Saturday, February 25, 2006

DefenseTech Axed From Iraq

Regular readers will know I'm a big fan of Noah Shachtman's DefenseTech website. Recently, David Axe has been blogging his imbed with the U.S. military in Iraq there and it has been fascinating, insightful reading.

About two weeks ago, though, the posts from Axe stopped. Now, in Editor & Publisher, David tells us why - David was axed by the military.

"In early February, I was embedded at a remote Iraqi Army training base, and interviewing a U.S. officer about the development of Iraqi security forces when a sour-faced U.S. Army sergeant pulled up in a Humvee. He ordered me to put away my cameras and get in.

"You're in violation of regulations," he said. I thought it was a joke. So did the officer. But the sergeant persisted. So I apologized to my interviewee, stowed my gear and climbed into the Humvee.

Over the next 36 hours, I was shuttled from base to base and finally to Kuwait -- under armed guard for all but the final leg. I never got an official explanation for what was happening. From my guards and others, I gleaned that I had published supposedly sensitive information on my blog at www.defensetech.org, thus allegedly endangering U.S. forces and disqualifying me for a military embed.

...It turns out that the "classified information" in question concerned radio jammers that the U.S. Army uses to defeat Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), the biggest killers in Iraq. Understandably, my editors were interested in the military's efforts to counter IEDs. I got the info in an on-the-record interview with Army 1st Lt. Derek Austin, who apparently didn't know it was supposed to be secret. Also, I had checked the info against public websites like www.globalsecurity.org, leading me to believe that there was nothing sensitive about it.

The Army's claim that I was endangering U.S. troops by betraying their secret weapons didn't hold up too well. But then, it didn't have to. On the ground in Iraq, the Army is the highest authority, simply by virtue of its near monopoly on security and safe transport."
What a dumb move by the military. It seems to me to be simply a case of kneejerk overreaction and exercise of power simply because they have it but, since DefenseTech is not the most rightwing and hawkish of military websites and doesn't slavishly adulate all the shiny tinker-toys and the top brass, it may be a more deliberate vindictiveness.