Reversing a decision it made last summer, the U.S. Marine Corps has decided earlier this week to allow Marines to use Web 2.0 tools such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace to keep in touch with family and friends.  The service now encourages “responsible and effective use” of social networking technology.

As quoted by, a new directive states that “The Marine Corps embraces and strives to leverage the advances of internet-based capabilities. Effective immediately, internet-based capabilities will be made available to all MCEN [Marine Corps Enterprise Network] users.”

That’s a dramatic reversal from last August. That’s when the Marine Corps’ order, valid for one year and issued by its CIO, General G. J. Allen, said that Web 2.0 “sites in general are a proven haven for malicious actors and content and are particularly high risk due to information exposure, user-generated content and targeting by adversaries.

“The very nature of social-networking sites creates a larger attack and exploitation window, exposes unnecessary information to adversaries and provides an easy conduit for information leakage,” that puts the Corps and its networks in danger. Here is more background on the ban itself, from PCWorld magazine.

While military officials would concede the value of Web 2.0 tools to help soldiers keep in touch with their families and maintain morale, they worried that a casual remark by a Marine might disclose operational information that could be intercepted and jeopardize.

But as Wired noted in its report, Marine Corp decision-makers who are still wary of this kind of openness may want to read this fascinating piece in Small Wars Journal by Maj. Kelly Webster, recently chief of plans and regimental executive officer for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. During Haiti relief operations, Webster writes, using unclassified communications was essential to information-sharing:

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are fought on classified information systems. While an operational necessity for these conflicts, most disaster relief partners, to include a majority of the US Embassy staff, can neither see nor access classified material. During the initial days of the relief operation, the ability to pass timely and accurate information was arguably as important as the availability of food and water. In the initial weeks of Operation UNIFIED RESPONSE, Blackberry text messages became the primary means of communication, chiefly because they were the simplest and most reliable means of corresponding with the host of US Government agencies, United Nations offices, and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) coordinating the relief efforts.

When you think about it, every institution is society is being transformed by the digital revolution and the Internet, including the military.  Military organizations are structured to fight old style industrial wars where nations are pitted against nations and where soldiers keep quiet, stay isolated from family and friends and do as they’re told.

The real threat to effective military organizations is not openness and providing access for soldiers to the web.  It’s the opposite — sticking to old models that were designed for previous times.