We'd probably do the same thing. Image: AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, James Borchuck

Loose Tweets Destroy Fleets

There’s a new front to the information war and it’s being fought by finger tips.

|
Sep 18 2015, 2:00pm

We'd probably do the same thing. Image: AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, James Borchuck

The US Air Force has found itself fighting on a new front: social media. If last month's destruction of Meek Mill wasn't warning enough, Air Force Central Command has advised its members that "Loose Tweets Destroy Fleets." The new motto is a kinda-clever revival of the World War II era slogan "Loose Lips Sink Ships," and a serious warning for service members to watch what they post to social media.

Richard Osburn, chief of Command Information for the Secretary the Air Force Public Affairs, told Motherboard that responsible use of social media has been on the Air Force's radar for some time. He said the recent push and catchy slogan is aimed at reinforcing the "critical need" for personnel to be cautious in their private use of using social media.

The warning is "a reminder that OPSEC [operations security, military speak for the protection of mission-critical information] must remain in the forefront of actions," Osburn.

The US military learned the hard way how destructive a social media slip-up can be. In 2007, four AH-64 Apache helicopters were destroyed in Iraq after US soldiers uploaded photos to social media. The photos' geotags showed insurgents exactly where to strike, according to an Army press release quoted on Defense Tech.

Osburn told us he couldn't discuss whether there have been any recent Air Force incidents similar to the Army's Apache blunder, but acknowledged that geotagging is a real concern.

The Air Force's new social media slogan is slightly tongue-in-cheek. Image: US Air Force

"Geotagged photos are prime examples of a threat that may not be well-known to airmen," he said. "One of the ways the Air Force educates and informs airmen about threats like this is through the publication of a social media guide."

The Air Force also advises personnel to think hard about the information they post, tighten up their privacy settings and consider who they interact with online.

Osburn says the concern extends beyond OPSEC. "Airmen are reminded to closely guard personal information to avoid putting themselves, or their families, at risk," he told us.

The warning also comes after US Central Command said terrorists are using social media to actively target individual military personnel and their families back home.

Screenshot from the Air Force's 2013 social media guide.

In March a group called Cyber Caliphate (the same guys who hacked the US Central Command Twitter and YouTube accounts in January this year) published a 'hit list' of 100 American soldiers, saying the soldiers helped execute airstrikes against the Islamic State, or IS. The list included the service members' names, photos and home addresses. Cyber Caliphate originally claimed the hit list was compiled after hacking "various different servers and databases" but it appears that they mostly spent time on Google.

Osburn couldn't identify any specific players that might have Air Force members' social media profiles in their crosshairs. But it's safe to say the US has a very social media savvy enemy in IS and its sympathizers.

IS and its supporters often use Facebook, Twitter and regional platforms to recruit new members and spread propaganda. There's a flip-side though: their strong social media presence attracts—among others—wannabe insta-stars.

Earlier this year, intelligence analysts working from their base in Florida spotted a selfie posted by an IS member in the Middle East. The braggadocious happy-snap lead the Air Force straight to a valuable target.

"With the stroke of a key or click of a mouse, you could be putting yourself or your wingmen at risk."

"(Intelligence analysts) are combing through social media and they see some moron standing at this command… bragging about the command and control capabilities for Daesh [another term for IS]," General Hawk Carlisle told an audience at Air Force Association conference. "And (our) guys go 'Ah, we got an in.'"

General Carlisle was careful not to give away the Air Force's methods, but said based on that one selfie, analysts were able to pinpoint the location of the IS command center. Soon enough, three Joint Direct Attack Munitions (air-to-surface, GPS guided bombs) were on their way to destroy the target.

The IS fighter's selfie sure sounds moronic now, but most of us can agree that when caught in the moment, social media mistakes are easy to make. The US Air Force is doing its best to keep risk down, but with smartphones in every cargo pant pocket, it's a tough fight.

"Commanders can't patrol how each of their airmen use social media… It's up to individual airmen to ensure they, and even their wingmen, are using social media responsibly," Staff Sergeant Anna-Marie Wyant advised service men and women.

"With the stroke of a key or click of a mouse, you could be putting yourself or your wingmen at risk," Staff Sargent Wyant said. "We've never been at a greater risk for accidental information leaks."

All Fronts is a series about technology and forever war. Follow along here.