By Paul Bedard and Anna Mulrine, Washington Whispers
As the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his top officers go, so goes the military? Not yet, at least when it comes to social networking via Facebook and Twitter. But the examples being set on these sites by Adm. Mike Mullen and commanders like Gen. Raymond Odierno, leader in Iraq, and Adm. James Stavridis, chief of NATO, are sure to play a role in the developing Pentagon Internet policy. And as an indicator of where the policy is heading, consider a recent tweet from Mullen: "My wife now up on Twitter: @deborahmullen. She'll be tweeting about all things important to military spouses and families. Follow her!"
What the top dogs are doing on the Internet is largely giving updates on policy to the public, highlighting success stories in the field, and revealing a bit of their personalities. No talking maneuvers or classified info. For example, Odierno reveals his movie picks on Facebook—Animal House, Back to the Future—and Stavridis regularly updates his daily plan on Facebook.
Worries about hacking into social networking systems have led some officials to temporarily ban the sites from military networks and prompted the Pentagon to review its policy, a process that will end soon. It's unclear what the new policy will look like, but even Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who doesn't use Facebook, Twitter, or E-mail, understands that the troops like it—as do U.S. foes. "Among those we're trying to influence and befriend and among those whom if necessary we're trying to defeat, this is the communications platform, and we need to avail ourselves of these opportunities," says spokesman Geoff Morrell. "We need to get with it." Even as the policy review continues, adds Morrell, Gates has asked the White House for help in finding Internet-savvy techies, "given the fact that they had so much success with it during the campaign."
No matter what the final outcome is on how the troops and brass can use social networking sites, Mullen—like the 18-to-24-year-olds he commands—is hooked. "Obviously, we need to find the right balance between security and transparency. We are working on that. But am I still going to tweet? You bet."
Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR
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