23 December 2008

Defensive blogging

A story this morning on milblogging.com caught my eye for a couple of reasons: it involved the Army Corps of Engineers (my branch) and it involved what I'll term "defensive blogging". The story is about allegations by the website Levee.org that Corps of Engineers employees left comments "targeting citizen critic using tax payer money" and were "re-writing history" (the news report by WWL TV can be seen here.) I have no idea if this is an organized effort by the Corps of Engineers, but it certainly highlights one way that the military can (and, I'd argue, should) engage the blogosphere - by leaving comments on blogs to correct or complete a story.

It's one thing to manage your own blog as an individual or an organization. The Chief of the Corps of Engineers does have his own blog, though it appears to mainly be for internal communication rather than public engagement. But simply posting your own ideas or editorializing on news only gets so far - it only is read by readers of your own blog. Posting comments on other blogs is a way to get your opinions (or facts) out to a brouder audience. This is particularly important if incorrect information is being posted and discussed in blogs. I'd argue that we, as military members, have an obligation to set the record straight when when we see incorrect information floating around.

You may recall stories about CENTCOM's blogging activities from a while back. They do not maintain their own blog; rather, they actively engage other blogs by leaving comments. They are required to be completely open about these posts - which it sounds like these Corps of Engineers employees did not do - which seems a very reasonable requirement. From the stories about CENTCOM, the comments they leave have been received rather favorably and part of that is due, I imagine, to their upfront manner.

Having a small organized team with the task of trolling the blogosphere and correcting or completing stories about your organization seems a very valid and important use of resources. This seems to be something most major commands in the Army (at a minimum) should consider. It's probably not practical or necessary to have an organized team like this at the battalion or brigade level. At those levels, though, we could empower Soldiers to perform the mission. This is, admittedly, a bit more risky because it is not controlled. But if we provide them with information, power, and trust, then I believe they won't let us down.

So, as the Army continues to wrestle with how to best engage the blogosphere, this is one very important tactic - defensive blogging. This is probably a tactic best used by the PA folks around the Army, but there's no reason that it shouldn't be in every Soldier blogger's arsenal.

When you're reading other blogs, or even stories on main stream news websites, do you feel free (and obligated) to correct anything that is untrue or does not present the complete story?

Other thoughts?


  1. You may want to consider this as an example of internal defensive blogging.

    The blog Sorority Soldier wrote about our most recent exercise, here. Then this commenter took issue with her last paragraph before the update, and wrote his own post on his site, here.

  2. Good example of some of the back-and-forth that blogs generate, Adam, as well as highlighting what are likely the two biggest arguments against milblogs - OPSEC and usurping the chain of command. I would certainly consider this an example of, as you called it, "internal defensive blogging."

    And, it's worth a read by anyone perusing these comments. The SGM brings up some very valid concerns but appears to be a big supporter of Soldiers blogging and one who finds ways to reduce the risks associated with Soldier's blogging.

    It's also interesting to get some insight into the world of PA training - a world I've never really been exposed to.

    Thanks, Adam!

  3. Sir,
    Public Affairs always needs good officers. You can always blog for a living after you take the 12-week PAO course at DINFOS. :)

  4. Major Bruhl,
    it is never a good idea for the Army to lie to the American people on American soil with American Tax-paid computers.
    That is exactly what "your branch" of the Corps of Engineers did in this story.
    They not only viciously attack the survivors of the Corps failed Flood Control System, but more importantly, they have been literally attempting to re-tell that story with erroneous information.
    It is an absolute breech of the Public Trust and a violation of the Federal Code governing the use of government computers to perpetrate fraud.

    I would only ask that you do due diligence on this story before blogging about the virtues of US Military infiltration and influence in our Public Commons, the blogosphere.

    I understand and applaud your efforts to encourage soldier blogging.
    But, what we have here appears to be a deliberate "Counter Insurgency Mission" to spread misinformation about the causes of the Federal Flood of New Orleans on August 29th, 2005.

    When the Military decides to take on a mission on American soil, and that mission involves stealth (as did this one in New Orleans), where do you draw the line with "Full Disclosure"?

    When will we know that you are telling the truth, like now for example?

    This very behavior is why I thought we had the Posse Comitatus Act.

    Furthermore, one of the culprits cited in the WWL TV broadcast came onto my own blog as well, from a Corps computer, to refer to that very levees.org article you cited, and to deny that he worked for the Corps --essentially doing what you have termed here in your post: "defensive blogging".

    I do not understand why you do not have the answer here as to whether this was an "organized effort by the Corps of Engineers" or why you have not at least asked around.
    You obviously have the connections so why not ask around?

    My father was a Lt Col in the US Air Force and graduated 17th in his class from Georgia Tech as both a Civil and Electrical Engineer.
    He worked at Wright Patt during WW2.
    My father felt that (at least) the Commanders of the Corps of Engineers should be drawn out and shot for dereliction of duty regarding the Catastrophic Engineering Failures in New Orleans, and particularly their attempts to lie about it in the weeks afterwards.
    He felt this way as an esteemed member of our Military and an accomplished engineer.

    I love our Military as much as I loved my father.
    However, I am now placed in the extremely ugly position of Not Trusting You.
    That really bothers me.
    Please clarify your positions on the place our military has within what is becoming our next "4th Estate", the blogosphere.

    The mixing of Public Relations and the US Military has never served the country well in the long run.

  5. Major Bruhl,

    What the NOLadder says is true. The commenter "stevonawlins" is on record saying he does not work for the Corps, meanwhile his comment originated from Corps Headquarters in New Orleans.

    Second, as a blogger, I delight in a rollicking discussion. But the comments posted to my blog were an attempt to re-write the history of the New Orleans flood by posting lies. As founder of levees.org, I know the facts of the flood inside out.

    Finally, this does not appear isolated. Col Al Lee, New Orleans district commander says this was an isolated incident. Here's my response: I have been receiving hostile disingenuous comments for three years, but last month, for the very first time I decided to check the IP address of one comment (equivalent to caller ID) and it turned out to originate at the USACE N.O. District. What are the odds ?

    It looks to me like the tip of the iceberg.

    Posted by Sandy Rosenthal, Founder of Levees.org

  6. THIS WAS NOT AN ISOLATED INCIDENT! I spent the first eight months of 2008 going head to head with this same batch on NOLA's Lakeshore form. It was in regards to the outright stealing of private property along the 17th Street Canal. It was at such a level of posting (i.e.: very frequent and large post) that if it wasn't officially sanctioned and promoted it was either unofficially sanctioned by intentionally turning a blind eye to it, or gross negligence to not be aware of it.

  7. Major Bruhl, these comments you call "defensive blogging" were not to correct a story. They were lies crafted to blame N.O. for the flooding.

    On December 12, 2008 someone hiding his identity, using a computer at Corps of Engineers headquarters, wrote this to me:

    "...Congress passed a law in 1992 that REQUIRED the Corps to not construct the gates but instead construct the floodwalls. This is law , this is fact. If the Corps had gotten its way, floodwalls would not have been constructed but gates at the mouths of the canals would have been built instead. This is fact...."

    I have read that law. It's called the Energy and Appropriations Act of 1992, and no where is there any language ordering the Corps to abandon plans for floodgates. This writer was attempting, through lies, to say the locals are responsible for the flooding because they interfered with the USACE's "grand plan."

    Major Bruhl, would you like to see proof that the sender was sitting at a computer at the New Orleans District Corps of Engineers HQ? I would be most happy to show it to you.

    Ms. Rosenthal

  8. The last four comments are good examples of defensive blogging.

    The Major was not trying to take a stance in the USACE case. He was using it as a way to bring up "defensive blogging" and whether or not the Army should use commenting on blogs to tell its side of the story.

  9. Hehehe, Adam, the Major's tactic seems to have worked, eh?

    I certainly have never misunderstood the military definitions of Defensive and Offensive and I think Major Bruhl would agree as to how this applies to the subject of his post.

    We are going to trust y'all to go check it all out for yourselves. All the leads are easy to follow.
    This is not a can'0'whoopask we opened in New Orleans. Those levees were opened for us by the Corps of Engineers.

    Y'all there is nothing more dangerous than a Lying Engineer, because then all you are dealing with is a Liar.

    I have absolute respect for this blog. That is why I'm here, and I expect the Major to check this out too, maybe call Commander Lee at the New Orleans district Corps and check Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

    And for the record, when I finally escaped New Orleans on the 7th day of the Flood, the first person I saw on my way out with their head screwed on was Russell Honore'.
    That is the last memory I will always have of that Kafkatrina Nightmare Flood.
    But for Russell Honore' and people like him that frequent this blog, our country would have turned into a Monster.
    Finally the Army had come to town and everything started getting straighter after that. They had really started the day before, but That is just something, some lagniappe, I would like y'all to consider while we discuss what has gone down with the Corps of Engineers in New Orleans.
    Fair enough?
    Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

  10. Adam,

    I am just an American citizen, but I do not understand why you say for the Army to fabricate information and call it facts, that the Army is telling "its side of the story."

    Ms. Rosenthal

  11. Major Bruhl, sir,

    To begin, I would like to reinforce that Levees.org is addressing matters related to the management of the Corps, not the people on the ground doing the work in New Orleans or anywhere in the U.S.

    That said, I would like a clarification, please. Does the definition of "defensive blogging" include soldiers and/or Army contractors posting misinformation under assumed names in order to mislead the public? 

    Ms. Rosenthal

  12. Major Bruhl, are you going to answer this Lady's questions? She is after all the subject or your post, and blog etiquette dictates a civil response to a civil question from a post's subject --who in this case also happens to be a civilian.
    That's just the way real blogs work.

  13. Major Bruhl, we can certainly allow for your deployment to perhaps have gotten in the way of your responding to Mrs. Rosenthal, but as the New Year Passes we would appreciate an answer to what you are doing here wasting the tax-payers money.

    Are you wasting our money here, Major Bruhl?

    You can try to ignore the public which you have engaged, but we paid for this blog and we have asked you questions nicely.
    Please answer at least Mrs. Rosenthal's questions. We really only want to know.

  14. Ms. Rosenthal and other commenters -

    Thanks for your feedback on this post! I apologize for my delay in responding - I've been on leave without any connectivity for the past week! I was quite surprised to see the number of comments upon connecting this evening and appreciate your additional information and insights into this particular case: a case which, while it is an example of "defensive blogging", is perhaps a better example of how we should not do it.

    I did not intend to condone these particular actions on the part of my Corps. I intended to use this story as an example of one way we can engage new media in ways other than just running our own blogs. As for "defensive blogging", I do think it is a valid way to engage the public we support. However, I think the way CENTCOM handles it is the right way - completely open and upfront about who is making the post - unlike the way this was seemingly done on Levees.org.

    In addition to being open about who is making the post and who they work for, it is absolutely imperative that the information they post is 100% truthful. If, as you say, Ms. Rosenthal (and I trust your information and acknowledge that you are certainly more informed about this case than I am), the commenter on your website was telling lies, than that is completely unacceptable, does not help the cause at all, and discredits our Corps. We, as public servants, must conduct ourselves with unquestioned integrity. If the Army considers "defensive blogging" as something it wants to conduct more often in the future, honesty, of course, must be among it's principles.

    I am unfamiliar with any more details about this instance than was available in the media reports linked to by the various sites. Although I am a member of the Corps of Engineers, I have never worked in the New Orleans district, nor do I currently have any "connections" who do work there that can provide me with any inside scoop. Nor do I intend to use this blog as a place to discuss current events or dig into specific cases in great detail. As I wrote when I began this blog, it's purpose is to generate discussion about how the Army can make more effective use of new media in order to better dialogue with the public.

    The comments you have left to this post show the great benefit of blogs - we can actually dialogue, rather than just providing press releases or interviews for publication. I really enjoy this, and appreciate your interest and comments. I hope the Corps continues to dialogue with you about the actions being taken to improve the protection of New Orleans and other coastal cities, as well as this case of blog commenting.

  15. Thank you, Major Bruhl.
    You said:
    "I hope the Corps continues to dialogue with you about the actions being taken to improve the protection of New Orleans and other coastal cities, as well as this case of blog commenting."
    Perhaps you have been misled or misinformed.
    Where do you see any dialogue going on from the Corps of Engineers? Did you gain this view from one of your non-contacts?
    The Corps of Engineers simply does not do "dialogue". They do spokespeople and Public Relations marketing contractors who place expensive Flash Advertisements on the Times Picayune's website. These activities are all completely tax-payer funded of course, just like this blog you are attempting to do here.
    But unlike this blog you are attempting to do here,the Corps of Engineers lacks even the Hint of Credibility, Candor or even basic legality.
    But you don't want to discuss any of that, and I don't blame you. After all, it is Your Corps that killed over 1200 people in New Orleans when those substandard levees failed catastrophically on August 29th, 2005.
    That is why I still have trouble sleeping at night. How about you?

    Again, thank you for answering Ms Rosenthal's questions, regarding your mission of Defensive Blogging.

  16. Major Bruhl,

    Thank you very much for responding to the second of my two questions which requested clarification of the definition of defensive blogging.

    Using information that is public record, I discovered that on December 12, 2008, someone with the US Army Corps of Engineers using the Corps' internet connection, hid his identity and posted a comment to my blog that was a lie and was used to blame the citizens of New Orleans for their losses in the August 2005 flood.

    Sir, in line with your preference for dialog over "providing press releases or interviews for publication," I wonder if you would please respond to my initial question? Would you like to see irrefutable proof of my Dec 12th discovery? I would be most happy to show it to you.

    Ms. Rosenthal

  17. A couple of bits:

    First, Ms. Rosenthal asked, "Does the definition of 'defensive blogging' include soldiers and/or Army contractors posting misinformation under assumed names in order to mislead the public?" The answer is, NO. Defensive blogging, as I describe it, requires truth and transparency. The information posted must be factual, and the person posting it must be forethright about who he or she is. I'm working on a post now to expound on this a bit.

    Secondly, New Orleans Ladders asks, "Where do you see any dialogue going on from the Corps of Engineers?" Well, I've never been to any of the 5-10 public meetings the New Orleans district holds each month, but I'll trust that they involve some dialogue. The calendar can be viewed at: http://www.nolaenvironmental.gov/home/nola_calendar.aspx

    Third, there is a misconception that I must clear up. This blog is not funded by tax-payer dollars unless by paying my salary, you're therefore funding this blog. Because of the Army's current policies, I am unable to access this blog from my government network. Therefore, all work I do on it is done at home - on my own time, and on my own computer. The thoughts on here are my own. I receive no direct or indirect support from the Army for this blog. It is true that this blog is done as part of a project for the education the military is providing me with, but the educational institution also does not provide me with funding or equipment to maintain this blog.

    Again, I do not intend to dig into the specifics of the Levees.org, nor do I intend to discuss the Corps of Engineers' activities in the New Orleans district (I'm simply not qualified to offer any insight other than what's available publicly). But I certainly do appreciate all the feedback and information on this case. It has been enlightening and has highlighted some very important aspects of defensive blogging.

  18. Ms. Rosenthal. I will take you at your word that the person writing the comments was doing so from a government computer. I am in no position to do anything with more specific proof that you can offer.

    I certainly do not condone any misinformation being spread by a government employee hiding their identity. I hope you'll read the forthcoming post about more specifics concerning defensive blogging.

    What you and several others have done on this blog is a very effective case of defensive blogging, by the way - posting comments to ensure I've got the complete and accurate story! Thanks again.

  19. Thanks for the comments, Susan and Sharelle! Very original ... I hope you do "keep visiting this blog very often" ... and leaving the links to your insurance companies.