Don’t give away pieces of the puzzle

Col. Rich Weathers
38th Combat Support Wing commander

***image1***OPSEC, OPSEC, OPSEC … I always hear security briefings where the briefer says to “practice good OPSEC.” What the heck is OPSEC? I’d like to have a dollar for every time I have heard a jumbled face mutter those words. Surely everyone knows what OPSEC means … it relates to security, right? Of course, OPSEC means to keep information secure. That sounds like a good definition and easy enough to accomplish, right?

Evidently, OPSEC has a more technical meaning, which far too few people realize and understand. Operations Security is a formalized five-step analytic method for protecting our critical information. OPSEC does not replace other security disciplines – it supplements them. I’d like to dwell further on the technical meaning of OPSEC and talk about the essence of OPSEC.

There is nothing new about the principles underlying OPSEC. In fact, we can trace OPSEC practices back to the colonial days and the Revolutionary War. Gen. George Washington said, “Even minutiae should have a place in our collection, for things of a seemingly trifling nature, when enjoined with others of a more serious cast, may lead to valuable conclusion.”

For the most part, people associate OPSEC with keeping classified material secure and not sending sensitive information on unclassified e-mail. These aspects of OPSEC are very necessary and important, but being stationed overseas, we are invested in the culture of our hosting country. It’s important to realize good OPSEC does not end at the base perimeter. Each of us must remain aware of our surroundings and pay particular attention to any unusual activity or people in the area – especially someone asking unusual or very specific questions.

One only needs to reflect on the events of Sept.11, 2001, to understand there is a demonstrated and known threat. We as federal employees are representatives of the people. We develop, we plan, we execute – the American people trust us to do our jobs and keep them safe. The mishandling of information can put everything at risk and cost lives.
The intelligence collection business is very much like assembling a picture puzzle. The more information our adversaries collect, the more of the picture they have. And they are extremely good at their business. What many don’t always realize is how much we are giving away by our predictable behavior, casual conversations, routine acquisitions and the improper handling of classified information. We must be ever cognizant of what could potentially be revealing through our actions or inactions. Failure to do so could provide our enemies with just enough information to counter our intelligence and execute egregious acts against our country and even worst, result in the loss of life.

Our future security hinges on the use of good OPSEC. So, next time you are bellied up to the bar, and the person next to you asks, “What do you for a living?” Please practice good OPSEC and don’t be so eager to tell all about your wonderful job in the world’s greatest Air Force.