6 Surprise OPSEC Don'ts

World War II "Loose Lips Might Sink Ships" poster.
World War II poster by Seymour R. Goff (US War Information Office)

As a military blogger, almost every site I visit has something along the lines of the saying, "Loose Lips, Sink Ships," paired with some jolly-looking seamen carrying his pack. But every day I also see things on these same sites and pages that make me cringe.

What is OPSEC? Technically speaking, OPSEC -- or operational security -- is how we keep service members safe and military actions going as planned. Breaking OPSEC, then, happens when we say or do something publicly that puts either of those things at risk.

So, when you post online any information about any information that is supposed to be secret about pending military action or movement, any deployed service member's location or anything about any military plans, accidents or incidents (the name of someone who has been killed, for example, before that information is publicly released) you are violating OPSEC.

Let's start with this basic list of simple OPSEC rules:

There are some pretty basic rules that we should get out of the way. But before we do that, let's make one thing clear. The military has public affairs offices and officials. Information released publicly by those offices, often through press releases or through the base or unit's Facebook page, is not an OPSEC violation. That information is cleared for public release through the change of command. As a rule of thumb: if the information has been released by public affairs, it's safe to share or re-post.

Here are some general rules:

Do not post specific deployment and/or troop movement dates ("June" might be OK if the public affairs office has released it -- but June 15 is likely not, for example).

Do not publicly post specific troop name and unit information (92nd ID is OK - 3rd PLT, Delta Co, 92 IN BN is not).

Do not post the specific deployed location of your service member or any unit (Afghanistan is OK - FOB Jones in Not).

Do not post unit or soldier itineraries that have not been publicly released. (example "leaving on June 15, flying to East Coast, to Europe, to Kuwait, to xxx base).

Do not post any troop movement, size and/or action (ie. s patrol of 15 going outside the wire on Thursday).

That list is a good start -- but it doesn't touch on some of the most common mistakes I see. Maybe you are making one of these without knowing it.

Here is my list of top 6 Surprise OPSEC don'ts

1. Don't "check-in" at your FOB. Believe it or not, service members have checked-in at their Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) on Facebook. No joke. So now everyone knows where you are. Good work.

2. Don't list your specific job on Facebook. Do you really want the enemy to know specifically what you do? That information could potentially be used against you.

3. Don't post where your service member is in port. Ask yourself this: could someone with bad intentions who knows my service member is gone (because I said so on Facebook) use this information to make me think he knows them or make my spouse think he knows or has been in contact with me? If so, don't post it.

4. Don't post when they are coming home. You may think your Facebook page is private -- but do you really know that for sure?

5. Don't ask for prayer or good thoughts when your significant other is "on mission." I know you want people to be supporting your family -- but letting everyone know they are out on patrol is not the way to do it. This would be a message best relayed privately.

6. Don't post your metadata. "What is metadata," you ask? Metadata is that information linked to your photos or status updates letting people know where you posted from. Let's specifically think about ones that are sent to you by your service member that you then post for them. Have you ever seen MythBusters? Well one of the hosts made a big booboo by posting a picture of what was later determined to be his house. How did people figure that out? One word -- Metadata. So, not to dwell on this particular part of OPSEC too much here's quick link to how to remove that info.

Remember: just because the military tells you something, does not mean you can talk about it publicly. Maybe privately -- but on Facebook? Not so much.

We are a very OPSEC sensitive household. In my opinion there really isn't any way to be too OPSEC minded. To me, even if giving out information doesn't hurt military security it may hurt my personal security, or "PERSEC." Here are some things to think about for that:

Are your Facebook check-ins really necessary?

Can you see your spouse's job identification or rank on his uniform in pictures? It may make you a target. Think about it: you list where you are (city), that's a base location -- say your profile picture has your spouse in their uniform -- that's branch, last name, rank and possible job identification.

Are count-up clocks to deployments a good idea? I know they don't want you to do count down's, but count-ups really all that much better?

Do you have service related stickers on your car? I have no identifying markers on my car. No, "half my heart is in Iraq", Air Force Wife or cute little family member decals. It may seem silly, but it's just one piece of the puzzle for someone looking for some information. Someone could be driving behind me and in five minutes figure out that I'm a wife of whatever branch, I have this many children, including an honor student at such and such elementary school, and that my spouse isn't here.

Is your profile military related? I try not make military pictures my profile pictures unless they are dated (older than five years or so). If they are up they are edited. Yes, I try to edit the pictures even on my private page. My last name is also not on my page.

Here's some food for thought: I happened to catch a repeat of Army Wives where the biological father of Joan and Roland's son found them. He had bits and pieces of information like they were Black, that she was a Colonel and made the comment "How many female black colonels could there be in South Carolina?" It may seem like dramatic television, but it's not far from the truth, and is an excellent example of how small, meaningless, tidbits of information can be put together to create a much bigger picture.

Rheanna is an Air Force Wife and mommy of three. She began dating her husband at the ripe old age of sixteen and followed him through his choice to join the military in 2002. In 2004 they married and made their first move. Rheanna has a degree in Criminal Justice, and is currently a SAHM and Wife, blogger and runs her own handmade crochet and knitted items shop. They currently reside in the DC area, which makes these two history nerds extremely happy! You can find Rheanna blogging at Cammo Style Love.

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