OSI studied F-22 pilot’s online postings
By Michael Hoffman - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Mar 15, 2008 7:29:42 EDT
If you Google “Dozerf22” — the screen name Lt. Col. Michael Shower used on a popular online aviation forum — you’ll find more than 600 links to Internet sites around the world that published his answers to detailed questions about sensitive — but unclassified — F-22 Raptor information.
Shower discussed topics ranging from F-22 lot numbers at different bases to Raptor vulnerabilities and software glitches, according to briefing slides that have spread rapidly across the Air Force.
The briefing grew out of an investigation into whether Shower illegally posted classified information. Even after he was exonerated of revealing classified details, a local unit of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations — not involved in the investigation — turned details of the inquiry into an example of an operational security violation.
Shower became an F-22 test pilot in 2002 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and was anointed the first commander of the 90th Fighter Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, last May.
Building a reputation
Shower started posting on Web sites after he was designated an F-22 airshow pilot. He created quite a fan base, and garnered several comments like “That rocks…” or “awesome thread” following posts. An F-22 discussion thread on FenceCheck.com, a site geared to aviation enthusiasts, regularly featured posts by Shower. That thread had 700 posts and received more than 68,000 hits before it was shut down. Forum users even posted Raptor photos with specific parts circled, asking Dozerf22 to identify them, according to the slides.
But the attention Shower received and the detailed information he posted did alarm some visitors, who wondered about the source of the questions.
“Waaaay too many spies on this forum,” one visitor wrote.
After an unnamed person at Air Combat Command reported Shower to OSI last December, the Secretary of the Air Force Acquisitions Security Detail launched an investigation into the squadron commander’s online activities to find out if his posts were classified.
Investigators concluded Shower did not release classified information, and he did not receive any disciplinary action.
Still, the OSI unit at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., turned the probe into an unclassified briefing titled “Cyber OPSEC: An F22 Case Study,” and presented it to the Davis-Monthan Threat Working Group last month. The briefing provides details about the questions Shower received and the sensitive information contained in some answers.
The brief never uses Shower’s name, but it includes a picture of him with only his face blocked out, and describes how easy it is to confirm his identity using his Fence Check login name, Dozerf22, which is almost identical to his call sign, Dozer.
OSI spokeswoman Linda Card said the briefing was never intended to go past its initial presentation at Davis-Monthan, but admits it has been sent throughout the Air Force by threat working groups at other bases.
In an e-mail to Air Force Times, Shower said he was unfairly targeted by the briefing and he made sure to answer only questions that had already been reported.
“I only discussed items that were open source and available to the public,” he said. “It is also why I did not answer many of the questions that were asked because they would have touched on issues that were not appropriate.”
Two Pacific Air Forces officers, who asked to remain anonymous because of the story’s sensitivity, said they were surprised a training tool would use a current commander as an example of inappropriate behavior.
“How is he supposed to ever counsel an airman on OPSEC again?” one officer asked.
Before the investigation, Shower was a model pilot with a career most dream of. An Air Force Academy graduate, Shower flew F-15Cs, including combat patrols over Iraq during Operation Northern Watch.
He also engaged two Mig-29 Fulcrums of the Serbian Air Force on the first night of Operation Allied Force over Serbia in March 1999 while helping escort a wave of F-117 Nighthawks.
The briefing slides Air Force Times obtained listed some of the questions Shower received — in the exact form they appeared on various message boards. They also pointed out how many posters used poor English, insinuating that technical Raptor questions came from foreign users.
“I have a question. and if it is sensitive im sure someone will let me know…” reads one question in the briefing. “but looking at the actuator blister fairings. especially on the vertical inboard fins, that are diamond shaped, how the heck to the move without impacting the skin?” asked one user, according to the slides.
“I have two small questions for Raptor and JSF, and I would be very gratitude if you would like to give me some answers,” began another.
Shower said he understood that he couldn’t check the background of each user who asked a question on the message board and contends that is why he was so careful in answering them.
It’s unclear exactly which questions Shower answered since details of the investigation haven’t been made public, and the discussion thread on Fence Check has been deleted.
But the briefing slides say Shower’s answers dealt with “thrust vectoring,” “what specific doors and flaps do,” “weapons systems operational details,” “fuel figures and weight impact on performance,” “status of radar upgrades,” “compatible missile systems,” “confirmed and denied performance rumors” and “aircraft lot numbers at different bases.”
Shower’s Fence Check discussion is not an isolated incident, said retired Air Force Col. Tom Ehrhard, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Since the Cold War, OPSEC has eroded, especially with the advent of the Internet. Now it is easier for airmen to slip up and post information they shouldn’t on blogs, message boards and social networking sites.
For instance, message boards are ripe with B-2 information and speculation about what caused the recent crash on Guam, he said.
Web site editors for online forums such as Fence Check and F-16.net said they continue to monitor their sites for potentially classified information and understand their sites could be targeted by counter-intelligence agents looking for airmen to mistakenly post service secrets.
“We only share information that is already in the public domain, and carefully vet posts that might cross that line. We won’t allow photos of military planes with opened panels, for example, or the posting of flight schedules and/or deployment dates,” said Roger Kemp, Fence Check’s editor.
Jon Somerville, an editor for F-16.net, said his site does all it can to make sure operational security violations don’t occur, but due to lack of training, it can be an almost impossible task to ensure the site is completely clean.
“Sometimes we do see material posted which is a clear violation of the OPSEC rules,” Somerville said via e-mail to Air Force Times. “This content is modified and a message sent to the forum poster. Fortunately this happens very rarely and usually as a result of a mishap which has just occurred.”
Shower confirmed he stopped posting on message boards by request from his leadership and warned other airmen to be extremely careful about what they write online.
“Anything you say can come back to haunt you and everyone must be aware of that,” Shower said.
Source: http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2008/ ... c_031408w/