Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s primary concern is the rooting out of extremism within the ranks and has called on all troops to “stamp out” the issue.
“We need your help,” Austin said. “I’m talking, of course, about extremism and extremist ideology. Views and conduct that run counter to everything that we believe in, and which can actually tear at the fabric of who we are as an institution.”
“I’ve seen this before, I’ve lived through it as a soldier and as a commander,” Austin continued regarding extremism in the ranks. “It’s not new to our country, and sadly, it’s not new to our military. What is new is the speed and the pervasiveness with which extremist ideology can spread today, thanks to social media and the aggressive, organized, and emboldened attitude many of these hate groups and their sympathizers are now applying to their recruitment and to their operations.”
According to an internal document, a social media screening platform is being designed to monitor servicemembers. The “extremism steering committee” will be headed up by Bishop Garrison, a senior adviser to the secretary of defense.
The Pilot Program Will Continuously Monitor the Social Media of Servicemembers for Concerning Behavior
What this means exactly is still unclear.
Furthermore, Congress may not be cognizant of this action at all. When asked about the program, a spokesperson for Representative Don Bacon (R-NE), who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said they were not aware of it.
“I have discussed this with our defense team, and as of right now, we have not heard anything from DoD that would confirm this story,” Bacon’s press secretary Abbey Schieffer said. The Senate Armed Services Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
No private company has been selected for the task; however, Babel Street is the forerunner so far.
The military has trusted Babel Street products for quite some time. The U.S. military’s Special Operations Command has used one of Babel Street’s products, Locate X, to track the location of its soldiers for special forces operations.
Secretary Austin has been clear about his intentions to discover to what extent extremism exists in the force and its effect on good order and discipline. SOFREP looks forward to hearing the results of the stand-down, enacted by Secretary Austin to assess the presence of extremism in the ranks, and the Department’s plan to move forward.
Many Are Concerned About the Program and its Violations of Privacy
In an email received by The Intercept, a spokesperson for the House Armed Services Committee provided the following statement:
“The Committee understands that the Department of Defense is exploring implementing social media screening in conjunction with background investigations. We anticipate that any social media screening would be intended only as an additional means of vetting cleared individuals or those seeking to obtain a security clearance, not as a tool for ongoing surveillance of all men and women in uniform.”
“Using keywords to monitor social media isn’t just an unnecessary privacy invasion, it is a flawed strategy that will ensure it is short-lived,” said Mike German, a retired FBI agent who did undercover work in neo-Nazi groups and is now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program.
“It will undoubtedly produce a flood of false positives that will waste security resources and undermine morale, without identifying the real problem, which is the tolerance for those that openly engage in racist behavior and discrimination,” German added.