The Coalition Forces Land Component Command, or "C-Flak" as it is being called, has embraced a policy of opening the door to the media that is being organized by the U.S. Dept. of Defense. The policy of officially embedding civilian journalists with military units as they deploy for an invasion of Iraq, and, if it should follow, accompany them to war, is being institutionalized in the campaign on an unprecedented scale.
DOD first assigned about 500 media representatives to join specific units deployed in the region for long periods of time. The number has since increased and is well above 600. There were a handful of embeds in Afghanistan, and only pool reporters and "wildcatters" unauthorized wanderers traveling alone through the war zone during the last Persian Gulf war. Wildcatters and "unilaterals," who are registered but unassigned reporters, are still poised to take their chances on their own in this engagement, should it occur. But the bulk of the media will be embedded with units throughout the services. In Viet Nam there were a few embeds, but more common was the practice of dropping in with units for brief stints. One must go back to World War II to find large numbers of journalists assigned to units in the field, and even then the number is small by comparison to the current program.
Reporters eat, sleep and travel with their units for extended periods of time in this embedded media program. They may not carry weapons and are discouraged from wearing military apparel. They are advised, instead, to bring a flack jacket, Kevlar helmet and to dress in subdued tones. They are told to prepare for a month's privation, sandstorms, searing heat and bone-chilling cold. Each reporter must have the necessary technology to file stories and photos independent of military communications. The press must carry their equipmentaloneand be able to keep up with their companions.
Upon arrival in Kuwait journalists report to a press information center at the Hilton Hotel where they are issued a gas mask and chem/bio suit, with brief instructions in their use, to be reiterated in much greater detail once they reach their assigned units. They are also offered smallpox and anthrax vaccines for a fee, although they must sign agreements not to sue if unfavorable reactions follow.
Participating reporters also must have signed, and had their supervisors sign, similar agreements acknowledging that they assume all risks associated with the embedding process, war, combat and combat support operations. "The embedding process will expose media employees to all hazards of a military environment, including but not limited to the extreme and unpredictable hazards of war," the agreement states.
The military's ground rules for coverage are broken down to seven items on a single sheet of paper, but are embellished by an eight-page memo in small type that guides public affairs officers in handling their charges.
Public affairs officers are given a bold standard for determining whether information can be released.
"The standard should be "why not release," rather than "why," the guideline memo advises. The onus of censorship is on the source of the information -- the officers and enlisted personnel speaking to the reporter. The military promises that there is no general review process and there will be no censor excising quotes before stories are filed. In certain situations where special access has been granted, public affairs officers may review copy prior to transmission to ensure that no classified information is revealed.
"All interviews will be on the record. Security at the interview source is the policy," the first item on the ground rules agreement states.
Some categories of information cannot be released, since their publication or broadcast could jeopardize operations and lives. These include reports and imagery that identifies or includes identifiable geographic locations or features in areas of ongoing operations, or photographs that reveal any but the most obvious security precautions at military installations or encampments. Also, photographs of Special Operations Forces personnel or their equipment may not be filed without special authorization. Reporters are not permitted to interview or photograph detainees or detention facilities. Revealing information about operations of the forces of other coalition nations without prior clearance also crosses the line. Specific numerical information on troop strength, equipment or critical supplies is also not to be published.
ENR Associate Editor Tom Sawyer filed this story and others from Iraq while embedded with Engineer Brigade of U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division.