Fearing shortages of bandwidth might inhibit military operations after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, U.S. Cyber Command blocked some commercial websites that generally use “extraordinary bandwidth,” a spokesman said on Tuesday.
The partial cyber ban was imposed at the request of U.S. Pacific Command and is a “regional action,” a Cyber Command spokesman told National Journal. It affects websites like Amazon, YouTube, ESPN, eBay, and other “recreational websites... that have low mission impact,” the spokesman said. Social-media websites were not restricted.
The U.S. military has about a dozen ships assisting in the crisis in Japan, either based off the coast or en route, and is engaged in air operations there. The spokesman said the partial ban is seen as a necessary precaution to ensure that mission-critical communications can continue even after significant damage to structures, facilities, and infrastructure in the region.
Misawa Air Base, a forward operating base for these missions, warned its personnel in a blog post Friday that the Defense Switched Network, which handles voice calls, was in backup mode and had only limited capacity, according to NextGov.com. "We have a number of connectivity issues. Internet has been up and down due to our connections through other places in Japan,” the blog post said.
Col. Daniel King, deputy public affairs director for Pacific Command, said he was unaware of any concrete communications problems that prompted the partial ban. “It was precautionary,” he said, while declining to discuss any damage caused by the earthquake. When asked about the blog post, of which he said he was unaware, King noted that any posting on Friday was “literally hours after a 9.0 earthquake -- that’s a significant shock to any infrastructure.”
Right now, “communications are good” for the U.S. missions, King said from Hawaii.
The Pacific Command area of responsibility encompasses about half of the earth’s surface, according to the command’s website, and stretches from the waters off the U.S. West Coast to the western border of India, and from Antarctica to the North Pole. “Even what happens in the Pacific Command area of operations impacts operations worldwide,” another official from U.S. Cyber command said. “Even though the majority of the damage was isolated... in a specific area of operations, it still affects communications worldwide,” the official said.
A public affairs officer for U.S. Pacific Command, Lt. Cmdr. Bill Clinton, said the missions will prompt “a lot of demand on our networks.” Blocking the sites is “just a precaution to make sure that information is flowing back to us.”
He said that the partial ban was “rolling” and that he could sporadically access the high-volume, blocked websites. “You may get it one time, you may not get it later on,” he said.
King added that the military has not restricted social-media websites “because families need to be able to communicate.”
Blocking some of the bandwidth for high-volume sites is considered a routine precaution in cases of worldwide emergencies or natural disasters, such as this one, the officials said.
“This action is in no way a reflection on any specific site or the content of any specific site; the action is in response to the needs of the military in a time of extreme demand on all circuits and networks in a region of the world that has been devastated by geological activity,” said a statement from U.S. Cyber Command.