you’re not charitable, you could say the Army published newly-revised service-wide regulations that weren’t reviewed by anyone beforehand, and are, quite simply, erroneous.

You’d think that couldn’t happen in today’s military, but you’d be surprised. After all, the Army published a field manual recently that contains so many errors one well-respected journalist called it worse than useless. (I tried to follow up on that, incidentally, and was stonewalled left, right, and center – people I needed to talk to were TDY, public emails on the appropriate websites didn’t work, and finally, when I did get ahold of the “right” people, promises to return my calls were never followed through on.)

Now, it’s one thing when you publish a field manual that contains so many factual errors it’s completely useless, all because nobody could be bothered to have the thing reviewed by an editor, or subject matter expert (or a guy with good Google-fu.) It’s another thing to have published Army-wide regulations that – if the PA people are to be believed – should have been worded better, so as to say what was intended. In a military that puts incredible emphasis on “the letter of the law”, rather than the spirit, that’s not a good sign. If the never-supposed-to-face-public-scrutiny regulations on blogs and email are so inaccurate as to require subsequent rounds of clarifications, who is to say there aren’t other guidelines being blindly followed in good faith that don’t “say” what they “mean”?

Yeah, the Army viewing the media as enemies is a big story, that probably deserves, and will no doubt receive, it’s own series of subsequent “clarifications”, as it gains more attention. But is there a bigger story here than overly-restrictive OPSEC guidelines that smell faintly of censorship? Is, as I asked somewhat rhetorically earlier, the Army no longer bothering to proofread it’s publications? Do the people in charge actually know what the “lettter of the law” that’s presumably being followed actually says? And where does the fault lie – unclear direction from on top, or errors further down the food chain? (I think we can all guess where the official finger would point…)

What’s come to light so far aren’t really earth-shattering, world-ending problems, and I expect both the field manual and the OPSEC guidelines will be re-written before too long. But they shouldn’t have to be, in my opinion; especially with the case of an Army-wide security policy, there’s no excuse for not getting it right the first time (assuming, very charitably, that it doesn’t say exactly what they wanted it to say.) Not that there’s a good excuse for turning out a laughably-inaccurate field manual, mind you, but OPSEC, as has been pointed out by many, applies to everyone in, or associated with, the military, regardless of where they are, stateside or abroad.

Traditionally, in the Army, clarifications happened to other people. Might, in today’s military, clarity happen to other people, instead?

Published in: Geekiness, General, Security | on May 4th, 2007| Comments Off on Clarifications Happen to Other People

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