While NSA secret-leaker Edward Snowden apparently bides his time in the transit zone of Moscow’s airport, the repercussions of his actions continue to confound US officialdom – and their PR teams, it seems. The latest questionable move comes from the Department of Defense.
Last week, The Herald of Monterey County, California learned that internet access to UK newspaper The Guardian, which first broke Snowden’s revelations, had been restricted at a nearby army base. Except it wasn’t just at the base, and it wasn’t just the Guardian’s site: The DoD was blocking all articles about the NSA leaks from millions of government owned computers. Automated filters were installed to censor any article containing information still deemed classified – even though details have been spread to the four corners of the known Interwebs.
Spokespeople for the US Army and DoD cited the need for “network hygiene” to keep the once-secret information from further unauthorized disclosure. A primary concern was money: According to one military flack, it takes “a lot of time” to remove classified material viewed online by news-reading military personnel on government computers. The flack generously noted that DoD “is also not going to block websites from the American public in general.” Just those serving in uniform, apparently.
THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the Department of Defense, for sticking to a rulebook that no longer makes sense.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: When events are moving fast, be ready to improvise. How does it look to go by the book when no one else is following the rules? This applies especially in the lightning-fast realm of information technology. The Defense Department’s PR team sought to spin the site-censoring as a cost issue. But why spend money at all on what seems an absurd exercise to begin with? DOD’s policy, and its PR positioning, make as much as sense as – ahem – keeping your head in the sand when the horse has already left the barn.