Intelligence: China Tries To Plug The Big Leak


July 2, 2010: Alarmed at the amount of military information being innocently leaked by their soldiers on the Internet, China has banned all uniformed personnel from operating blogs, personal web sites or using social networking sites. They are also barred from Internet Cafes. Troops are not completely banned from using the Internet off duty, they are simply forbidden to communicate with anyone they don't know. The new regulations don't specify punishments for those who disobey the new rules. It's assumed that anyone who does so will simply be punished for disobeying orders, or disclosing state secrets.

Commanders have become increasingly alarmed at the amount of military information that was casually being distributed by troops via the web. This may have first become an issue when intelligence officers, pleased with how much military information they are able to collect about foreign soldiers activity, via web search, and realized that it works both ways. Turning their intel collecting tools on Chinese language sites quickly detected a lot of info that was supposed to be secret.

The new rules went into effect on June 15th, and were very unpopular. The Internet is very popular in China, which has over 400 million users (the most of any country). For the 2.3 million uniformed military personnel, Internet access resulted in major morale improvements. Moreover, not all the Internet connectivity is just for staying in touch with the folks back home. The troops use the Internet a lot for professional tasks, and not all of them are official business. Some troops blogged to stay in touch with military friends and associates in other parts of the country, or the world. The Internet has made possible many online communities composed of military professionals. These are rarely seen by civilians, as they are run via email (listservs) or on restricted bulletin boards. These virtual communities ensure that new military developments get distributed and dissected quickly. This angle rarely gets reported, again, because it takes place out of view. But like most things on the Internet, they are having a far greater impact than most people realize.

Many Chinese officers opposed the new restrictions, believing that the advantages outweighed the risks. They were overruled. So now commanders have to deal with lower morale and less ability for the troops to get in touch with new ideas. This will make the Chinese military less effective. It's also likely that after a few months, or years, the high command will be forced to loosen up. This was what happened in the West when the brass tried to cut their troops off from the social networking aspects of the Internet.






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