The importance of OPSEC.

What is OPSEC?:
OPSEC stands for operational security, and it refers to information that the military prefers to keep secret in order to preserve the security of its personnel and operations. Examples of OPSEC information: deployment leave and return dates; port call dates and locations; location of its ships, airplanes, submarines, and other assets during deployment; photos of the interior of its ships, airplanes, submarines, and other assets; and movement of and changes to the deployment schedules of its assets. Recent example: some milsos tweeted that their significant others who are stationed aboard the USS Bush were heading to Iraq before the information was made public. That’s a HUGE breech of OPSEC!

Why is OPSEC important?:
OPSEC keeps service members safe. Publicly discussing, say, the pier that an aircraft carrier is pulling into for a port call puts every service member aboard the carrier at risk. Terrorists can use that information to plan an attack on the carrier OR on the families who will be waiting for their service members on the pier. An example of the bad guys using information against us is the bombing of the USS Cole. Many service members died in the bombing.

How do I maintain OPSEC?:
The #1 method of maintaining OPSEC is to never discuss operational information in public. “Public”: anywhere off base, on social media or the internet, in emails or texts, via Skype or FaceTime, or on the telephone. Never assume publicly discussing information is safe, even in a foreign country. Terrorists and associates of terrorists are everywhere, and English is the most commonly learned language of non-English speakers. Military spouses, significant others, and families are easy targets for terrorists because we love to discuss OPSEC matters in public. Don’t be the person who tips-off the terrorists. Resist the urge to say inappropriate things and THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK!

How can I discuss OPSEC in public?:
Easy answer: you can’t, unless you’re talking in code and you DO NOT slip-up … so, seriously, don’t risk it. Your spouse’s safety isn’t worth the risk, right?

What if someone asks me where I’m going?:
I’m often asked where I’m going while I’m traveling to see my husband. I enjoy making-up stories. I used to travel with friends who could not discuss their job particulars with anyone. We made-up funny stories about what we were doing together in foreign countries, and some of the scenarios we made-up were particularly hilarious. Another option is to say that you’re visiting a friend who lives at your destination, or you’re flying through that destination to another country for vacation. It’s tricky explaining my “vacations” to our families, so sometimes I just tell them that I’m leaving on [X] day for a vacation, and that I’ll give them details about where I’m going and what I’m doing after I arrive. Everyone is okay with that arrangement.

Here are a few additional tips for maintaining OPSEC:
1. Develop a code with your spouse so that he/she can give you port call/deployment updates via email without breaking OPSEC. If you’re clued-in, you’re less likely to ask friends for info at inappropriate moments.
2. Think before you speak in public about your service member. Remember that no information is safe in the public sphere, and assume that someone is listening to or reading your conversation.
3. If you hear OPSEC being broken, you have two choices: you can walk away or you can step in and say something (or say something later in private). I do both frequently, and I am infuriated regardless of my action.
4. You can’t control everyone, so the best thing to do is focus on your personal role in maintaining OPSEC.
5. It’s okay to say that your husband is leaving or coming home “soon”, or that you’re excited to see him. OPSEC is broken when specific dates and locations are given. “Soon” isn’t very specific 🙂
6. Many of my friends don’t tell their kids any specific information. Kids don’t understand OPSEC or don’t have the verbal control of adults, which is okay because they’re kids!
7. Never tell strangers what your spouse does in the military or that they’re in the military. I usually tell people that my husband is an accountant or a student. I know, we spouses and significant others are proud of her service members, but our pride can make us an easy target.
8. Remember that terrorists have no single ethnic, socioeconomic, or identifiable “look”. Sometimes the nice, white collar dude we’re sitting next to on the plane is a friend of a bad guy or is, himself, a bad guy.

I seem to take OPSEC more serious then most spouses I meet. I have very good reasons for my high concern with OPSEC, none of which I am going to share in public because, you know, OPSEC and PERSEC (personal security). However, I feel that people do not take security seriously enough, and most spouses don’t give a 2nd thought to how their actions could tip-off terrorists.

Don’t tip-off terrorists, ya’ll! Think before you speak!!

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8 comments

  1. I would add: it’s just a good idea (and fun!) to get in the habit of making up a story about where you are going EVERY time you are traveling solo. OPSEC-compliant and safer for you.

    1. My husband and I base our’s on our wedding anniversary. So, if he wants to give me a date, we say plus/minus the number of months and then plus/minus the number of days. That works well for us, but we could also use a birthday, holiday, etc 🙂 Sometimes he gives me a clue about the location if it something personal to us (like a port we already visited), but usually I get the exact locations from my CO’s wife. Does that help?

  2. I think that unfortunately some of this is taken a bit overboard. To each their own and yes, you don’t want to discuss exacts in public but if it has been released already on the DoD website, ships FB pages and by news stations, please understand it is NOT an OSPECS issue anymore. We always have certain military assets in certain areas when during every deployment and that is not confidential information, I can say witha lot of certainly that even terrorist already know and understand that. My husband is on the USS Bush as well and I was even interviewed on the news on my reactions. My response was guarded and highly appropriate for the situation but the info was already released. I agree with this and it did need to be shared but there many spouses that just take this to extremes and I have to say, I find it quite comical.

    1. As I mentioned, if it’s already public information, it’s no longer important to protect the information. However, standing in line to board a plane and loudly discussing the exact dates of the next port call, its location, and the pier that the carrier will pull into is wildly inappropriate. Not everyone agrees with me, but I feel strongly about this issue, and I know that I’m standing on firm ground here.

  3. I am Sam. Sam I am.

    Do you like OPSEC and ham?

    I do not get it, Sam I am.

    I do not get OPSEC and ham.

    We must use it here and there.

    We must use it everywhere.

    You CAN share it in a car.

    But you CANNOT in a bar.

    You CANNOT share it in a text.

    You CANNOT share it at the NEX.

    You CAN say it in your house.

    But should NOT tell a random spouse.

    You CAN say it in the shower.

    But do NOT go sharing at happy hour.

    DON’T make the Ombudsman sweat.

    DON’T post it on the internet.

    You CANNOT share it in a tweet.

    That would not be very sweet.

    Beware of Facebook and Myspace too.

    It’s tempting to let your feelings through.

    You cannot tell it to a friend.

    NOT even at the very end.

    It is a privilege to know a date.

    DON’T tell ANYONE or they may be late!

    Oh, I get it, Sam I am!

    Now I get OPSEC and ham!

    I will not tell anyone. I will keep hushed until they’re done!

    I will not tell him or her. I will not tell my dog with fur.

    I will not tell my child’s teacher. I will not tell any creature.

    Thank you, THANK YOU, Sam I am.

    Thank you for clearing up OPSEC and Ham!!!

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