Recently we saw press reports that the President did not make the effort to visit our troops overseas in the war zone at Christmas. Then late Christmas day the media had to walk back those reports because while the media was broadcasting their reports the President was actually in Iraq visiting with the troops. Not only was the President there, but the First Lady along with several other high-level dignitaries. So, how did this happen that the President was able to be half way across the globe while the news in the US was reporting that the President was not there? One simple word, OPSEC (which stands for Operational Security).
The President, First Lady, and senior dignitaries flying into a war zone is a very dangerous situation at best. There are surely many enemies of the US that would have relished the opportunity by making even a feeble attempt on the lives of the President or First Lady or even disrupting the visit. This was not possible because everyone involved practiced extremely good OPSEC. It is possible in your time in the military that you did not get any OPSEC training. However, many older hats received lots of OPSEC training beginning with the briefing on Operation Purple Dragon. If you have not heard of this before, Operation Purple Dragon began in 1966 (Vietnam War Era). The original full report was published in 1993 as Top Secret and it has been downgraded over the years before eventually being fully declassified and released by the NSA under FOIA in 2007. Although the public version is heavily redacted, it is still a very good read in its original form and you can find copies now online.
While OPSEC is a concept that is probably as old as war itself, poor OPSEC practices have been costly in the loss of human life and lost objectives in every American war since the country was founded. OPSEC is not a specific set of rules, but rather a framework of processes designed to deprive our enemies and opponents of information that would help them in their efforts to undermine our country. While one would think that everyone would remember and practice good OPSEC at all times, it is a doctrine that needs to be learned anew by each generation and reinforced to others on a regular basis. As a result, the DoD now requires Annual OPSEC/INFOSEC/PERSEC training for all military personnel, civilians, and government contractors.
The primary purpose of OPSEC is to deny our adversaries specific facts (generally unclassified) about friendly intentions, capabilities, and activities needed to plan and act effectively against friendly mission accomplishment. What information could that be?
- Military movement information such as dates and locations. This would include just using the month to define the dates as it allows them to focus on certain periods.
- Specific location of units. It is OK to say that a unit is in Iraq or Kuwait for instance, but it is NOT OK to name the FOB or city.
- Specific information on weapons systems. It is OK to say “Tank”, “Cargo Plane” or other nondescript indicator, but it is NOT OK to name specific weapons systems, aircraft types, or other weapons systems information that details operational capabilities.
- Unit issues, especially morale or dissatisfaction. It is OK to say, “Remember our military members that are deployed.”, but it is NOT OK to say, “The members at Kandahar are extremely stressed at this time of year since they are away from their families and there have been several suicides as a result.”
- Publicly disclosed information by others does not mean that we should be disseminating it. Even when Public Affairs Officers of units publish information about their capabilities or deployments, that does not alleviate our responsibility to practice good OPSEC.
As Legionnaires we want to support our fellow Veterans, especially those who are deployed overseas. We also want to advertise our great efforts to recruit donations and support from others. However, we need to be mindful when working with our Active Military counterparts that things we say or publish could be used to cause actual harm to those we are actually looking to support. As you prepare your communications for your individual social media posts, Post media releases, or other communications, please think OPSEC first and make sure we are doing our part to support our war fighters.
Please take a moment to share this with your members and review this at your next membership meeting. If you have a chance, take advantage of the good training on OPSEC by completing the CDSE OPSEC Awareness Course at: https://securityawareness.usalearning.gov/opsec/.