Our Responsibilities to Operational Security as Airmen

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Merrill T. Latta
  • 28th Bomb Wing Plans and Programs
As members of the United States Air Force, we are entrusted with a great deal of responsibility. It comes with the territory when our job is to protect this country and its values from the bad guys of the Earth. To protect this county we have to keep ourselves and our mission as safe as possible. One of the biggest ways we protect ourselves, our families, our fellow Airmen and our mission is maintaining Operational Security. 

The purpose of OPSEC is to reduce the vulnerability of Air Force missions by eliminating or reducing successful adversary collection and exploitation of critical information. OPSEC applies to all activities that prepare, sustain, or employ forces during all phases of operations. In layman's terms, it is the process of protecting information that could be useful to the enemy according to AFI 10-701. This critical information comes in the form of troop movements, deployment dates, locations, times, number of personnel or equipment, what type of equipment and personal information to name a few. The rule of thumb is that if Airmen don't want the enemy to know it, Airmen shouldn't make that information public knowledge or say it to anyone who doesn't have a need to know.

This doesn't just pertain to military members. It pertains to family members, Department of Defense civilians and anyone else who is entrusted with this critical information. One widely-known example of this trust being violated, involved news reporter Geraldo Rivera. Rivera was accompanying the Army's 101st Airborne Division on March 2003 as they were moving into Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Rivera was briefed as to what not to say by military officials before going on the air, but when the cameras were rolling, he apparently forgot about that briefing. He instructed his cameraman to point the camera to the ground where he then drew a map of Iraq in the sand, and illustrated the position of the 101st and where they were moving. To say the least, the Pentagon was not happy and Rivera was no longer accompanying the Army after that. The Iraqi military could have seen Rivera's broadcast and used the information broadcasted to counter the 101st AD.

OPSEC doesn't always have to pertain to military events or actions. On June 2009, Sir John Sawers was appointed Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, which is the United Kingdom's equivalent of the Central Intelligence Agency. A month after his appointment details such as his home address, places he frequently visits, identities of family and friends were spread all across the British tabloids. The source of this information was his wife's personal Facebook page which had all of Sawers information out in the open. Sawer's wife didn't utilize any privacy settings. Some people may look at this and say, "So what," but when one is the head of an organization like SIS, terrorists will likely find personal information very valuable. Sawers' family and he himself were put at risk due to this blunder. He did later take the position in November 2009 after UK's Foreign Office had all traces of the material removed from the internet.

In this day and age, social media is a responsibility we all must make a high priority. It's about a need to know and utilizing a little common sense. The bottom line for Air Force personnel is to always remain vigilant about what we communicate to others in person and online.