2011 Conference: ‘Covering the Military at Home and Abroad’

Journalists who cover the military beat around the country participated in briefings at the Pentagon and panel discussions and presentations with a variety of experts on topics ranging from medical care for veterans to national security law during a June conference organized by the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative.

About 30 journalists chosen from a pool of applicants gathered June 23-24 for the “Covering the Military at Home and Abroad,” sessions in Washington, D.C. Many also participated in an optional one-day immersion in using computer-assisted reporting to cover defense issues. Investigative Reporters and Editors and Medill were co-organizers of those sessions.

“The two-day fellowship and Saturday’s NICAR session were fun and instructive,” conference participant Mike Cronin of The Daily said. “I had a blast, learned a lot.”

Gretel C. Kovach of the San Diego Union-Tribune also found the conference to be a success. “I returned to San Diego full of ideas and skills.”

Here are highlights, images and handouts from the conference. (View the agenda).

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Assorted images from the conference. For larger images, please click here. (Photos/Molly Nevola)

U.S. Cyber Command tasked with protecting Dept. of Defense from Internet explosion

The role of U.S. Cyber Command is to operate and defend Department of Defense electronic networks, mainly those with the .mil Internet address, Col. Rivers Johnson, the Command’s public affairs officer, told conferees during a PowerPoint demonstration on the scope of cyber protection.

“Technology outstrips law and policy by a long shot,” Rivers said as he detailed the new Command’s attempts to address the extraordinary multiplication of Internet messages and addresses. (Full Story)

General sees speed-up in Afghan transition
The president’s new plan to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan will accelerate the transition to Afghan security control already set in motion by top U.S. commanders, according to the Camp Pendleton Marine who spent last year in charge of the international coalition in southwestern Afghanistan.

Key details about which U.S. troops will leave first, and from where, are in flux. But the insurgents are certain to respond to the pullout by attacking Afghan forces to probe their abilities and resolve, Maj. Gen. Richard Mills said Friday in Washington, D.C. He spoke with military reporters at a Medill National Security Journalism Initiative conference. (Full Story)

Military contractors a rich source of potentially great and important stories

As the U.S. military presence overseas has grown over the past decade, military contractors have gone to war with American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan- in countless and often unexpected ways.

Those contractors provide reporters with a wealth of potentially great and important stories, in part because they are getting hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer money with little if any government oversight, two experts on contracting told reporters attending Medill’s first annual Medill National Security Journalism Initiative conference.

They said that while big-ticket contractors like Halliburton and the company formerly known as Blackwater get most of the coverage, there are hundreds of others that are raking in huge profits – often for services the military had long provided for far less money. (Full Story)

When it comes to cyber law, serious issues remain unresolved, former DHS official says
The potential for cyber attack in the United States is understated and the increasing vulnerability is shared not only by the private sector but also by the military and other government operations.While the Obama administration has treated the cyber threat more seriously than either the Bush or Clinton administrations, Stewart Baker, a former assistant secretary for policy in the Department of Homeland Security told the 2001 Medill National Security Journalism conference, serious legal issues are still unresolved.

Among those policy issues are making U.S. cyber defense consistent with the Fourth Amendment; resolution of a basic “turf war” between the CIA, Homeland Security and the Department of Defense; determining what authority to invoke in defending the private sector and how to apply the laws of war or, in other words, how to respond with proportionality when attacked in cyberspace. (Full Story)

Experts offer advice on how to best cover medical issues involving returning troops

Suicides by troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq are sharply on the upswing, and they are only one of the many important side effects of the two wars that will continue long after the United States draws down its military presence in the region.

Returning troops are also suffering from other problems, including traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, crippling injuries, depression and difficulty in adjusting to civilian life. And they are doing so at such frequency that the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs can’t keep up, according to a panel of experts at the first annual Medill National Security Journalism Initiative conference.

The panelists, including a senior Army public affairs officer, gave journalists attending the conference advice on how best to cover these important stories in Washington, on military bases and in communities around the country with significantveteran populations. (Full Story)

Great military beat stories start with great understanding of FOIA and where to find public information

Learning how to file effective federal Freedom of Information Act requests and knowing what other national security information is publicly available are the first two steps toward getting great stories about the military and the war on terrorism—especially those scoops that the government doesn’t want reporters to find out about.

That was the advice given by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists to reporters attending the first annual Medill National Security Journalism Initiative conference.

Aftergood, director of the federation’s Project on Government Secrecy, is one of the nation’s foremost experts on getting the U.S. government to respond to reporters’ inquiries on the military and other national security agencies.(Full Story)

Conference attendees in a group photo at the Pentagon. (Photo/Molly Nevola)