New technology and devices allow people to track their workouts and to broadcast them to friends, family, and people who couldn’t care less but are connected to them on social media. However, for some troops deployed to the Middle East, the desire to be able to track their progress on a jog could be putting everyone in danger.
A GPS tracking company known as Strava has been publishing a ‘Global Heat Map’ for years, using information derived from Fitbits and other similar devices to map where users run, walk, and otherwise track their ‘workouts.’ The map may show sensitive areas the U.S. military uses in foreign nations.
The ‘Global Heat Map’ shows much of the developed world quite brightly, as may people use fitness trackers in America, Europe, and other developed portions of the world. Indeed, most developed nations are bathed in light to show where fitness trackers were utilized.
However, in many places where the United States military is actively engaged in combat against enemies, such as Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the map is dark, save for a few small points of light.
Those lights tend to be U.S. military installations, bases known to the general public and indeed the world. Though it isn’t preferable that everyone in the world be able to access a map that shows where soldiers at these bases like to run, it is not a major issue.
However, there are also small areas with light showing where personnel may have been working out, sites that may be sensitive, secret, or otherwise hidden from view. The military realizes that this is may possibly expose their sites to enemies and to other governments, and this is obviously not desirable for a ‘sensitive’ or ‘clandestine’ site.
Thankfully, the military is already looking for a solution. Colonel John Thomas of the U.S. Air Force, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), said on January 28 that the military is looking into possible solutions.
The Pentagon actually distributed Fitbits to military personnel, using them as a tool in the fight against obesity among military personnel. In 2013, the Pentagon gave out more than 2,500 of the devices to various troops, and they may now have reason to regret that decision.
It is somewhat disturbing that the Pentagon did not discover the issue on their own. The map has been on the internet since November 2017, and the information about possible sensitive military sites being shown on the map only came to attention after an Australian student studying international security and the Middle East stumbled upon it.
According to Nathan Ruser, he decided to take a closer look at the map after his father said that the map offered a ‘snapshot’ of where ‘rich white people are’ in the world. Wondering if it would show U.S. soldiers in Syria, Ruser looked, and sure enough, he found evidence of what could be U.S. military sites in Syria.
A journalist from the Daily Beast by the name of Andrew Rawnsley said that he noticed a lot of activity on a beach in Mogadishu. The location coincided with a suspected CIA base in the region. A Twitter user claimed that the Global Heat Map revealed a Patriot missile site in Yemen.
A journalist with the New Yorker, Ben Taub, claimed that the Global Heat Map revealed a U.S. Special Operations base in the Sahel. Others speculated that they had spotted a U.S. Special Operations base in Tanf, in the Syrian desert on the Iraqi border.
Worse than showing the bases themselves, or the areas that may be based, is the fact that the Global Heat Map indicates routes used by soldiers for supplying and patrols. This is a huge failure for operational security and could lead to ambushes and other issues for soldiers out in the field.
The United States military is looking to see what they can do to protect their bases. Perhaps a good first step would be to not hand out devices to soldiers that track where they are and upload it to an unsecured server.
This is not the first time that the American military has had issues with soldiers utilizing devices that track their locations. During an exercise in the United States, an infantryman utilized Snapchat on his cellphone and sent an image to his friends as his unit was beginning maneuvers for the day.
One of his friends was a member of the Opposing Force (OPFOR), and he passed along the information immediately to an artillery team, which fired a simulated barrage, ending the exercise for the unit.
As GPS technology becomes more widespread and is utilized for mundane purposes, this will continue to be an issue. Hopefully, the military will figure out a way to keep soldiers safe. Under Mad-dog Mattis’ leadership, that is certain to be the case.