Raytheon censors Antarctic bloggers

This video is called Antarctic Wildlife Adventure.

From Denver News in the USA:

Life in Antarctica is cold — but bloggers there can still get burned

By Jonathan Shikes

Published on October 06, 2009 …

The United States has three permanent stations in Antarctica — McMurdo, Amundsen-Scott South Pole and Palmer — and conditions there are tough, especially during the winter (our summer), when it’s dark 24 hours a day. The crew members have to be very careful when they go outdoors, and the constant darkness robs them of their normal circadian rhythms and the vitamin D that humans need. After a few months on the ice, many of them develop a condition they call “brain freeze,” in which they start mumbling, and it can take seconds, even minutes, to complete a thought or form a cohesive sentence.

The three stations are operated by Raytheon Polar Services, a Centennial-based division of Raytheon, the $23.2 billion, multinational defense contractor that has 73,000 employees worldwide. Raytheon won the ten-year, $1.12 billion Antarctic Support Contract from the National Science Foundation in 1999 and reapplied this year, but it’s facing competition from six other conglomerates that have spent millions of dollars just to prepare their bids. The new, thirteen-and-a-half-year contract is valued between $1.5 and $2 billion; it was supposed to be awarded October 1, but the NSF recently delayed its decision without explanation.

The contract involves not just supporting the NSF’s scientific research — on climate change, astronomy, biology and atmospheric and environmental science — that has to be justified to Congress and to taxpayers, but also constructing and maintaining the buildings and equipment at the U.S. bases, providing water production and fuel operations, planning missions, transporting personnel and cargo, and maintaining communication. The contractor must also hire, train, feed, house, pay and protect the small army of support staffers who live in Antarctica, whether for five months or twelve, keeping them alive, warm, fed and happy.

That’s not always easy, as Raytheon has discovered. …

Bloggers have also criticized Raytheon and its corporate policies. As a result, say a number of current and former employees, Raytheon has cracked down both on blogging and on some of Antarctica’s odder traditions — particularly as the new contract deadline approaches.

“What is most disturbing is the censorship,” one Raytheon employee says in an e-mail. “We are told to never speak to the press. Raytheon fears a PR black eye and doesn’t want things to get out. Two people who are blogging down here have been told to stop.”

Raytheon spokeswoman Valerie Carroll says the company has no anti-blogging policies, but employees insist that posts are closely watched and that critical ones have resulted in retaliatory actions. …

Midwinter’s Day is a tradition that dates all the way back to 1898, when the crew of the Belgica became the first people to spend the winter in Antarctica after the Belgian ship got stuck in the ice. Since then, the day has been celebrated to some degree by nearly everyone who’s spent the coldest month on the Continent, including explorers like Ireland’s Ernest Shackleton in 1907, Norway’s Roald Amundsen in 1911, and American Richard Evelyn Byrd in the 1940s. …

In 2008, Raytheon canceled the extra day off.

The decision wasn’t explained, and on June 11, 2008, blogger Nick Johnson posted the following message on his site, BigDeadPlace.com: “For those who haven’t heard, someone in Denver has decided that U.S. Antarctic stations this year won’t have the day off for Midwinter’s Day dinner (June 21st). No big deal. However, coincidentally, on June 21, [Raytheon Polar Services] is sponsoring, for its 250+ employees in the office, a ‘Summer Picnic’ at a Denver-area amusement park called Elitch Gardens, including a picnic and a Randy Travis concert.”

This wasn’t the first time that Johnson, a heavy equipment operator at McMurdo, had been critical of his employer. …

Johnson managed to remain employed after the book came out, and he started signing his name to his blog. And in May 1998, he began posting questions from Raytheon’s anonymous suggestion box, along with management’s answers. The exchanges seemed innocuous enough — but not to Raytheon. So instead of partying on Midwinter’s Day in 2008, Johnson was called in for a teleconference with Sam Feola, the program director for Raytheon Polar Services.

“He told me I had made some blog posts that involved ‘sensitive information,'” Johnson remembers. “I didn’t say I would take anything down, I didn’t say I wouldn’t, but I asked, ‘What information, specifically, do you want me to take down?’ He replied, ‘All the information.’ I wasn’t going to do that.”

Although Johnson had worked in Antarctica off and on for a decade, Raytheon didn’t renew his contract for the following year. “I was blacklisted,” Johnson says. “That’s how it works. No one is surprised.”

Raytheon, which kept its Antarctic headquarters in the Denver area after taking over from ASA in 1990, has 354 employees in Centennial, including Feola, who declined to be interviewed for this story. …

Still, the perceived censorship, along with the cancellation of Midwinter’s Day in 2008 and other issues, remain a concern. “I have seen a big change in the way the companies have handled morale over the years,” the employee, who also has a blog, says. “When I started, there was a big recreation department, dedicated to keeping us happy and busy. This winter there was zero recreation, at least fostered by the company or NSF. I used to tell my non-ice friends that the USAP program went out of their way to provide good morale to cut down on random drinking and negativity. There is no sign any more that anyone cares about that at all, at least in the winter.”

“One of the most fun things we used to do is Bingo. We’d sell Bingo tickets for a buck or two, and the winners would get small cash prizes. My understanding is that Raytheon put an end to that, saying it was immoral.”…

When Johnson started BigDeadPlace.com in 2002, he knew of no other blogs about Antarctica. “Pre-Internet, there were a bunch of photocopied underground newsletters that people had made. Two important ones were called The Shadow and The Antarctic Moon, from the early ’90s, I believe,” Johnson says in an e-mail from Afghanistan, where he now works for another private contractor. Because of that, he adds, BigDeadPlace.com got a lot of attention. …

Today there are dozens and dozens of Antarctica blogs — written not just by Raytheon employees, but also by scientists and people who work on bases owned by other countries. Some of them detail daily life, while others focus on science or photography. Examples include:

Antarctiken.com, from Ken Klassy, a systems admin at McMurdo who posts his gorgeous photos, but also details his daily successes and frustrations.

Icewishes.wordpress.com, which follows the life of a “peripatetic redhead” at the South Pole.

60south.com, which focuses on art and photography at the bottom of the world, but also features a discussion board and other links.

Vagabumming.com, a view from Palmer Station.

Harriettstomato.com, an unusual look at the life of a cook at the South Pole. …

Like most major corporations, Raytheon has a social media policy, but Carroll declines to offer any specifics. …

A Raytheon employee provided the specifics of the social media policy, which begins: “Raytheon Company recognizes that employees may wish to create, maintain, and participate in external social media tools such as blogs, wikis, chatrooms, podcasts, microblogging (e.g., Twitter), discussion boards, and participate in social websites such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, LinkedIn.” …

But while the policy says the company “respects its employees’ rights to personal expression,” it also warns that Raytheon retains the right to “direct an employee to refrain from commenting on topics related to the Company or, take steps to remove or mitigate exposure of the offending material on the social media tool, to comply with applicable laws…and/or Company policy.”

While Raytheon’s weapons kill, inter alia, Iraqi civilians, its workers in Antarctica have participated in the worldwide demonstrations against the Iraq war in February 2003.

Companies Around The World Are Banning Social Media Sites At Work: here.


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