The Daily Telegraph: Troops leaked confidential data on Twitter and Facebook

Troops leaked confidential data on Twitter and Facebook (The Daily Telegraph, 11/7/14)

Members of the Armed Forces have leaked confidential information on Twitter and Facebook, according to figures obtained from the Ministry of Defence

Social media blunders by members of the Armed Forces have risked compromising operations and national security by leaking patrol times, details of sensitive visits and photos of restricted areas, records show.

Cases investigated by the Ministry of Defence have included servicemen disclosing details of Britain’s submarines, posting videos of people and equipment in Afghanistan and operations in Libya.

The cases show the military hazards arising from the widespread use of social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

The Armed Forces and MoD work under strict rules about using such networks, for fear they are combed by foreign agents and enemies looking for information on the military and operations.

According to cases released under the Freedom of Information Act, the MoD recorded at least 11 instances of restricted and confidential information being leaked by members of the Armed Forces from 2011 to 2013. The scale of the problem is likely to be far higher, because the files do not include civilian MoD cases.

The MoD said the number of incidents was “minute” compared to the number of Armed Forces personnel using social media every day.

In one case in 2013, a serviceman posted indications of patrol times from troops in Afghanistan on Twitter. In another, details of troop deployments and base closures in Afghanistan were shared on Facebook. Both cases are still being investigated.

In another case in September 2012, information classified as secret was posted on someone’s LinkedIn profile.

Several of the leaks stemmed from servicemen or women sharing photographs, the records show.

In March 2011, restricted information was released when a serviceperson posted a photograph of themselves in their office on Facebook. In the background were four computer screens showing information. The culprit “completed re-education and training”, the files show.

The same year a photograph taken of an individual inside a restricted access MoD building was posted on Facebook, leading to the individual being suspended of duties.

In another incident, a whole unit was reminded of social media rules after restricted information was posted on YouTube as part of a ten minute video montage of personnel and equipment deployed in Afghanistan.

An investigation is still going on after a serviceperson posted restricted photographs and details of the Royal Navy’s submarines on Twitter last year.

The prevalence of social media and the amount of information collected and stored is a growing headache for commanders. One of their biggest concerns is the routine “geo-tagging” photographs and posts with the exact positions of where they were created.

In one example cited by the US military, American soldiers took photographs of a new fleet of helicopters arriving at a base in Iraq in 2007. When the photos were uploaded to the internet, embedded with coordinates of where the photos had been taken, the enemy was able to determine the exact location of the US helicopters inside the compound and conduct a mortar attack, destroying four of the AH-64 Apaches.

Two years ago, an Australian defence study claimed Taliban sympathisers were posing as “attractive women” on Facebook to befriend soldiers and gather intelligence about operations in Afghanistan.

Clare George-Hilley, director of Parliament Street, a right of centre think-tank which requested the files, said: “These incidents illustrate the dangers social media sites like Twitter and Facebook can pose to the confidentially of military operations.

“To tackle this problem, it is vital that robust policies and procedures are in place to prevent the accidental disclosure of restricted information and ensure the safety and security of our servicemen and women.”

An MoD spokeswoman said: “These isolated incidents are minute when compared to the numbers of Armed Forces personnel and civilian staff who use social media every single day. However, security is our top priority which is precisely why we have clear social media guidelines that help ensure conduct online is always lawful, appropriate and professional.”

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