Pilot's tale of Bosnia rescue lands on Net
- By Paul Constance
- Aug 28, 1995
Even as Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady deflected reporters'
questions about the details of his rescue from Bosnia, thousands of Internet surfers
around the world were getting a vivid, blow-by-blow description of the mission as told by
an Air Force pilot who took part in the mission.
GCN has learned that the report, laced with expletives and Air Force jargon, included
detailed descriptions of flight procedures, radio frequencies and weapons systems used by
the Air Force in Bosnia.
Written by Capt. Scott Zobrist hours after returning from the rescue and sent via
e-mail to a few friends, it quickly became one of the hottest "forwarded"
messages in cyberspace, eventually reaching GCN.
It also created an embarrassment for the Air Force, which goes to considerable pains to
prevent "unsanitized" information from reaching the public, and it turned a
spotlight on the growth in unofficial e-mail use by military personnel.
"You could say that the Zobrist message flies in the face of operations
security," said Brig. Gen. Ron Sconyers, chief of Air Force public affairs, "and
I would bet my paycheck that there have been plenty of other incidents like it."
Yet Sconyers acknowledged that "when I send electronic mail, I always consider it
a point-to-point communication. What people need to realize is that this is not
point-to-point, because it is too easy for it to be retransmitted or even
Sconyers said Zobrist, who is based in Aviano, Italy, used a PC and a private America
Online account to send the message.
Sconyers said Lee Ewing, director of content for Military City Online, an AOL forum,
received a copy of the message and requested Zobrist's permission to post it. Zobrist
declined, but by then someone else had posted the message on an Internet usenet news
Sconyers said privacy rules prevented him from saying whether any administrative action
had been taken against Zobrist because of the message. Following the incident, officials
at the Munich headquarters of U.S. Air Force in Europe "put out a commandwide message
using [the Zobrist incident] as an example and saying, hey, guys, just be careful."
The Air Force "spends a lot of time training people in communications security and
operations security," Sconyers said, but he added, there are no rules that
specifically address use of e-mail via channels such as AOL.
Sconyers said the Air Force's communications and administration communities are working
on the problem, but it will be "some time before we can grasp a policy that is useful
to us but is not so inhibiting that it prevents the flow of information."
Last month, Vice Adm. Walter Davis Jr., the Navy director for Space and Electronic
Warfare, released a detailed policy defining what can be posted on Navy Internet sites and
World Wide Web home pages [GCN, July 31, Page 6].
In a May 25 memo, Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall specified that "only
releasable public information may be directly accessible from the Internet" and
spelled out procedures to ensure that unauthorized information does not end up on Air
Force Web pages.
Neither policy addresses personal use of a commercial Internet or information service
account by active-duty service members, however.
Pentagon spokeswoman Susan Hansen said the Zobrist incident has added momentum to
efforts by the staff of Emmett Paige Jr., assistant secretary of Defense for command,
control, communications and intelligence, to clarify the definition of a government
She said an upcoming DOD directive on records management will include e-mail. Also, a
special working group on e-mail policy soon will be formed within the ASD(C3I) Office.