“The rifle itself has no moral stature, since it has no will of its own. Naturally, it may be used by evil men for evil purposes, but there are more good men than evil, and while the latter cannot be persuaded to the path of righteousness by propaganda, they can certainly be corrected by good men with rifles.”― Jeff Cooper, “Art of the Rifle”

An article titled “Social Media Warning to Diggers” was recently published in the West Australian, which detailed how Australia’s military personnel have been told to avoid using social media in the wake of the Islamic State threat. This warning comes amid the release of scores of U.S. soldiers’ details by IS, who has since called on its followers to attack them. No less than 100 U.S. service personnel had their details published online after they were allegedly ascertained from social-media sites, most notably Facebook.

The Australian Defence Force has decided to issue the warning based on the growing number of homegrown terror threats that our country is facing. The memorandum issued in late March asked defence personnel to refrain from posting any material online that might identify them as being a member of the military. The warning is by no means a major deviation from previous guidelines governing defence force personnel’s use of social media. Even before I became a member of Special Operations Command (SOCOMD), we were still briefed every year on the appropriate use of social media platforms and what we should and should not post.

Even as far back as 2004 when I first joined the Australian Army, I was briefed on the dangers of posting anything that would identify me as a member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). At the time, these warnings had more to do with protecting us from foreign intelligence services (FIS) and outlaw motorcycle clubs (OLMC), but the raison d’être behind the ADF’s tough stance was the same back then as it is today; it was based purely on protecting members from external threat sources.

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As members of the ADF, we have always been seen as a target in one way or another; FISs and OLMCs have long been identified as threats who actively target ADF members for information. FISs may target individuals for information on classified capabilities. OLMCs may target individuals for information on base armoury locations and physical security protection measures. The difference between these traditional threats and groups like the Islamic State is that the latter do not want information from us, they simply want to kill us.

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Even though I do acknowledge that the likelihood of any one particular soldier becoming the victim of an IS-inspired attack is exceptionally low, it is certainly not impossible as proven in the cases of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, Corporal Nathan Cirillo, and Drummer Lee Rigby in Canada and the UK. Regardless of how low the likelihood of such an attack is, the consequences should it ever occur in Australia will undoubtedly change the political and social landscape forever.

So what position are our current serving ADF members in? Sure, they all received a memo warning them of the dangers of Facebook, but where do they really stand in being able to protect themselves should they become the target of Islamic State sympathisers? In one of my previous articles, I questioned whether wearing one’s uniform in public was the most common-sense option given the nature of contemporary terrorist threats such as those posed by IS. I discussed how terrorists (referred to interchangeably as either terrorists or criminals) have the law and honourable characteristics of soldiers in their favour to further increase their chances of successfully carrying out an attack.

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My overarching intent for the article was to conduct a threat and vulnerability comparison to evaluate the remaining risk for soldiers. I discussed our country’s laws pertaining to self defence and personal protection measures that we, as law-abiding citizens and soldiers, are allowed to legally implement. I then compared these measures to the threat that groups like IS and their sympathizers are posing. Anyone that is familiar with Australian federal and state laws in this particular area will recognize that we are afforded absolutely no rights when it comes to personal protection measures and that we are left dangerously exposed should any member of the defence force become the target for such an attack.

Our rules of engagement (ROE) and access to weapons for personal protection is something which is, for the most part, only mandated in an operational context. At home, ADF members do not have the legal luxury to carry anything off-duty that could be considered a weapon, and most would not do so anyway as law-abiding citizens. Australia has some of the most restrictive laws in the world, and we as members of the ADF are not entitled to any reprieves whatsoever. Although you are legally allowed to own firearms, the type of firearm, and what you are licensed to use it for, are heavily regulated.

Following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, a raft of state, territory, and federal legislation was introduced, which included restrictions and bans on certain semi-automatic and self-loading rifles and shotguns, specific licensing and permit criteria, minimum levels of safe storage requirements and mandatory inspections by police, and greater restrictions on the sale of firearms and ammunition. The granting of firearms licenses would be subject to an applicant completing a safety course and proving they have no history of mental or physical conditions that would render the individual unsuitable for owning, possessing, or using a firearm. Most importantly, applicants for a gun owner’s licence are required to prove a ‘genuine reason’ to possess a firearm. Under Australian law, personal protection is not in any way considered a genuine reason.

(Featured image courtesy of Australian Government Department of Defence)