Operational Security

• What is OPSEC? In short, OPSEC is keeping potential enemies from discovering critical DOD information, such as when units are mobilizing, where they are traveling, or what processes are involved. It protects US operations – planned, in-progress, and completed. Success depends on secrecy and surprise, so we can accomplish the mission more quickly and with less risk. Potential adversaries and even friendly nations want this information, and will not only pursue military members for the data, but may also look to family members.

• What Can You Do? There are many countries and organizations that would like to harm Americans and degrade US influence in the world. It is possible and not unprecedented for military personnel, spouses and family members to be targeted for intelligence collection. This is true both in the United States and overseas.

Be Alert. A foreign agent may use a variety of approaches to collect sensitive information. This sensitive information can be critical to the success of a terrorist or spy, and consequently, deadly to Americans. Their methods have become very sophisticated, with the internet being the preferred method of gathering information. You should assume that anything you communicate via the internet (email, blog, status update, etc.) or unsecured phone call is available to the public, including those who may wish to do us harm. And while snail mail may be more secure, it could also be intercepted or the information in it mistakenly made public. Family members should be aware of this as well, or they may unknowingly provide all the necessary information to compromise our mission. Regardless of how it becomes public, you must remember that you are still responsible for it.

Be Careful. There may be times when you can’t talk about the specifics of your job. It is very important to conceal and protect certain information such as flight schedules, ship movements, exercise and operation names, and dates and locations. Where and how you discuss this information is just as important as with whom you discuss it. Something as simple as a phone conversation concerning where you are going on liberty can be very useful to our adversaries.

Protecting Critical Information. Even though this information may not be classified, it is what the Department of Defense calls “critical information.” Critical information deals with specific facts about military intentions, capabilities, operations, or activities. If an adversary knew this detailed information, US mission accomplishment and personnel safety could be jeopardized. It must be protected to ensure an adversary doesn’t gain a significant advantage. By being a member of the military, you will often know some bits of critical information. Do not discuss them outside of your immediate family and especially not over the telephone or through the internet.

  • Examples of Critical Information. These bits of information may seem insignificant. However, to a trained adversary, they are small pieces of a puzzle that highlight what US forces are doing and planning. Remember, the elements of security and surprise are vital to the accomplishment of US goals and collective DOD personnel protection.

  • Position and movement of US Naval vessels.

  • Details concerning locations and times of exercises, port calls, etc.

  • Details concerning security procedures.

  • Comments on daily military activities / operations.

  • Discussion of areas frequented by US personnel.

  • Detailed information about mission of assigned units.

  • Operational plans.

  • Descriptions of overseas military bases.

  • Family members’ personal information.

    How to Keep Family and Friends Informed. Simply put, avoid specific details concerning dates, times, locations and exercises/operations, and instead stick to general information. Details concerning our deployment will be passed by the Command through PAO and the Family Readiness Officer, who can strike the appropriate balance between satisfying families’ and friends’ curiosity and maintaining the security of our operations. The details can wait until we have returned home and are telling our sea stories.

    • An Example of OPSEC Failure. In early October 2000, “Tom” sent an email to his wife, telling her that he would be in Aden, Yemen for a port call on Tuesday. Tom’s wife then posted this to the web page she’d been maintaining for other family and friends to stay up to date on Tom’s latest deployment. Armed only with Google and some background information he’d collected from Tom’s neighborhood, a terrorist agent figures out that “Tom” is Petty Officer Tom Smith aboard the USS Cole. The terrorist group that the agent works for has been planning an attack using a small boat and explosives. The only problem is that they have limited resources, and are unable to keep a boat laden with explosives on the water for days or weeks at a time. They can only keep it afloat for a day. But now that their agent has provided the date of Tom’s upcoming liberty, they know what day that will be. On Tuesday, the boat is loaded and the terrorists sail around the harbor until the US warship comes in. On 12 October 2000, Al Qaida did just that. The terrorists on the small boat actually waved and smiled at the crew of the USS Cole as they floated in close enough to the ship to detonate their cargo. As a result, 17 sailors were killed and many more injured.