I just received a statement from the Pentagon, in the name of Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, in response to our series of stories over the past day about a number of gay and progressive Web sites – including AMERICAblog, Pam’s House Blend, Towleroad, Good As You, Bilerico, The Advocate, HRC’s blog, and the blog of a co-chair of OutServe-SLDN, Josh Seefried – being censored (blocked) by some DOD computers.
The Pentagon was informed this past summer that it was incorrectly censoring gay Web sites. Nothing was done.
A statement posted earlier today on the Pentagon’s Facebook page suggested that the Pentagon does not ban LGBT sites, but rather personal sites and blogs. We noted that this was not exactly true, as the Pentagon does not censor Ann Coulter’s personal blog, nor does it censor the conservative blogs Red State and Breitbart, nor the blog of the religious right hate group Family Research Council. The Pentagon’s earlier statement gave no indication of any effort to look into the matter, or correct any sites mistakenly censored.
This new statement is better.
First the statement from the Press Secretary, then a few thoughts.
Statement by George Little on Internet Information Access
Recent reports have suggested that the Pentagon is blocking access to LGBT related websites. The Department of Defense does not block websites based on LGBT content.
The Department of Defense strongly supports the rights of gay and lesbian men and women in uniform to serve proudly and openly.
With Internet technology constantly evolving, the Department of Defense is working to ensure that service members have access to an open Internet while preserving information and operational security.
There are a number of different Internet tools used across the department to ensure that adequate cybersecurity and information security standards are maintained, and in certain instances, access may limited to content not directly related to carrying out mission or professional duties.
In order to help maintain adequate levels of information security in support of DoD policy, some components employ commercial tools that may allow users to visit “news” sites while disallowing pages categorized as “personal sites and blogs”.
No filter is perfect and some sites may have unnecessarily been blocked. The Department Chief Information Officer will work with relevant components to address these situations.
First point. It’s generally a big deal when a statement is issued in the name of the Press Secretary himself. Usually agencies, or even the White House, release statements from lesser staff. When the statement comes from the Press Secretary (or even better, the Secretary himself), it means they’re taking the issue seriously. That’s one thing I’ve learned in my years in Washington. So that’s a good sign.
I do think the statement comes off a bit reticent, especially at the end, which is the part that matters. To be fair, the Pentagon needs to investigate further before they can say definitively that there’s a problem. Having said that, when HRC’s blog is banned and FRC’s blog is not, clearly there’s a problem somewhere when your policy is to ban all blogs and you’re not.
More generally, it is a bit 2005 of the Pentagon to have a policy that “blogs” are bad. AMERICAblog was the first blog accredited to cover an Obama press conference. And AMERICAblog’s Joe Sudbay was the journalist responsible for eliciting the “evolving” quote out of President Obama concerning his position on gay marriage. Clearly “blogs” have changed over the years. I’d also suggest that when a blog is writing stories that are eliciting statements from the Press Secretary of the Department of Defense, then perhaps some blogs are in fact worthy of being read by Defense Department personnel. Hopefully that is something that this “work” will look into and resolve.
My approach to these kind of controversies is two-fold. I write about them publicly, and I get on the phone to a lot of my contacts privately and urge them to fix things. In the past, I’ve found that this approach is best for resolving these kind of problems. I can’t tell you what I’ve been told privately, but I can say that I’ve been speaking to someone knowledgable about this situation and I feel assured that they’re genuinely working on it.
Yes, I’d have preferred a stronger statement from the Pentagon, but I do believe that they got the message. I’ll be looking forward to hearing from OutServe-SLDN that the Pentagon is working with them on this, and keeping them up to date as to its final resolution.
Good job, everyone. You helped share this series of stories across the Internet (with the help of the Huffington Post, that graciously linked to our first story on their home page), and it made a difference.