(WASHINGTON) — The Defense Department is reviewing whether cellphones should be banned at the Pentagon – where 23,000 military and civilian personnel work at the nation’s military headquarters.
The review is part of an ongoing comprehensive look at the use of personal technology by the U.S. military worldwide – that’s now been broadened by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to include wearable electronics with GPS capability.
“It’s not just about cell phones,” said Dana White, the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson said at a news conference Thursday. “It’s about electronics. It’s about GPS-enabled electronics. It’s a wide array of electronics that we’re looking at.”
“Technology’s very dynamic, it is important that we always adapt our security procedures,” she said.
“Bases have been attacked,” said White. “Information is power and our adversaries have used information to plan attacks against us. It’s important to know that the secretary’s primary focus is the protection of civilians, of service members and their families,” she said.
Mattis expanded the review after it was revealed last week that a heat map generated by the Strava tracking app identified exercise routes used by U.S. military personnel worldwide, even at some U.S. facilities that were not public.
“The Strava heat maps provided an opportunity for us to see a possible vulnerability,” said White. “So he’s thinking about the totality of the DOD enterprise, so not just this building.”
“We always are thinking about how do we enhance and adapt our security procedures,” said White. “And that’s what’s happening now.”
During a meeting Thursday with British Defense Minister Gavin Williamson, Mattis said the cellphone review began a month ago.
“We’re not talking just the Pentagon which is the headquarters for the far flung U.S. military,” said Mattis. “So, we’re looking at how we maintain electronic security just like we maintain any other security.”
“With respect to the workforce, the secretary’s primary interest is to ensure that we are all safe and we are all secure,” said White. “Operational security is his priority. This recent incident, and others, has allowed him to take a bigger look at, what are we doing and how are we doing it?”
Military and civilian employees at the Pentagon are currently allowed to bring their personal or work cellphones into the building – although as a practical matter there is no cellphone reception throughout most of the building.
Even so, personnel working in classified or secure areas are required to leave their phones outside in specific boxes or small lockers.
A U.S. official said a cellphone ban would present significant logistical challenges to deal with employees arriving at work but wanting to keep their phones handy.
One option being explored is placing thousands of such boxes or secure lockers in areas where employees can place their devices prior to entering the building.
White said no final decisions have been made as part of the ongoing review and did not disclose a potential timeline for a decision.
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