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Army Chief: Winlink Stays:

Bill Sexton (N1IN) on March 18, 2013
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Fort Huachuca, Arizona -- Army MARS has no intention of abandoning Winlink 2000 as a tool for emergency communications, Chief Stephen Klinefelter says in a message sent to civil agency users and MARS members explaining the network realignment currently underway.

He said that the changes in frequency assignments are required by regulations governing use of military channels. In updating the frequency matrix, he said, it was discovered a number of network nodes had been using unauthorized frequencies.

The chief denied a departing member’s complaint that the Army MARS Winlink operations were being “dismantled,” but conceded “we should have published a warning order” before initiating the changes.

Klinefelter released an account of Winlink issues going back 15 months, including previously-unreleased details of a Department of Defense investigation into the security of Winlink traffic. Winlink was cleared following vigorous defense by the parent organization of Army MARS, the chief said.

“The truth is that in defending WL2K on the security issue, we actually won an important victory,” he said. ”Exemption has been granted for all Army MARS net operations from the tough Army IA [Information Assurance] requirements on isolating military networks. A memorandum signed by three General Officers in the Pentagon establishes this valuable precedent which benefits the other MARS services and the Amateur Radio Service as a whole.”

The Klinefelter text: I am writing this so everyone who uses Winlink 2000 (WL2K) will fully understand the much-criticized events of the past year. I would have much preferred that we were able to move past the WL2K concerns, but several new developments call for letting sunlight shine on the whole affair. Please bear with me; I'm not sure the entire story has been made public before.

Fifteen months ago Army MARS HQ announced to the agencies we support that it "has been directed to phase out Winlink 2000 (WL2K)." The Pentagon's directive to this effect had already been rescinded but the MARS officials at Fort Huachuca had no way of knowing that. The WL2K reprieve was still on its way. But the damage was already done.

A few days later I took charge at MARS HQ. I established two urgent priorities. The first was to reassure both my members and the agencies that the WL2K operations were safe. I spent many hours talking with the people most affected by the miscommunication, both on the telephone and in person at the Dayton Hamvention. My second priority was investigating and fixing the cause of this miscommunication. We immediately made some important changes.

So it really troubled me a couple of weeks ago when an outstanding member sent in his resignation--well more than a year after the WL2K event. He cited what he termed the dismantling of the WL2K system and he complained of "an administration that apparently has no regard for the people and agencies that they supported." This was about the time we began realigning our share of the WL2K RMS frequency allocations.

The timing made me realize that our year- long efforts to address people's concerns have failed. On reflection I can understand their concerns. The whole business is extremely complicated, having to do on one hand with the Army's Information Assurance (IA) [roughly meaning Communications Security] policies and on the other an entirely separate issue over frequency utilization. In both matters, WL2K was an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire and I want to explain how it came about. But first let me emphasize the bottom line.

Army MARS is not dismantling WL2K operations. The truth is that in defending WL2K on the security issue, we actually won an important victory. Exemption has been granted for all Army MARS net operations from the tough Army IA requirements on isolating military networks. A memorandum signed by three General Officers in the Pentagon establishes this valuable precedent which benefits the other MARS services and the Amateur Radio Service as a whole. It's important to be aware of this. The story has a happy ending, but I have to agree it's a messy story.

The whole issue dates back to 2007, when the Defense Department's (DoD) Office of the Inspector General (IG) received a complaint about Army MARS. The charge was that MARS HQ failed to obtain certification that its equipment and networks meet DoD standards for IA Certification.

The IG investigation was just getting underway when United States Central Command suffered a major breach of its computer networks supporting operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Information Assurance enforcement was dramatically escalated.

The initial IG complaint did not mention WL2K, but the investigator evidently learned that the WL2K email-over- HF-radio utility rides the Internet for connecting the major nodes. DoD standards prohibit such direct connection.

After months of debate, NETCOM succeeded in persuading the IA enforcers that their standards failed to take into account the unique nature of amateur radio support. They signed off on the decision "to amend AR 25-2 [which defines Information Assurance requirements] to exempt Army MARS from meeting the IA certification requirement" but by then the MARS HQ phase out instruction had just been published.

The new issue of frequency management is related only in the sense that Army Regulations and not a MARS initiative caused the action.

Several weeks ago we began the process of moving the Army MARS RMS stations onto Army allocated frequencies. This move was necessitated by the requirement for the Army to have visibility over the frequencies used for this capability. During this realignment process, we discovered that a number of RMS stations in the network have been using unauthorized frequencies. My staff is working closely with the other MARS Chiefs and the RMS owners during this process to make this transition as smooth as possible. In some instances, we are requesting frequency changes from the Army Spectrum Management Office in order to find clear frequencies.

Upon review of the RMS frequency reassignment process, we should have published a warning order to Region and State leadership, other MARS Service Chiefs, Agencies, and RMS owners to allow all concerned to understand the scope of what was being directed and the reason. Following this review period, HQs should have published an Operations Order and migration timeline. This orders process would have allowed all parties to more fully understand the process, voice their concerns during the planning process, and understand the rationale for the frequency reassignment.

Army MARS is continuing its support of the Winlink capability with the necessary spectrum to ensure this remains a viable MARS communications capability. Winlink, as well as the other digital communications capabilities the amateur community brings to the fight such as MT63, Olivia, M110A, etc. are all viable modes used by Army MARS members in support of the Department of Defense and our Civil Agency customers.

I want to stress that this Government oversight of Army frequencies for the RMS stations does not in any way inhibit a MARS member from communicating via voice or any of the various digital waveforms on any approved MARS frequency from the other Services. I encourage Army MARS members to participate with the other MARS Service joint training nets and I also invite other Service MARS members to join the training on established Army nets.

I hope this full accounting of these unfortunate events over the past 15 months help to bring the WL2K concerns to a close. My focus remains our ability to support the mission with all the tools and capabilities; support to the members; and interoperability with our sister MARS Services and served agencies. Thanks for all that you continually do!

Chief Army MARS

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