20th November 2005, 08:01 AM
Get Mindef clearance before posting pics
Mindef warns 3 men for posting pictures of overseas army training
By Jeremy Au Yong
AT LEAST three operationally ready NSmen - including popular blogger Mr Miyagi - have been asked by the Ministry of Defence to take down online postings about a recent military training stint, over fears of a security breach.
The trio had posted photos and journal entries online earlier this month after returning from the three-week-long Exercise Wallaby in the northern Australian state of Queensland.
Mr Miyagi - the online moniker of businessman Benjamin Lee - had posted more than 100 pictures online featuring army mates queueing in a canteen, sleeping in a tent or resting in an armoured vehicle.
Another who uses the nickname askgerard posted about 25 pictures. A third - going by the nickname stupidgenius - even wrote about an incident where a tank overturned.
All have been warned - either directly by Mindef, or informally through their commanding officers - to take these postings down. Each will now have to seek permission from Mindef before being allowed to put them back online.
Mindef director of public affairs Benedict Lim said: 'We encourage our servicemen to share their experiences, as this will enhance camaraderie and the national service experience. At the same time, we have to be mindful of the need for information security. There is a balance we need to strike.'
For example, he said that while many pictures may not be sensitive, shots of things like the inside of vehicles - which are 'not commonly shown to the public' - should not be placed in a public domain like a website.
The emergence of blogs and the ubiquity of digital cameras mean many organisations now have to deal with sources of information leaks they have never had to consider before. Already, several companies like computer giant IBM and public relations firm Hill and Knowlton have drawn up blogging guidelines for their employees.
While Mindef has no such guidelines, a longstanding order already warns the soldiers not to disclose army information without first seeking permission.
Mr Lee admits that he may have pushed the line by posting numerous pictures and posts on his blog without official permission.
'But I know better than to write about anything confidential. If I see a vehicle that I've never seen before, I know not to take its picture,' he said. He is awaiting official clearance before putting the posts back online. His blog at miyagi.sg gets about 2,000 visitors a day while the army blog gets about 300. The other two NSmen did not comment.
Military blogs themselves are not new. Since the Iraq war started in 2003, nearly 1,000 sites by American soldiers blogging from Iraq have popped up.
Intelligence experts think that Mindef was right to ask servicemen to seek clearance - even though it can be inconvenient.
'Terrorists have been known to collect their information from the Internet. Sometimes when you take pictures you may unintentionally capture an important piece of information,' said terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna.
Mr Alex Tay, 38, a national service intelligence officer agreed, and added: 'A lot of information can be gathered from open sources like the Internet.
'Over time, small bits and pieces of information gathered can come together to make the big picture.'
'A lot of people have the misconception that reservist training is like a holiday, where we rest and drink beer. The blog shows them how tough it is and how much we suffer.'
-- MR LEE, aka blogger Mr Miyagi, on why he puts army tales online
'Terrorists have been known to collect their information from the Internet. Sometimes when you take pictures you may unintentionally capture an important piece of information.'
-- TERRORISM EXPERT ROHAN GUNARATNA