Science and Technology News

Saturday, February 16, 2013

OPSEC is that ubiquitous enemy

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 investment.

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 critical information.

OPSEC coordinators are locally the key to all things OPSEC, be it knowing what's on your critical information list or reporting OPSEC violations.

"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 program manager.

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 this function.

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 families.

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 guidelines.

"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."

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