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Alaska National Guard bans cellphones, then doesn't

The day Alaska Dispatch News published excerpts from a secret recording of Gov. Sean Parnell's "town hall" with National Guard troops from which the public and media were barred, an official sent an email to Army Guard members that "new guidance" from the Army bars soldiers from taking their smartphones and tablets to their military workplace.

The problem was, the "guidance" from the Army wasn't new, and it didn't prohibit soldiers from taking their personal devices to work.

Most smartphones have software that makes it easy to record a conversation or speech, even when the device is in a pocket.

But a spokeswoman for the guard, Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead, said there was no connection between the secret recording of the town hall, reported by Alaska Dispatch News Tuesday, and the memo to troops issued Tuesday afternoon.

"Absolute coincidence in timing," Olmstead said. "I can assure your there is no connection and no story."

The actual Army policy, released Sept. 11, 2013, is mostly about government-owned smart devices. The policy, restated in a National Guard Bureau memo dated Sept. 11, 2014, that was attached to the email, bars non-authorized devices from using Defense Department networks or accessing nonpublic information, the kind of policy in effect in many government and corporate offices to reduce the risk of hacking or leaks of secured data.

On Friday, Olmstead acknowledged that the original memo, issued Tuesday, was mistaken.

And a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, the Pentagon agency that oversees the guards in all the states and territories, said there's no such ban on phone possession.

"We don't have such a ban at NGB or in the Pentagon unless you work in a secure room," said Rick Breitenfeldt, a civilian spokesman for the National Guard Bureau.

A new memo was prepared Thursday after inquiries by Alaska Dispatch News. It correctly quotes the Army policy and has no restrictions on guard soldiers bringing their own phones and tablets to work.

"The revised language email will or did go out," Olmstead said in an email Friday afternoon. "Not sure when."

The town hall Sunday was attended by about 350 people, according to the governor's office.

"The reason for not inviting the media to the town hall was because we wanted to create an atmosphere that was as comfortable as possible for the Soldiers, and didn't want anything to discourage them from speaking freely," Olmstead said in her email.

Excerpts from the conversation between the guard members and Parnell show some soldiers pressed Parnell to make changes in guard leadership, and Parnell said he will.

About 3 p.m. Tuesday, Tim Crawford, the civilian director of information management for the Alaska Army Guard, sent a memo to all Army Guard members, advising them, "The Army has published new guidance on Commercial Mobile Devices (CMD). CMD devices include, but are not limited to, iPhones, iPads, Android devices, tablets and laptops."

A copy of Crawford's email memo, provided by a recipient to Alaska Dispatch News, notes that personal devices "are not permitted to process Government information, unless publicly releasable, and therefore will not be permitted in the workplace" unless specifically approved by Crawford or his assistant.

The new version says personal devices can't process government work without approval but makes no mention of barring them from the workplace.

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