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Marines ask Basetrack to leave amid security concerns

A curious development over at Basetrack this afternoon. (You may remember Basetrack as Teru Kuwayama’s Knight News Challenge-winning project to use social media to tell stories about an American military unit in Afghanistan.) Word from Kuwayama is that they’re being asked to leave the Marine regiment they’ve been working with.

Posting on Basetrack’s blog, Kuwayama wrote: “It was hard to get clarification on why, how or who issued the order…but we’ll keep you posted.”

While praising Basetrack for the work they’ve done to highlight the lives of Marines serving overseas, a memo from the unit’s public affairs officer says they’re asking Basetrack to leave because of “perceived operational security violations.” From the memo:

These concerns are legitimate. Specifically the websites tie in to google maps to display friendly force locations. At this time there has been no official OpSec determination yet and therefore they are being asked to leave and NOT disembedded (disembedding is a formal process that occurs after OpSec determinations have been finalized). RCT 8 Public Affairs concerns lie in the fact that anytime too much information is aggregated in one place in a fashion tying unit disposition and manpower together we have facilitated the enemy.

The news is a surprise to say the least: Kuwayama has spent extensive time embedded with Marines. The about face by the military is more surprising, as Kuwayama told The New York Times last year that the Marines were the ones who asked him to come along to chronicle the day-to-day life in Afghanistan. One of the more remarkable aspects of Basetrack is the collaboration between the military and the project’s photographers, a melding that allowed Marines to connect with family and friends back here in the states. (A quick look at responses on Basetrack’s Facebook page shows a mix of confusion, sadness and pragmatism as troops safety is their top priority.) And the integration with mapping tools is one of the most impressive elements of Basetrack’s site.

Kuwayama was a speaker at December’s #niemanleaks conference, where he told the audience about the lengths Basetrack goes to to make sure they don’t release sensitive information. Kuwayama called it a “denial of information” system, that allowed for the military to quickly and easily redact information as needed. We’re reaching out to him to see if we can get more clarity on what exactly this means for Basetrack.

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  • Matt M

    You keep using the terms “Marines” and “soldiers” interchangeably in your copy. However note that they are not synonymous — even AP Style makes the distinction.

    These types of small details are important contextually, and as news gathering becomes more niche — reaching small but deeply engaged communities — journalists must challenge themselves not to overlook such things.

  • Slavoj Zizek

    Don’t be silly, Matt M.
    A Marine, whether you like it or not, is still a soldier. May not be a Soldier, but a journalist has no obligation to pander to any military machine’s image-building and branding exercises – which is exactly what this distinction is meant for.

  • Bhubbard

    I would have to disagree, Slavoj.
    Marine as a term helps depict not only the military branch, but helps describe the expeditionary land/sea warfare these fighters are involved in. I think you are getting lost in the socio-political concept of how the military is conceived, rather than the function of a journalist to communicate effectively with the reader.