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Mattis Reviewing Whether to Ban 'Wide Array' of Devices Like Smart Phones

A team of service members passes another team as they run laps around the United States Forces - Afghanistan headquarters during Marne Week on Nov. 14 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Elizabeth White)

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Defense Department, per direction of Secretary James Mattis, is reviewing whether to ban cell phones or other electronic devices from the Pentagon and other U.S. military installations after reports that apps were revealing sensitive locations of U.S. service members.

Data from users of fitness trackers such as Fitbit was published in a global heat map by Strava, on which fellow runners can share routes. This also ended up highlighting locations of covert military installations and intelligence outposts, as the only runners using the fitness apps in many remote locations are foreigners.

The November 2017 map highlighted routes accumulated from more than 3 trillion individual GPS data points, according to the Guardian report. As U.S. personnel turn on their fitness apps for daily runs, this has ended up clearly identifying mappable outposts from Syria to Djibouti to Afghanistan.

Today at the Pentagon, spokeswoman Dana White confirmed that a review is underway to determine whether smart phones will be allowed in the building.

“It’s important to know that the secretary’s primary focus is the protection of civilians, of service members and their families,” she said. “So the Strava heat maps provided an opportunity for us to see a possible vulnerability. 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. And that’s what’s happening now.”

On concerns that Pentagon staffers wouldn’t be able to stay in touch with families without a mobile phone, White clarified “it’s not just about cell phones.”

“This is a comprehensive look at technology. Technology’s very dynamic. It is important that we always adapt our security procedures,” she said.

“With respect to the workforce, the secretary’s primary interest is to ensure that we are all safe and we are all secure. 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?”

White said that “all of those things will be considered in his calculus, but you have to understand that the secretary sees everything within that prism of, how do I protect the civilians, the service members, their families? And so that’s how he will make his decision.”

The review is also “not just about the Pentagon,” but will take into account electronics rules “across the DoD enterprise.”

“That heat map brought up a potential vulnerability,” White explained. “So he’s taking a comprehensive look at our security measures, what we can do, mitigating factors, and of course he will also consider the concerns of the workforce.”

“…It’s not about just cell phones. It’s about electronics. It’s about GPS-enabled electronics. It’s a wide array of electronics that we’re looking at.”

Pressed on what the specific threat is from employees possessing such devices, White replied, “You have to also consider the fact that we have been attacked. Bases have been attacked. Information is power and our adversaries have used information to plan attacks against us.”

“And so, no decision has been made yet, but we are looking at a comprehensive review of how we deal with electronics,” she added.

After the reports of the Strava map came out, users in online jihadist forums were discussing using the open-source information to plan strikes.