Pentagon studying use of social networking sites

The burning question in the hallways of the Pentagon: Will Adm. Michael G. Mullen have to take down his Facebook page?

The Pentagon has launched a study of the use of social networking Web sites designed to help craft new policies on how the military should use services such as Twitter, MySpace and Facebook, defense officials announced Tuesday.

Officials said they needed to develop rules that would allow the military to take advantage of the speedy communications that social networking sites offer without exposing sensitive information or opening computer networks to potential risks.

The use of social networking sites could expose defense computer networks to malicious software and create possible cyber-security problems, military officials said. Other officials worry that the sites could take up bandwidth that should be saved for more urgent military uses.

The study and policy recommendations, ordered by Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn, are due in late September or early October, said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.

While waiting for the study, Whitman said, there was no department directive to stop using the social networking sites.

“We need to take a look at both the security aspects as well as benefits of the sites,” Whitman said. “So it is a balance.”

The Marines long have banned their service members from accessing Twitter, Facebook or MySpace from government computers. But an order released Monday allowed some Marines ? such as public affairs officers ? to apply for a waiver to use the sites.

“Social networking sites have always been banned from government computers,” said Lt. Craig Thomas, a Marine Corps spokesman. “Bandwidth needs to go to the operators.”

Marines still are allowed to access the sites from their own computers or recreational computers provided on military bases in the U.S. or overseas. But Thomas said Marines are expected not to reveal any secrets or details about upcoming operations on the Web sites.

“What you do on your own time is your own business as long as you keep to the Marine Corps ethos of honor, courage and commitment,” Thomas said.

Despite the ban by the Marines, numerous officials from other services maintain personal Facebook pages, and a number of top commanders and officers maintain public sites ? including Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq.

On Mullen’s Facebook page, his staff posts articles about the chairman, statements on current events. Mullen also uses Twitter to post comments about events in which he has participated.

Needless to say, Mullen’s staff is not posting the inside skinny on his meetings with top Pakistani officials or his advice to President Barack Obama.

Mullen’s aides said the chairman drafts his Twitter tweets himself, although sometimes he has his staff post them.

Throughout Tuesday, Mullen received questions on his Twitter page about whether he was going to continue to use the service.

“Obviously we need to find the right balance between security and transparency. We are working on that,” Mullen wrote. “But am I still going to tweet? You bet.”

Navy Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for Mullen, said the chairman had seen the usefulness of using social media to communicate with the public.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” Kirby said. “There is just such a power in it, we have to find a way to achieve this balance. No one wants to provide information to potential enemies, but this is a dialogue that we cannot afford not to be a part of.”

(c) 2009, Tribune Co. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.