March 31, 2012

Operations Security is everyone’s business – even families

By 1st Lt Ken Lustig
99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. – Operational security, put simply, is protecting critical information about military activities so it cannot be used against our military. OPSEC is an aspect of daily military life most civilian families don’t have to think about, but it should be of utmost importance to military families.

OPSEC must be deliberately practiced.

For many families, OPSEC can be confusing “” especially when “the rules” military families are expected to follow may not be formally expressed. Adding to this confusion, the specific information OPSEC programs aim to protect can sometimes be hard to describe in clear detail, and what may be a perfectly safe topic for conversation in one setting can be dangerous to discuss in another.

To sort it all out, the best place to start is with an explanation of critical information.

Critical information includes facts about military intentions, capabilities, operations and activities, or any other information an enemy could exploit to gain an advantage. OPSEC protects from disclosure military operations that are planned, in progress, or upcoming. Since military operations depend on secrecy and surprise for success, adversaries look very hard for information that exposes weakness or reveals intentions.

Military families sometimes have access to critical military information and may not even realize it, which makes them a prime target for an adversary’s intelligence collection effort. Some military dependents assume their incomplete understanding of deployment particulars means they don’t know anything useful, or assume that when the military member is home then everything is safe.

What family members know could provide important parts of an overall puzzle that an enemy wants to collect and assemble from many different sources. Adversaries purposely blend in “” visiting stores, clubs, recreational areas and places of worship “” all in an effort to target dependents where they are most comfortable. A good rule of thumb is to discuss the minimum amount of critical information necessary, and always in private.

Information like the member’s unit affiliation and job, unit departures, deployment locations, or details of security procedures are topics most military dependents know they should avoid disclosing. But OPSEC also requires a cautious mindset on subjects that might be of less obvious value to an enemy.

As an example, posting in advance on social networks that “daddy or mommy is coming home” on a certain day tells the enemy the unit is swapping out from deployment. Casual conversations on problems happening at the military member’s work center can reveal morale or training problems, expose readiness issues or provide clues the enemy could use to refine further collection. Venting to a friend or relative about a spouse’s deployed base might prompt them to write a social media post that could make that base vulnerable. An innocent comment on how busy the legal or finance office is could be the enemy’s confirmation that units are preparing to deploy.

Anything put on the internet, sent by email, or communicated on the phone, can be monitored quite easily using readily available technology. Family members often make the mistake of posting to social media sites thinking they are anonymous, or that only their friends will pay attention to what they put online. Conversations over cell or cordless phones, baby monitors and blue tooth devices are wireless broadcasts that most people don’t even realize they’re sending. Paperwork with military rosters, schedules or temporary duty locations can reveal important information if emailed, carelessly left out in the open or put into the trash unshredded. A simple snap shot taken on a camera phone with embedded GPS location information could provide specific targeting information for enemy weapons.

The enemy is technically savvy and pays close attention to military members and their families alike. This fact should not prompt families to live in fear, looking for enemy agents hiding around every corner. However, OPSEC relies on military families to protect the information they know. By keeping a guard up and being mindful when discussing military topics, families can do their part to keep their loved ones safe.

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