Defense Media Network

Newest Defense Media Network Promotion

Military Security Issues of Social Media: Marine Corps

New Social Corps handbook, eMarine websites lay out rules and provide networking for Marines and loved ones

Today, most military commands and senior commanders have their own Facebook and Twitter accounts. And the services are issuing government cellphones to some officers and enlisted personnel – albeit with major restrictions on their use.

For the Marine Corps, that includes a strictly enforced rule saying no cellphone, pager or similar device can be visible on any Marine’s uniform. Nor are Marines in uniform allowed to use such devices while walking, much less driving.

Modern smart phones, of course, are far more than just phones. They are connected to the Internet and so to all Web-based social networks, from Facebook to YouTube. Each of those provides military visitors with guidelines on their use – including not posting anything the servicemember would not speak aloud or want read by a commanding officer – or, worse, a terrorist or other enemy combatant.

Facebook Marine Corps

A Marine on Facebook. While social media sites contribute to morale, they also constitute security hazards, and the Marine Corps has issued a social media handbook as well as creating the eMarine social networking website.  U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Mike Atchue

That connectivity also gives users access to personal, military and other websites, in addition to the tremendous amount of information smart phones can hold, both internally and via online storage. The same is true – and rapidly becoming even more worrisome – with iPads and similar devices. Pads are larger than a cellphone, but smaller and more portable than even a netbook computer. Their ability to act as cellphones is just now coming into being, as are increasing computer capabilities.

Having learned the lesson of being behind the curve on new technologies when far less capable cellphones and PDAs began arriving with new recruits, then on the battlefield, the Marines are working hard to not only understand each new capability, but find ways to utilize them to the Corps’ advantage.

Modern smart phones, of course, are far more than just phones. They are connected to the Internet and so to all Web-based social networks, from Facebook to YouTube. Each of those provides military visitors with guidelines on their use – including not posting anything the servicemember would not speak aloud or want read by a commanding officer – or, worse, a terrorist or other enemy combatant.

Among the first lessons: A captured cellphone, smart phone or pad can give the enemy far more information than they could ever hope for from even the most vicious interrogations. They also make it easy to access non-secure personal websites.

As a result, they could have access not only to information on the warfighter and his/her unit, but also photos of and contact information for loved ones. The opportunity to make direct, visual contact with a warfighter’s family back home – including live images of torture – would be a tremendous propaganda coup.

Simply banning them or censoring warfighters’ personal websites is not a viable option. Cyber access to friends and family has been a significant morale booster for deployed warfighters. In addition, few – if any – site hosts would be likely to extend censorship to family members or friends not in uniform.

eMarine

eMarine, a subcription-based website, provides Marines, family members and commands a safe way to share unit information and stay connected. U.S. Marine Corps photo

Instead, the Corps created eMarine, a secure website restricted to Marines, commanders, civilians serving Marines and family members. While “promoting a sense of community within units,” Corps officials add eMarine provides a secure location for seemingly innocuous, but potentially dangerous, information – such as photos posted online that might include GPS coordinates and date stamps

“At any given time, we can find multiple OPSEC [operational security] violations on Marines’ or their spouses’ online profiles,” noted eMarine project manager Lisa Gleason. “A lot of information can be gathered and used adversely, which is why we’re providing a more secure alternative to traditional social media outlets not open to the public.”

As it grows and is adopted by more units, Marines are being encouraged to move their personal online presence from public sites, such as Facebook, to eMarine.

“Loose lips sink ships – and that’s never more true than in the cyber world,” warned George Dentel, family readiness officer (FRO) for II Marine Expeditionary Force. “Now, through education and awareness, along with this new social networking option, hundreds of thousands of spouses and family members will be able to stay involved with their Marines’ units without compromising security.”

Meanwhile, new possibilities arise almost daily. Video chat, for example, has been a key to helping deployed warfighters maintain real-time voice and visual contact with their loved ones. That was taken to a new height on Feb. 1, 2012, at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, when Marine Derek Smoak was promoted to staff sergeant in full view of his wife, who watched the ceremony live in a conference room at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Staff Sgt. Derek A. Smoak's Teleconference Promotion

Staff Sgt. Derek A. Smoak, a tactical vehicle license examiner with 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), is pinned during a promotion ceremony, Feb. 1, 2012, aboard Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. On the other side of the world, the 2nd MLG command helped his wife, Michelle L. Smoak, witness her husband’s promotion and award ceremony through a teleconference call. U.S. Marine Corps photo

“Staff Sgt. Smoak has been deployed for nearly a year. We simply asked if they could broadcast the event and the rest is history,” Col. Mark R. Hollahan, Smoak’s commanding officer with the 2nd Marine Logistics Group, explained. “This was a big win on a target of opportunity. We are exploring other means to get this capability used more often, for any deployed Marine or sailor.”

The rules on using social networks by Marines and their families were condensed into a new handbook – “The Social Corps” – in September 2011. In the end, however, it all boils down to ensuring operational security.

“The Internet is everywhere and that creates new threats we make sure we are aware of . . . [and] with every new technology, there are always going to be more threats to us,” NCIS Supervisory Special Agent Scott A. Vousboukis concluded. “OPSEC – we always hear it, always see it, but it’s not practiced as well as it should be.”

By

J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...