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Operations security is a way of life, not just a program

by Maj. Jason Wood
6th Air Mobility Wing plans

On many occasions as a parent dealing with my six-year-old daughter, I've had to be careful more than once to not give away what present was going to be under the holiday tree or at her birthday party. I've learned as she has grown that the smallest of events clue her in on things; a casual comment by myself or my wife or driving by a particular store. Trips to Florida theme parks are also meant to be surprises, but they also need protection from a very sharp little mind who wants to find out about a good deal.

You might think that this is an odd way to start out an article on operations security, but if you think about it, the principals are the same in making sure a surprise is a surprise. OPSEC is simply protecting critical information from being used by someone else to understand intentions and capabilities.

In and of itself, that isn't a complex concept and it should seem ultimately like common sense. The most difficult part is understanding what critical information is for your organization, or for your part of an operation, and how to protect that information. Each organization in the Air Force has a list of what is critical information, but what you might not know is that OPSEC isn't just about classified or unclassified programs. It is about day-in, day-out business that we as a service do.

At a previous overseas tanker base, prior to 9/11, there was a model kit store in the village that always seemed to get the wing flying schedule and post it openly. The schedule even included transient aircraft. While it seems obvious now that this was a bad idea, even though no one could seem to figure out how they got it, it was allowed tacitly as the community had many "bird watchers" who would come and observe aircraft as a hobby.

Our operations were an open book because of it. Crew names and ratios, fuel weights, receiver types and timing, along with takeoff and landing times were available to anyone who happened to come into the store. Was any of that classified? No. But after 9/11, it makes little sense to allow that much information out.

How critical information is used is another problem because usually it is something that you need to do your job. That enters into the realm of protection, where you have to decide how you send or receive information. Again, this is not just for classified information.

The questions you should ask are simple: Is this something I can talk about over an open line or send in an e-mail? Could I talk to that person face-to-face instead? Would it be better to use secure means to talk about this?

We have to remember that all of those open systems are able to be penetrated and monitored and therefore we should act accordingly.

All it takes is a small bit of information to make someone see something is going on. When my daughter hears a dog going to the kennel, she knows that we're on the move.

Something like a large reservation of buses by a transportation squadron made on an open line is a similar indicator. An actual account was the number of pizza deliveries to the Pentagon. It was an indicator of an impending operation prior to DESERT STORM.

OPSEC is listed as a commander's program, but I think now that you might see it as your personal responsibility. During World War II the line "Loose lips sink ships" was popular. It meant be careful what you say in front of others, over what means you send things and to carefully decide what you throw away versus shredding.

So what do we do at home? Simple, we don't discuss plans in front of my daughter and we don't leave things lying around for her to see. We make double sure that the call to the kennel is made when she isn't around.

All of this just to keep a surprise.

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