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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 May 2007, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Controlling the bandwidth of war
By Patrick Jackson
BBC News

US soldiers will still be able to e-mail home, and army bloggers should still be able to post, but the web may become a quieter place after this week's Pentagon clampdown.

Iraq war video seen on MySpace
Sites like MySpace are popular with the US forces abroad

Thirteen sites have been declared off-limits on Department of Defense computer systems, ranging from MySpace to MTV.

The official reason given is that too much military bandwidth is being hogged to share photos, video clips and messages.

Ironically, the US military itself has just launched its own channel on YouTube, uploading clips of fire fights and troops helping civilians in Iraq.

"The US Army's not going to pay the bill for you to get on MySpace and YouTube," was how Maj Bruce Mumford, a communications officer serving in Iraq, explained the curbs to the Associated Press.

The decision is likely to damage morale for troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, US military bloggers, including Colby Buzzell, latest winner of the Blooker Prize, the internet blog equivalent of the Booker, have told the BBC.

Yet the US and other countries with armies in the field today have genuine concerns about how the YouTube generation makes war, and particularly the impact on public opinion of raw video recorded by troops during combat.

Footage that makes its way on to the internet usually goes through unedited. It has content that can at times be graphic and is often accompanied by foul-mouthed real-time commentaries by the soldiers involved.

'Distrust'

Colby Buzzell, author of blog-based war memoirs My War: Killing Time In Iraq, believes internet networking sites provide a vital breathing-space for troops in Iraq, and that the clampdown is a disaster.

The military is taking the position that these sites are hogs on their network resources and they may have a point
Bill Roggio
US ex-military blogger

"I think it's going to totally destroy their morale - you have soldiers out there for their second, third, even fourth time," he told the BBC News website.

"A lot of them have lost fellow soldiers. One of the few luxuries you have over there is the internet cafes - it gives you a sense of normalcy to go on websites and follow the news, be in touch with family and friends."

Speaking earlier to BBC Radio Four's Today programme, he admitted he did not know enough about computers to comment on the bandwidth issue but said he was inclined "not to buy it" as a reason, and had "kind of chuckled" on hearing it.

Fellow ex-military blogger Bill Roggio believes that the clampdown is "creating an atmosphere of distrust among the bloggers and the military" but the real censorship test, he adds, is if the Pentagon starts blocking the sites at non-official internet cafes used by its troops in the field.

Pointing out that the 13 prohibited sites are predominantly video and audio, he told the BBC News website's Laura Smith-Spark in Washington there was a valid reason for rationing bandwidth.

"Corporations block access to certain websites routinely," he said.

"The military is taking the position that these sites are hogs on their network resources and they may have a point."

Dangerous diversions

"There is a very difficult trade-off between curbing soldiers' access to networking sites and not making them feel isolated," according to Peter Caddick-Adams, who lectures in military history and strategic studies at the UK's Cranfield University.

US troops in Iraq
US troops have worn both official and private helmet cams

He recalls how a few years ago, a spoof of the pop song Way to Amarillo being sung by British soldiers in Kosovo proved so popular on the website of the British defence ministry (MoD), that the site collapsed.

But such technical problems have to be weighed against the morale value of providing soldiers in the field with direct, up-to-the minute, credible communications with their comrades, he told the BBC News website.

Mr Caddick-Adams believes that the YouTube age has also thrown up security problems both on the actual battlefield and for the war effort.

Troops in Iraq have been known to go into combat wearing helmet cams (mini-cameras on their helmets) to record the fighting live and these privately bought cameras can be a dangerous distraction, the military expert says, as troops may jeopardise their or others' safety in pursuit of exciting footage.

Coarse, brutal language and comments made in the heat of battle may find sympathy with other soldiers, Mr Caddick-Adams says, but the impact on civilians listening at home may undermine the war effort, and he feels this was an unspoken concern behind the US clampdown.

The MoD, he adds, may well feel obliged to follow the Pentagon's example "as US forces in the two main theatres of conflict are fighting in coalitions and it would be difficult to keep one set of rules for one army and a different set for another".


Have you been affected by issues covered here? Send us your comments using the form below.
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My son is in Iraq and has been since October '06. His son was born in Jan '07. He has never held his son, but thanks to MySpace and YouTube, he has seen pictures and video of him. It has made a huge impact on his morale. He finds a reason to keep going... his son. Taking away the ability to see what inspires him will destroy his morale which is already wounded.
Gina, El Mirage USA

I served in Iraq for 11 months and I can attest that band width is a real issue. At certain times of the day the Department of Defence network would slow down incredibly. I counted on e-mail to stay in touch with my family and somebody viewing a video slows that down. Our communications people wrestled constantly in juggling bandwidth requirements. There are also valid security concerns about revealing TTPs to the enemy unknowingly when a soldier uses a blog or MySpace page instead of e-mailing directly.
Eric Durr, Albany New York United States

I think it is horrible. The only way I could communicate with my son in Iraq was through MySpace. He said his military issue email wouldn't work over there for some reason. Now I have to wait for him to call me. The waiting is the hardest part.
Tabby, Siloam Springs, Arkansas USA

My cousin is a marine stationed in Iraq. Websites like MySpace are the only way we get to hear from him at all. He has to stand in a line for hours to use a phone for only a few minutes. In this age of modern technology, shouldn't soldiers be allowed to access their loved ones quick and efficiently?
Joe Bryant, Los Alamitos, California, United States

It is sad that our troops are being censored in the name of bandwidth. Great excuse, I agree, but I have friends in Iraq who use MySpace routinely to communicate with us back home. I wonder how we will get along now that our first choice medium has been taken away. Sad day.
Davorin, Clifton, New Jersey, USA

As a contractor that suffers daily with the bandwidth limitations of Iraq, I can assure you that reduction in bandwidth is a valid reason for this ban.

However, I have also worked in Iraq, and I know how badly this will affect the morale of soldiers and contractors there. There must be a better solution. Providing more bandwidth should be a simple matter of spending the money required for satellite ground stations. The Pentagon is taking the quick and easier approach and it will not turn out well.
Anon, Virginia, USA

I am currently spending 2 weeks vacation back in the states... I use myspace every day in Iraq to talk to loved ones back home. Morale is already at a low because of the recent extention on U.S troops. And now the military wants to restrict websites that we use to communicate with our loved ones back home.

I think this is very wrong and I also believe morale will drop even farther than it is now. And to me morale is very low. You would think that the military would help the soldiers serving abroad and instead they are taking away the few things that we look forward to each day. I will go back to Iraq in 2 weeks and I am so angry thinking that myspace may be restricted when I arrive back. I hope that the restrictions will not take place but when it's the Army involved with soldiers trying to be closer to their loved ones it doesn't surprise me at all. The Army has let me down again and this makes me think that they don't care about us at all.
Allen Z. Wright, Selma, Alabama United States

My son is there and talking to him is my only way of knowing that he's ok - but I'd give that up gladly to keep him and everyone else's child safe. That's what is important -- keeping him safe, till he can come home.
Tricia , USA




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