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Skype on base, that was a bright idea

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Comment First, for those of you not in Australia, a précis of a tawdry little tale.

The Australian Defence Force found itself in the headlines for the wrong reasons when a young female member of the ADF Academy went public after having sex with a fellow cadet, only to find out later that he used a webcam and Skype to broadcast the assignation to his mates.

Since the ADF has chronic problems of bullying, as well as with the treatment of women and new recruits*, and has suffered a few years of sex scandals, the story was an immediate hit. Keep in mind that the young woman's only sin was folly: she picked the wrong guy, and didn't think his computer might be switched on with the webcam active.

The ADF first tried to equivocate, saying that there was nothing it could use to charge the unconscionable bastard who thought the broadcast was a good idea, only to backpedal when Defence Minister Stephen Smith (who is an impressive sight when in full flight and fury) hit the roof.

Next, the ADF brasshats, in an outbreak of unbelievably insular stupidity, decided to go ahead with a separate charge against the traumatised female, to do with AWOL and drinking. Moreover, these same defence bosses also asked the woman to apologise for going public with her story.

Smith didn't just hit the roof this time; by all accounts, there’s holes in the ceiling. And the defence chiefs had to back down even further. Smith's public statement, that the brass's actions were a "betrayal of trust", betoken a private meeting that we can only wish had been surreptitiously filmed.

Now, I could write a serious and reasoned column about the chronic social problems of the ADF, which has, for as long as I can remember, acted as if it has institutional autism.

Or I could observe that the ADF seems entirely unable to instill even the remotest hint of good sense in how its members behave in the presence of computers. It's less than a fortnight since we found out that Australian soldiers were posting racist messages about Afghanistan nationals on Facebook.

But I have a different question to ask: why the hell was the ADF permitting unrestricted use of Skype in the Academy?

While nobody would argue that the Australian Defence Force Academy is its most secure or sensitive location, it's still a defence site. It's not just some private home in the middle of the suburbs. If I tried to walk in off the street, just happening to hold a handful of computers and bugs and what-not, I'd be stopped (probably: consider this story).

Yet cadets inside the ADF firewall (presuming it has one) have unrestricted access to an encrypted communications channel to use as they please.

And this coming from a government which has sacked a senior public servant for browsing boobs on a work laptop when at home.

The ADF can't even manage a policy about how computers connected to the ADF Academy network can be used – hence the chiefs' initial confusion about whether they had any reason to punish the offenders (falling instead into the old habit of punishing victims when perpetrators are out of reach).

Perhaps a case could be made for letting the cadets use Skype, but only if the ADF has a policy in place about its use. No such policy seems to exist.

The ADF doesn't just have chronic cultural problems. It's got a chronic IQ problem. ®

*For those that remember the Vulcan disaster, the treatment of servicemen who have died cleaning F-111 fuel tanks, that of servicemen exposed to radiation during nuclear tests, and plenty of other incidents, all suggest that the ADF has never mastered the notion of humane treatment of its members. It probably regrets the passing of the British Navy's tradition of "rum, buggery and the lash," as Churchill put it. ®

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