CNN covered a minor flap on Thursday with allegations that American soldiers involved in a brief question and answer session with George W. Bush had been coached. Scroll to the bottom of this link for a reference to the incident. Here's the Associated Press version of the story.
This was a situation in which a handful of obviously hand-picked American soldiers in Iraq were involved in a televised satellite situation in which - get this - Bush asked questions of the soldiers.
The "coaching" was done by Allison Barber, a deputy assistant secretary of defence. She wasn't caught in the act, as some made it appear. Rather what Ms. Barber did was walk through the entire situation with the soldiers involved, making sure that someone was lined up to answer each of the questions to be asked, and giving the soldiers advice on what to do should the President decide to ask them a question that hadn't been anticipated.
At no point did she give them the specific answers to be provided.
As described by AP, the entire situation is simply a walk-through of the process of the exchange.
This smacks of a couple of things, not the least of which is an exceedingly slow news day.
More importantly, it suggests that the Washington Press corps thinks the Bush administration is increasingly vulnerable about the war in Iraq. The press corps seems to feel comfortable in taking a poke at not only the White House but also senior Bush administration public relations staff about events like the Bush-soldier exchange.
While it would be somewhat unusual to have media witness this sort of preparation, they all know it goes on and is an accepted part of the event. In a normal situation, this stuff wouldn't get reported because it has no news value in and of itself.
Largely for that reason and because reporters and public relations staff need to stay on productive working terms, reporters wouldn't normally blade someone like Barber. That's blade as in military slang for slipping a knife blade into the ribs of a buddy, usually metaphorically, by telling a tale to superiors to get him or her in trouble.
There's another story underneath the one reported by CNN and AP, but you won't see that one...yet.
In a related story, though, notice the reference in the AP story to Operation Truth, an anti-war website.
Leave aside for a moment the fact that this supposedly knowledgeable group's spokesperson couldn't tell the fact there was only one officer (a captain) in the Bush videoconference. The rest were non-commissioned. Beyond that also forget that given the size of the American military, these are hardly some sort of elite bunch of characters - basically the spokespersons whole carefully prepared sound bite was crap.
Notice instead the link to this blog by an American soldier serving in Iraq since at least February. Now the guy is pretty literate - no surprise there at all. Read the posts, especially the ones at the beginning and you'll see a pretty interesting perspective on the Iraq situation.
Check the archives and you can also find a link to the guy's girlfriend, complete with a couple of good pictures of her.
Then notice his post about censorship rules.
ok. What organization allows anyone in the organization to crap on it at will whenever they want? Answer: None do. Therefore it shouldn't be surprising that the American Department of Defence wants to discourage wholesale crap storms from anybody and everybody.
Beyond that, there are actually some pretty sensible reasons for restricting access to the Internet or more particularly to revealing personal details of serving personnel on a site anyone can access. Since the American military deployed to Iraq, blogs and Internet chatrooms have been clogged with soldiers of all ranks and occupations who freely reveal their names, units locations and missions to anyone who asks.
It's an intelligence goldmine - for the guys working to blow them up with car bombs.
Consider for example, that without too much checking I can tell you Daniel The Blogger's girlfriend's name, hometown and occupation. It wouldn't take much searching to find something a lot more specific. It wouldn't take too much to find some potentially useful information on Daniel that could be used to advantage - against Daniel and against his buddies.
While Daniel and Holly might be a bit more difficult to locate, get a load of this guy. It isn't clear if all this stuff is actually approved or if it is just going on largely unchecked by military authorities. Follow some of his links and you'll even more military bloggers plus a bit of a controversy over whether milboggers as really bloggers or just agents of Department of Defence propaganda. [roll eyes in head]
There's a story in this stuff AP could be telling.
I never met Daniel or Holly but I just hope he gets home to her in one peace. [a Freudian slip, but I decided to leave it in after editing]
Stay low and keep moving, Daniel.