The relevance of OPSEC
By Maj. Robert Sweeney, 65th Operations Support Squadron
/ Published August 29, 2011
LAJES FIELD, Azores (AFNS) -- During the Vietnam War, a special team was established to address the alarming number of pilot casualties and aircraft lost from enemy attacks.
The team, known as "Purple Dragon," was established to take a critical look at operational tactics and mission planning. What the team eventually discovered was a host of "open source" information that linked aircraft call signs to mission related activities or indicators.
Since the call signs were easily intercepted via radio transmissions and behaviors were neither random nor cleverly concealed, enemy insurgents were able to accurately predict what, where, when and how missions would unfold.
Operations security, or OPSEC, became the moniker and the program established processes to protect key assets and critical information. The goal is to prevent competitors or adversaries from accurately deducing or predicting critical or sensitive information. The process includes not only identifying critical information, but analyzing threats and vulnerabilities to determine associated risks, and develop effective countermeasures to negate viable risks. It focuses on information or activities that require protection and assists in understanding how someone might attempt to acquire that information.
OPSEC is an important part of any successful organization. Blending OPSEC into everyday activities is important to satisfying mission requirements and accomplishing organizational goals.
Service members and civilians alike must be mindful of any information that might violate OPSEC. What happens when OPSEC is violated? Omission of any OPSEC element results in a security program liable to provide inadequate protection or require unnecessary or expensive protection measures.
At the basic level, a combined definition of critical information can be summed up as "a collection of absolutely necessary facts and data about a specific subject." An indicator can be defined as "something observed or calculated that is used to show the presence of a condition or trend."
The old World War II advertising campaign is simple, but true ... "Loose lips sink ships." OPSEC is everyone's responsibility; we must all do our part to manage our unit's critical information and adhere to the countermeasures in place to protect information or capabilities. Each unit has a developed listing of critical information (also known as a Critical Information List) along with associated countermeasures to manage their indicators. CILs present unclassified categories of information and should be easily accessible in each unit.
Whether in times of war or peace, we must all be careful to recognize what a unique role we all play for this wing and the U.S. Air Force. Each member is an important brick in the foundation of our mission. As such, when one of those bricks has compromised its mass or integrity, the foundation is no longer secure. When we operate under the old premise of "loose lips sink ships," we protect those men and women executing the tactical requirements at all levels, so they are free to operate in an uncompromised environment.
The next time you are sitting at your terminal, engaging in friendly conversation locally or over the telephone, or posting something on Facebook, think critically about the information you convey. If someone was listening or watching, are you perhaps compromising or inadvertently divulging critical information?
Disclosure by multiple areas or people can easily tear down the countless number of hours spent on managing information. Be careful, and most importantly, be aware.