Military News

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Defense Office Protects Privacy, Liberties of Troops, Civilians

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 11, 2011 – A small and little-known Defense Department office has the big task of protecting service members’ and civilian employees’ personal information in the digital world, while also getting accustomed to its new charge of protecting their civil liberties.

The Defense Privacy and Civil Liberties Office is working to reduce official uses of Social Security numbers and to educate the workforce about appropriate uses of social networking and the need for encrypting workplace email, the office’s director, Michael E. Reheuser, said during a recent interview with American Forces Press Service.

“We want to make sure that everything we do across the department, we’re doing the best we can to protect people’s privacy interests, and their civil liberties interests,” he said.

The privacy side of the office began in the 1970s post-Watergate era over concerns about government intrusions. It carried out its charge of giving advice, training and filing official reports for decades, while evolving into the Information Age with its added potential for widespread misuse of personal information online, said Reheuser, a retired Marine Corps colonel who served as DOD’s associate deputy general counsel before heading up the privacy and civil liberties office.

Congress added the civil liberties component in DOD and seven other departments and agencies two years ago at the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, which focused on the need for better information-sharing among federal agencies to prevent terrorist attacks. As part of its civil liberties work, the office is charged with ensuring that agencies don’t share information that infringes on civil liberties, Reheuser said.

The office, which reports to Michael L. Rhodes, director of administration and management in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, must file quarterly reports to Congress regarding DOD privacy and civil liberties matters. It filed its first report on civil liberties in the last quarter, Reheuser said.

The office focuses primarily on internal issues – those of service members and DOD civilians -- which range from protecting Social Security numbers and Internet-based information on the privacy side, to ensuring First Amendment protections of religion and free speech on the civil liberties side, Reheuser said.

Examples of complaints referred to the office include that of a service member who drove his car on base bearing a bumper sticker critical of the commander in chief, and those from service members who said their religious-based dietary restrictions were compromised by roommates. The office also may look into external issues, such as possible rights violations of civilian visitors to military properties, but those are rare, Reheuser said.

The office does not adjudicate cases, Reheuser stressed, but rather investigates whether the proper rules and regulations are in place to safeguard against problems, then reports its findings to Congress.

“We’re trying to avoid duplicating what’s already in place,” he said. “We have lots of great mechanisms for people concerned about issues to report those, and we don’t want add a new layer to that. What we want to do is make sure we gather the information about those complaints and report it to Congress.”

With only 20 employees, Reheuser said, the office reviews every DOD instruction and policy to make sure all follow privacy and civil liberties laws. Because of its small staff, the office relies on the military services and other DOD offices to inform its work, and share information about the office, he said.

The office’s priorities now are on reducing official uses of Social Security numbers and training employees on breach management on the privacy side, and on standing up the civil liberties side, Reheuser said.

With Social Security numbers, he said, “We want to make sure that, as a department, we are not unnecessarily using Social Security numbers because we know that if that information is stolen, it can lead to identity theft very quickly.”

Reheuser said he has received reports of unnecessary uses of Social Security numbers, such as service members having to present them to check out a volleyball at a gym. The office is assisting in the review of all forms used to collect Social Security numbers and eliminate all for which the numbers aren’t essential to business, he said.

The office also is working to train and educate service members and employees that they need to encrypt all email that contain personally identifiable information, and to send to people on a need-to-know basis only.

With more than 7 million computers and handheld devices in the department, “there are lots of ways that people inadvertently share personally identifiable information,” Reheuser said.

“If you’re relying solely on the firewalls, you probably should be more careful than that,” he said. “Encryption safeguards beyond firewalls.”

The privacy and civil liberties office doesn’t have the lead on social networking, but does monitor policies and practices, and offer training and advice. Mostly, Reheuser said, people just need to be more cautious.

“Social media is becoming more of a threat as more and more people use it, and they’re sloppy about it,” he said. “If you watch what people tweet, and what they blog, and what they post to Facebook, you wonder, ‘Did you really want to say that? Did you really think it through?’

“Our big catch phrase is, ‘Think before you post,’” he continued. “Think to yourself, would I put this on a sign in my front yard? If not, then you might not want to put it on the Internet, because once you put it up there, you can’t get it back.”

With more than 1,500 official DOD websites, there is no real way to monitor even official sites, Reheuser acknowledged, so the office is working to educate everyone on good Internet practices whether they work on official sites or for their own use.

“We rely a lot on the individual judgment of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and we’re trying to educate them and let them know that something that might be appropriate for a civilian to post, is not appropriate for a service member,” he said.

“People really do think, ‘This is mine, and I can say whatever I want on it,’ and of course we want to encourage freedom of speech,” he added. “But in the military, we don’t have as much freedom of speech as we do outside the military.”

Leap Frogs Perform at Greatest Show Off Earth

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By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (PJ) Michelle Turner, Navy Parachute Team Public Affairs

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (NNS) -- The U.S. Navy parachute demonstration team, the Leap Frogs, performed during the 40th annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta at Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque, N.M. Oct. 7-9.

The fiesta was the cornerstone event of Albuquerque Navy Week - one of 21 Navy Weeks planned across the United States in 2011.

"Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, nicknamed 'The Greatest Show Off Earth,' drew an estimated 750,000 spectators over nine days," said Don Edwards, event director. "It started in 1972 with just 13 balloons. This year 555 balloons took to the air, including 98 special shapes, from more than 20 countries."

Rain and high wind prevented the balloons from launching Friday, however conditions became favorable by jump time and allowed the Leap Frogs - composed of Navy SEALs and support personnel - to perform.

"We actually felt like [the Leap Frogs] salvaged our day," said Edwards, a U.S. Air Force veteran. "It created a lot of excitement. It was a nice treat."

A Minnesota Air National Guard C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft carrying the Leap Frogs circled high above the park as the jumpers prepared to make their jump. The crowd below waited with excitement and cheered as colored smoke trailed the ramp of the aircraft, which indicated the performance was about to begin. Five black spots appeared in the sky behind the aircraft and moments later those spots turned into blue and gold parachutes.

Each of the Leap Frogs' six performances was different. The first show included single jumpers who flew various Navy flags and trailed smoke. The rest of the jumps from the C-130 included multi-canopy formations that had the crowd clapping and cheering. The Leap Frogs stacked three canopies together and transitioned to a drag-plane, then a down-plane maneuver.

Each jumper was met with thunderous applause from the crowd gathered around the drop zone on the balloon-launch area.

Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Justin Gauny and Special Warfare Operator 1st Class (SEAL) Justin Gonzales made history when they became the first skydivers to jump out of a hot-air balloon during the Fiesta. The balloon, named Cardiac Air-Rest and piloted by Colin Graham, launched from a school upwind of the drop zone. It floated to 3,500 feet above ground level before the jumpers left the pilot alone in his basket.

It took a lot of coordination between the Federal Aviation Administration, air traffic control, balloon pilot Colin Graham, the jumpers and a little luck with the weather, said Edwards.

"Everything came together, the planets lined up, and it worked out to be a perfect morning," said Edwards. "[The jump] was pretty awesome, and it looked like the crowd was pretty excited about it too."

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez attended the fiesta and thanked the Leap Frogs for their service.

"To understand the sacrifice that families make for their loved ones to serve - to allow us to be safe - is very personal to my husband and I," said Martinez whose step son has served with special operations forces as a special warfare combatant-craft crewman in the U.S. Navy for four years. "The patriotism is so enormous in the State of New Mexico. Our National Guard is constantly being called on, whether in Kosovo or out helping to fight fires here in New Mexico. To all of our services, we are so grateful."

Spectators gathered around the jumpers after each performance to ask questions and meet a Navy SEAL face to face. Children helped each jumper pack his parachute.

"I thought it was cool!" said Devon Casados, a seven-year-old boy from Albuquerque. "I want to go parachuting!"

Navy Weeks are designed to show Americans the investment they have made in their Navy and raise awareness in areas that may not have a significant Navy presence. Sailors took part in events across Albuquerque including performances by the Navy Band Southwest "The Destroyers", presentations by Sailors assigned to Virginia-class attack submarine USS New Mexico (SSN 779) and other community relations activities.

The Leap Frogs are based in San Diego and perform aerial parachute demonstrations across America in support of Naval Special Warfare and Navy Recruiting as a "Global Force For Good." The team is composed of parachuting experts from Naval Special Warfare including Navy SEALs, special warfare combatant-craft crewmen, and an NSW parachute rigger, in addition to support personnel.