07 March 2010

OPSEC and the 'Dear-in-the-Headlights' Look

In terms of Operational Security (OPSEC), my kids' daycare leaks like a sieve. Back in November 2008--that's what, 18 months ago--then 4-year-old Lena and the Sherpa family were seated for Thanksgiving-themed lunch at her daycare. Other kids had brought their families. Since I was then on "temporary stateside active-duty," I was in Army uniform. So was the mother seated across from us. It turned out I worked with her husband--he was also a soldier--on my National Guard drill weekends.

She, herself, wore a different unit patch than I. Instead of being part of Iowa's "Red Bull" brigade, she worked with the state's National Guard medical clinic, the people who make sure that soldiers have all their shots (and hundreds of other medical benefits) prior to deployment.

"I was hired to help out with the brigade's deployment," she says, while introducing herself to my spouse.

It is November 2008. At the time, my unit had just been "nominated" for deployment, the first of many steps down the road of calling a National Guard unit to federal service. At the time, there wasn't even an "alert." I hadn't even told Household-6 about the possibility of a deployment--such notifications are practically routine, and very subject to change. Why worry the family?

It was a quiet drive home after lunch.

Since then, my unit hasn't apparently dropped off the nomination list. In fact, there's a more-official-but-still-not-the-real-deal "alert," telling us to get ready for a possible deployment in late summer 2010. Not too many details there.

The Army takes OPSEC seriously, so I take OPSEC seriously. Remember those World War II "Loose Lips Sink Ships" posters that hung on the wall of your high-school history teacher's room? The more things change, the more things stay the same.

Since my family's first experience with security breaches at daycare, we've encountered any number of similar circumstances. Household-6 first heard about the alert from the uniformed father--he's a buddy--of one of Lena's classmates. "Is your husband ready to go?" she was asked.

At Lena's fifth birthday party, another father with a short haircut starts talking about various personnel comings and goings in my unit. He tells me my unit's deployment date. I ask what outfit he's with. "Oh, I'm not in the military," he says. "I just like military stuff."

It's all very well-intended, I'm sure--and definitely NOT in keeping with good OPSEC practice.

Friends and family and people on the street don't get why citizen-soldiers like me--who have had it beaten into them that you don't give out details about the who, what, when, where, and why of military missions--sometimes get the deer-in-the-headlights (at home, I guess that would be "DEAR-in-the-headlights"?) when they're just trying to be friendly.

I've been thinking about this a lot recently. Last week, when I was repeatedly stuck in airports and hotels while wearing my Army uniform, I found myself reacting more positively to some strangers' questions than others. Apparently, my internal fight-or-flight instincts are less likely to be engaged by questions such as "where are you from" and "how are you doing," rather than "what do you do in the Army" and "where are all you soldiers headed?" The latter just automatically puts me on the defensive, even when I don't want to be. It's not you, it's me. It's OPSEC.

This past week, the Israeli military had to cancel an operation after one of its soldiers posted details via Facebook. The soldier revealed the time and place of a raid on a Palestinian village. This AFTER the Israeli military had launched a "Facebook isn't necessarily your friend" awareness campaign:
In military bases, posters show a mock Facebook page with images of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
Below their pictures and a Facebook friend request, the slogan reads, "You think that everyone is your friend?"
I need one of those for my kids' daycare ...

I'd put it right next to the "Don't Talk to Strangers" poster.


  1. This drives me craaaaaaaazy! I was raised on the 'loose lips sink ships"... and I usually react when I hear casual talk about who is going where and when, to do whatever.

    Loose lips cost lives, especially in this day and age when we KNOW the terrorists also troll the internet. It is NOT 'rocket science'. (Bad pun, I know.)


  2. Honestly it happens in the civilian sector, too. I found out many years ago that if I wanted to know what was going on behind corporate doors, take the friend of the bosses secretary to lunch.

  3. Amazingly, it seems that most of the loose lip violations come from official websites. But I was told by someone downrange that there is a lot that is common knowledge.

    Still...my lips are sealed.


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