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Congressman twitters, raises security concerns

The top Republican on the House intelligence committee landed in hot water after using his Twitter page to update the public on his precise whereabouts while traveling through Iraq and Afghanistan.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The top Republican on the House intelligence committee landed in hot water this week after using his Twitter page to update the public on his precise whereabouts while traveling through Iraq and Afghanistan.

The revelation prompted the Pentagon to review its policy, which regards such information as sensitive, and lit up the liberal blogosphere with accusations of hypocrisy.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra says he did nothing wrong. He pointed to announcements by other high-ranking officials, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which list the countries they plan to visit.

"The policy that we have and that we did on this trip is consistent and well restrained from what other folks have done in the past," said Hoekstra, R-Mich.

But Hoekstra, who has decried the unauthorized leaking of classified information, provided far more details than a general itinerary, including at least a 12-hour heads-up that he was headed to Iraq.

Twitter is a Web site that enables a person to broadcast short text updates, called "tweets," using a phone or computer. The updates are published on their online Twitter page and sent directly to anyone who signs up to receive them.

"Just landed in Baghdad," the congressman declared on Feb. 5 at 9:41 p.m.

By 11:56 p.m., the public was given this more precise update: "Moved into green zone by helicopter, Iraqi flag now over palace. Headed to new U.S. embassy. Appears calmer, less chaotic than previous here."

Hoekstra later told reporters that his posts might not have been accurate. When asked if they were, he said he didn't remember.

"You don't know it's the exact time," Hoekstra said of his Twitter posts. "You don't know whether I sent that the minute I got in the car, whether it's halfway to the embassy or after I got that."

An electronic Congress
The episode showcases how eager lawmakers are to use social-networking technology, blogs and other popular sites to connect directly with voters. Congressional staffers say they are being told by their bosses to find new ways to get out their talking points and to no longer rely solely on traditional media outlets like newspapers, which might edit or distort their views.

Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, for example, recently posted on a lengthy monologue from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on why the military prison there should remain open.

Hoekstra is among those taking the lead in Congress when it comes to using multimedia technology to promote his work. On his Web page, one can "listen to Pete's latest podcast," download his latest television interview on Fox News and view pictures of him making pit stops on a trip throughout his district via an interactive map.

Along with many other members of Congress, Hoekstra also maintains a public profile on Facebook, where those who sign up as "friends" of the congressman can post their personal thoughts to his virtual wall.

And then there is Hoekstra's Twitter page. The updates on the Iraq trip were first reported by the trade publication Congressional Quarterly.

Hoekstra said he has "no idea" whether his military escorts knew he was updating his Twitter page and was never asked to stop. He also said he did not believe his twittering habit was in violation of any policy.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Cdr. Darryn James said it is general Defense Department policy not to disclose details of congressional delegations until they reach their destination. The Pentagon is now reviewing whether it needs to communicate that policy differently in light of technologies like Twitter, he said.

James could not immediately confirm whether Hoekstra had been told specifically not to provide location updates.

"In general, we do brief all the codels (congressional delegations) on the risk," he said.