As a former sailor with a, shall we say “secret squirrel” type job, I have a special place in my heart for OPSEC. It’s what keeps my husband save on deployment, what keeps our military men and women coming home to their families and what keeps this country in over all safety. So what it? Why is so important? And how did I become such and OPSEC nazi?
OPSEC is short for Operational Security. It is defined by the Operation Security Professional’s Association as: A systematic, proven process by which a government, organization, or individual can identify, control, and protect generally unclassified information about an operation/activity and, thus, deny or mitigate an adversary’s/competitor’s ability to compromise or interrupt said operation/activity.
So what does all that mean? Simply put- OPSEC is a way keeping important information that could be used against us away from people that may want to hurt us. This could anything from the range on a specific missile to where a united is located in Afghanistan to when a ship is hitting port or coming home.
Does the name USS Cole ring any bells? On October 12, 2000 while in port in Yemen, a suicide bomber drove a boat up along side the USS Cole and ignited an explosion. This resulted in a 40’x40′ hole in her port (left) side right at the waterline. When the bomb went off the explosion hit the ship’s gallery and mess decks, where her crew was lining up for lunch. 17 sailor died and another 39 where injured. The crew fought for 3 days to get her flooding under control. A dear friend of my husband’s was on board the USS Cole when the attacked happened. According to him the crew “just did what we had to do”. This is only one of a thousand examples why OPSEC is important. Had the ship’s movements been unknown, had the location of their ship, the time the pulled in been kept secret, there may have been 17 more sailors returning home from deployment. Click here to read more.
I became aware of OPSEC when I first went to school for my job in the Navy. There were posters and signs hanging all over the school house- even in the bathroom stalls. Our instructeors made it ABUNDANTLY clear that what we did and what we were learning, didn’t leave our work area. We had our own “code” which was really just vague, half sentences that only made sense in context, like “was question 4 sideways or native american?”. It made sense and may of us still speak this way- at home, on smoke decks, in the Exchange- it’s part of who we are now.
So what are the rules to OPSEC and how do you know if you are breaking them? Simple! Keep is light and vague. For instance: When I would call my mom from the ship and she asked about where we were I would tell her something like “we’re in the western Pacific, about to hit port in a few days”. I would never say anything specific like “we’re about 200 miles form the Philippines, about to pull into Subic Bay tomorrow afternoon”.
For those that may not be military or are new to the spouse game or who may just need a refresher, here’s a quick list of no-no’s you should always have in mind. You can get the full list here. Also, you can click here to download the OPSEC Facebook Guide.
Do not post last names of service members. You can right all about how proud you are of a Private Timmy, just leave out his last name (and with a name like Schmuckatellie, why wouldn’t you!)
Don’t use specifics. While we all know you’re excited your marine’s flight comes in on Oct. 5th at 12:17, you shouldn’t post it. Knowing he will be home this week is more than enough (at least until your “headed tothe airport post on the 5th). Srg. Johnson being in Iraq is enough info for his family and friends, they don’t need to know he’s 14 miles NNE of Camelaka or attached to the John Smith FOB.
Never post itineraries or troop movements. I can’t say this one enough! Knowing that the USS Liberty is pulling in the first half of June or between June 2-10 is a LOT different that know she comes in the morning of June 6th. Being told by Cpl. Jimmy that he has to do a road sweep tomorrow or go outside the wire is ILLEGAL. If your service member is telling you these things, please report them to their chain of command. This is a danger to everyone!!!!
Don’t write/say specific jobs. Even now, I don’t usually say what I did in the Navy. When someone asks, I politely answer “I worked with computers” or “bean counting”. It’s not a lie, but a very vague truth. This was something even my mom had to learn. as proud as she was, shouldn’t just brag to to whole world. It’s kind of like saying “I work at Gap” verses “I fold ugly sweaters and hang up clothes all day”.
Don’t post where your husband is ported. Ask yourself this: could someone with bad intentions who knows my husband is gone (because I said so on Facebook) use this information to make me think he knows my husband or make my husband think he knows or has been in contact with me? If so, don’t post it.
Don’t post where you’re service member is stationed. This goes hand-in-hand with no specifics. For instance: “We’re stationed at Norfolk Naval base” is okay. “He works over at Pacific fleet in the all-about-submarines department” is not.
Don’t ask for prayers or good thoughts because your service member is on a mission. Seriously, you may as well hang a “Out to War, At Coordinates 045, 287″ sign on their door. If you feel it must be done, try asking for prayers because “my family could use them” or “Jerry is going through so stuff”.
Overall, just be conscious and what are you are saying. Greg may only be a Private working in supply and may seem harmless, but there are wicked people out there. Terrorists use little bits of information from here and there to piece the puzzle together. Think of it as a general idea- do I want everyone on Facebook to know I’m home alone with the kids? Do I want the world to know who my son is, what he does and when he comes and goes? Be smart, be safe and if you’re not sure DON’T POST IT!
The hole in the side of the USS Cole as a result of the explosion.
The crew of the USS sleeping on deck as a result of the damage.
Vintage OPSEC posters, some of which still hang in the school house today.
A few new OPSEC posters…just to keep up with the times!