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Pentagon Official: WikiLeaks Demonstrates Technology has Outpaced Policy, Law

Pentagon Official: WikiLeaks Demonstrates Technology has Outpaced Policy, Law - top government contractors - best government contracting event
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Pentagon Official: WikiLeaks Demonstrates Technology has Outpaced Policy, Law - top government contractors - best government contracting event
Douglas B. Wilson

The WikiLeaks incident highlights the need for laws and policies that address the unintended consequences of “technology at the intersection of national security,” the Pentagon’s lead communicator said last week.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Douglas B. Wilson told “This Week in Defense News” he is not sure how the Defense Department could have handled the WikiLeaks situation differently.

“I think the most significant lesson to come out of this is that technology — and particularly technology at the intersection of national security — has outpaced the policy and the law necessary to address the unintended consequences,” he said, according to American Forces Press Service.

Wilson called WikiLeaks an example of how “arrogance and naiveté have determined and had negative consequences for national security.”

“Classified information is classified information, and releasing that information is illegal,” he said. “But I think that we have a lot to do in government to understand that we need to be focusing much more on policy and much more on the laws that we need to think about to address what have been very unintended consequences of technological advance.”

Even as social media revolutionizes information sharing, DoD’s communications strategy comes down to the responsibility of being open and timely without jeopardizing the safety and privacy of service members and their families, Wilson said

The issues Pentagon faces on a daily basis involve two factors: how to deal with the media and the public openly and credibly and how to provide information without harming service members who are in harm’s way in many places, Wilson said.

These principles apply regardless of the communications format, and whether it is via traditional or evolving media, he said.

The advent of social media revolutionized the way people around the world — including those in the Defense Department — communicate, providing “instantaneous, real-time ability to reach broad numbers of people and to communicate quickly and effectively,” Wilson said. “When everybody is equipped with the social media tools, it’s a very effective means of communication,” he added.

Social media have recently become an organizing and messaging tool in the Middle East in recent months, affording sectors of societies in the Arab world the ability to mobilize very quickly, he said. Unlike in that past, where a set number of elites worldwide defined messages, social media give a voice to anyone, regardless of what they have to say and whether they are friend or foe.

It then becomes even more crucial for DoD and government communicators to be able to explain policies in ways that people find credible. Twitter, Facebook and other social media, Wilson said, are among the many communication tools DoD employs, including print and broadcast media, the Internet and personal communication.

Social media “is not an end in itself. It is a tool of communications,” Wilson said. “It’s a way to communicate, and you need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each of the tools of communications in order to be effective … I don’t believe that there is any panacea in communications.”

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