by Ross Tweten
482nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
2/10/2013 - HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE, Fla. -- Keep it hush-hush, on the QT, close to the vest, under wraps, but above all, maintain Operations Security.
OPSEC is that ubiquitous enemy, constantly looking over your shoulder,
constantly trying to peek behind the curtain. But it's also the ally,
the precious gem that, when preserved, delivers a magnanimous return on
OPSEC is a practice and capability that is both blatantly objective and
curiously subjective. While the purpose of OPSEC is to reduce the
vulnerability of Air Force missions by eliminating or reducing
successful adversary collection and exploitation of critical
information, often, the deeper question is what is critical information
and how is the adversary collecting it?
Critical information is a specific fact about our intentions,
capabilities, and activities vitally needed by our enemies for them to
plan and act effectively, so as to cause failure or unacceptable
consequences in our mission accomplishment.
Critical information lists are typically unique for each installation.
The items in a critical information list are identified by the
individuals responsible for the planning and execution of the
organization's mission. People should contact either their unit OPSEC
coordinator or program manager to gain an understanding of their
OPSEC coordinators are locally the key to all things OPSEC, be it
knowing what's on your critical information list or reporting OPSEC
"People should report all OPSEC violations so we can correct and learn
from our violation both as an installation as well as on an individual
level," said Mr. Jeffrey Vaughan, 482nd Fighter Wing chief of
Information Protection and OPSEC program manager. "It's important to
have an understanding of how the enemy is trying to gain access to our
information so we can employ countermeasures to effectively negate or
reduce the adversary's ability to exploit our vulnerabilities."
OPSEC applies to all activities that prepare, sustain, or employ forces
during all phases of operations, so the information that requires
protection cuts a wide swath across the Air Force's operations. The
tenets of OPSEC touch all Airmen from the top down.
"The enemy doesn't care what rank you are or how much responsibility you
hold," said Chief Master Sgt. Cameron Kirksey, 482nd FW command chief
master sergeant. "If you have information that is in any way useful to
the enemy, you can be a target."
What results from an OPSEC violation or slip up can lead to grave
consequences. Failure to properly implement OPSEC measures can result in
serious injury or death to Airmen, mission failure, as well as damage
to weapons systems, equipment and facilities.
The loss of life and mission failure are the most serious in terms of
the penalties of violating OPSEC, but for those who drop the proverbial
OPSEC ball, a litany of administrative penalties can follow such as
removal from access to classified materials, loss of security clearance,
and suspension without pay.
Both at home and deployed, the value of practicing good OPSEC is
immeasurable. But, in the end, the purpose of employing good OPSEC is to
help the warfighters achieve their mission.
"Good OPSEC is absolutely critical, not only for mission success, but
also for the safety and well-being of our Airmen," said Vaughan.
As the saying goes, information is power, and the power that the right
information can wield is magnified given the nature of modern warfare.
"The adversary with the most information wins," said Vaughan. "If we
lose the war in the air, we lose the war and lose it quickly," he added,
quoting British Army Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. "The same can be
said about OPSEC."
The avenues in which someone can violate OPSEC are many. From simply
mentioning an upcoming deployment to a neighbor, to telling a friend
through email the number of guided bombs you loaded onto an F-16,
information can travel regardless of the means of communication.
As information spreads faster than wildfire on social media platforms,
practicing good OPSEC is more important now than ever before.
"Social media has a direct capability of being used against us," said
Capt. Brooke Davis, 482nd FW Public Affairs chief. "The technology being
used by the enemy to gather and collate information stretches across
every social media platform and it can interpret and utilize even the
most insignificant piece of sensitive data."
It's highly recommended to set privacy settings so that only "friends"
can see specifics on Facebook. Even after establishing privacy settings,
people should not assume their information will remain private. Don't
post classified or sensitive information (i.e. troop movement, force
size, weapons details). When in doubt, speak to an OPSEC coordinator or
When using smartphones or tablets to take pictures and access social
networking sites, people could be inadvertently posting their exact
geographic location. This technology is known as geotagging, and many
phones, tablets and digital cameras are set up to geotag by default. If
deployed and using a phone or digital media device, people must disable
But Airmen are encouraged to share OPSEC awareness information with both
family members and friends. This will ensure family members and friends
understand how adversaries can use public media sources such as web
sites, blogs, social networking sites, newspapers, and television to
obtain critical information that can be used to target Airmen and their
Training and education is the cornerstone to maintaining OPSEC. Airmen
must ensure they receive their initial and annual OPSEC awareness
training from their unit coordinator.
Some practices to get in the habit of doing include never discussing
sensitive information in public unless in a secure location, knowing the
unit's critical information list, and adhering to social media
"Members of the military need to make OPSEC a way of life," said
Vaughan. "Once you completely buy in to the program, practicing good
OPSEC will become second nature."
According to Kirksey, OPSEC is very much in and of itself an enemy in
line with the enemies our warfighters encounter on the battlefield.
"Internal OPSEC violations are just as dangerous and just as much of a
threat to our Air Force as any outside criminal element," he said. "In
my opinion, complacency is the biggest enemy of OPSEC; vigilance is its
biggest ally. The second we relent on protecting sensitive information
could be the only second the enemy needs to deliver a blow."