Did a US congressman leak classified intel on Twitter?

Michigan Republican Peter Hoekstra's taking heat for revealing his "secret" trip to Iraq on Twitter. Yet more proof that Web 2.0 tools are changing Washington -- for good and ill.

We now interrupt the flame war that's erupted in my last blog post about H-1B workers to bring you this breaking news bulletin: A U.S. congressman is apparently endangering our national security using -- yes, that's right -- Twitter.

This is not an hallucination induced by imbibing too many Numb Nutz (2 ounces Bacardi 151, 1 ounce Tanqueray, 6 ounces Malava Novocaine, 2 peanuts). This comes straight out of the Congressional Quarterly. To wit:

A congressional trip to Iraq this weekend was supposed to be a secret.

But the cat’s out of the bag now, thanks to a member of the House Intelligence Committee who broke an embargo via Twitter.

A delegation led by House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, arrived in Iraq earlier today, and because of Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., the entire world — or at least Twitter.com readers — now know they’re there.

“Just landed in Baghdad,” messaged Hoekstra, a former chairman of the Intelligence panel and now the ranking member, who is routinely entrusted to keep some of the nation’s most closely guarded secrets.

[Insert your own joke about Congress and twits here.]

First give Hoekstra props for actually using social media tools, instead of merely pretending to use them by having one of his assistants tweet for him. How do we know it's really him? Because of the typos, grammatical mistakes, and misspellings. No DC admin would dare to make his or her boss look so unprofessional. Also, he really! loves! exclamation points! Like this:

Headed home!Situation in Iraq improves significantly.Afghanistan poses challenges!Lots of stuff to talk about when I get home Monday late pm

Apparently, I am not the only one to notice these things. Here's Hoekstra's response:

Love twitter critics.Spelling mistakes. Sorry but riding in poor light, bouncing around,speed not accuracy. Lighten up. Its called twitter

Even if Hoekstra did tweet things he shouldn't have, this is not exactly on a par with the Rosenbergs leaking A-bomb secrets to the Soviets or even Karl Rove and Lewis Libby leaking CIA spy Valerie Plame's identity to the U.S. media. But it does underscore how social media tools like Twitter have changed the rules of just about everything.

Two things are likely to happen, thanks to untethered Twittering and feckless Facebooking by our elected representatives and their lackeys. One is that a serious intel breach will occur as a result of careless status updates. The other is that federal and state offices will overreact and ban the use of such tools outright, the same way the IRS refuses to use e-mail to correspond with taxpayers. (At least, to correspond with me.)

And that would be a shame. Because, used correctly, these tools could prove a useful way to break through the reality distortion field that seems to surround Washington, DC. They might even be a way to actually reach out and touch your elected representatives without having to hire a lobbyist or pony up for a $1,000-a-plate dinner.

As Gripe Line blogger Christina Tynan-Wood has been reporting lately, Twitter has certainly changed how companies communicate with their customers. It could do the same for the Beltway Bandits. That is, if they ever figure out how to use it properly.

Actual democracy in action, brought to you by Web 2.0. Think it will happen? Post your thoughts below or e-mail me direct: cringe (at) infoworld (dot) com.

Think you've got the right stuff to pass our tech quizzes? They're not as easy as they look:

The InfoWorld News Quiz

Test Your Geek IQ

Test Your Knowledge of Geek Celebrities

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.