OPSEC, You Are Doing It Wrong

By: Peter Sessum

Okay, maybe a little extreme but better than going too far the other way.

OPSEC, or Operations Security, is a very important thing in the military. Most people in the military have a good understanding of it, but the friends and families of military personnel often don’t get it. Most of the people that post pictures online are violating OPSEC and they don’t even know it.

I hate saying that anything is “classified” because I feel like it makes something seem cooler than what it is. Most soldiers and vets do not hold any secrets that are critical to national security but may have information that can be pieced together and reveal part of the larger picture. How many aviation units were in Afghanistan in 2007, 2009 and 2011 will show a pattern of building up or drawing down. This will not tell anything to your average citizen, but it could lead foreign government to reach certain conclusions about the intentions of the U.S. in the region.

Ways to NOT violate OPSEC: #1. Show pictures of past deployments. #2. Post pictures that do not show names, unit patches, vehicle bumper numbers and in some cases faces. #3.Photoshop out location names and signs or any indicators of place. #4 Don’t mention how long until coming home or how long deployed

If you have a picture of yourself or a loved from a previous deployment, there is little harm in posting it. It is information about current and future deployments that is a concern. Let’s be honest, all Afghans that live with a 20 mile radius of a remote outpost know that it is there. You are not revealing any information to local Taliban, mainly because they do not have computers or the internet. It is other groups that are the concern and what information you are telling them.

I saw a picture of a group of soldiers in front of a helicopter. The caption said that the location would not be revealed because of OPSEC. Click on the source and it takes you to a page that has a lot of pictures of soldiers from that deployment. Here is why this is bad.

First, by saying the location can’t be revealed I would guess that it the group is currently deployed. So already you have violated OPSEC especially if it can be determined where the unit is from.
Second, not every unit or firebase has helicopters. Just looking at the unit and kind of helicopter I can tell which branch of service it is. The kind of helicopter also would narrow down the unit.

Third, if the people have patches on their shoulder they are either Army or Air Force. Army patches can be Active, Reserve or National Guard. If it is a National Guard patch, someone can determine exactly where that unit is stationed. An active unit has limited places that patch is stationed. Even with the Big Red 1 all over Germany, not every unit has aircraft so it can still narrow down the location.

Forth, and this is kind of a big one, if other pictures on the tumblr account show the name tapes of the people or you give their full name and rank, you might as well just give the grid coordinates because OPSEC is gone. There is nothing wrong with blurring out the names. With Photoshop it can be done in a subtle way so that it doesn’t detract from the pictures.

OPSEC isn’t about giving away the name of one person deployed to Afghanistan. The importance of OPSEC is not to give away the big picture and your one piece of information might one small piece of the puzzle. I am going to make up a scenario.

A take on the WWII posters. Just a little bit of information can be used to get the bigger picture.

Let’s say that the U.S. drops out of the joint exercise in the Philippines. Someone comes across an “I’m proud of my Marine” account and sees pictures of a well dressed graduating boot. The next post says, “Tommy is going to DLI.” Knowing that one marine is going to the Defense Language Institute isn’t exactly front page news, but if there is a post saying that he is mad that he isn’t going to be learning Arabic, but they are expanding the Tagalog course and every new Marine is going there.

Those pieces of information might mean something. If we were backing out of a joint military exercise with a country, but sending more people to learn the language, with a few more pieces of information like Navy ships were docking anywhere near Manila anymore might be enough information to guess that there is a possible invasion, or that the U.S. is severing ties with the current government but is looking to be able to offer military support to an organization planning a coup.

Again, I just made this up in my head, but if that was the case an enterprising journalist or tech savvy terrorist could put the pieces together. When I saw the pictures I was pretty sure that within a half an hour I could get all the information I needed online to figure out where the unit was deployed to.

Pride in self, friends and family members is cool but understand that OPSEC is more than holding a picture that says “I am here!” The pictures I post are all of past deployments. No valuable information can be gleaned from them. There is nothing wrong with wanting to show support. Just take a few simple steps to prevent identification of forces that are in, or about to be in harm’s way. Blur out names, remove past posts that make it easy to tell the duty station and make pictures private that are identifiable (like in front of the unit HQ) for the duration of the deployment.

Your one piece of information might not compromise national security, but it can be one more piece that helps someone see the big picture. Even if we can’t see what the bigger picture is, a couple “likes” isn’t worth that.

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5 Responses to OPSEC, You Are Doing It Wrong

  1. jjourney44 says:

    I see this all the time and I think a lot of people just arent’t aware of the consequences. This post really helps to put it all into persepective. Thank you for sharing



  2. Allie says:

    Also, pictures taken with devices that use GPS (such as smartphones) contain information known as geotagging, unless you’ve taken steps to disable that. A geotag contains your exact latitude and longitude as well as the date time stamp. Post that on the internet and now any tech-savvy person can know where you were and when. if you post sequences of pictures, they can get an idea of your daily patterns.

    http://www.icanstalku.com/ (There’s no new posts, but they did leave up good info about how to take steps to protect you and your family.)


  3. Aileen says:

    Very good explanation on OPSEC. So many people are not aware of their situation including government contractors. Thank you for writing this, I sent it to my Facebook so others can read.


  4. Me says:

    One of the best examples is to see how the information is posted on the official military websites, each branch of service has one and it just goes to reason if its appropriate to post there then your ok.


  5. I’ve always liked the Phrase ” If your family and friends can see it ” so can your Enemies .


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