Sunday, May 01, 2005

 

OPSEC and "HEART"-SEC

On the occasion of the upcoming BlogNashville event, I wanted to post some thoughts that I hope are incorporated within some on the discussions at the conference. The two concerns I have are in the areas of Operational Security (OPSEC), another area of more personal security, the health and well-being of loved ones. There's no military acronym for the latter, so for lack of an alternative (and to try to be clever), I'll call it (Heart) Security or HEARTSEC. (NOTE: I am not yet proficient enough with HTML to make a "heart" symbol appear, but imagine that's what you see.)

OPSEC is an important concept in modern military operations, one easily misunderstood and often underestimated. All reconnaissance efforts, if successful, exploit weak or failed OPSEC of the other side. Good OPSEC means denying your enemies an opportunity to gather all the small bits of information that eventually leads to a partial but highly suggestive picture of overall plans and operations.

In Iraq, that might mean force disposition, capabilities, weaknesses and targets of opportunity. We greatly underestimate our enemy's capabilities to exploit essential elements of friendly information (EEFI).

Americans as a rule are terrible at keeping secrets, we love to talk, we like to connect wiht those around us, and we love to tell stories. When soldiers are entirely segregated from civilian populations (loved ones, family or otherwise), they are clearly unhappy, but they are unable to violate OPSEC with as much ease or regularity.

The greatest difference in lifestyle and living conditions between today's soldier in Iraq and any in previous conflicts, is also one of our greatest vulnerabilities in terms of OPSEC. Soldiers have ready and immediate access to the Internet and cheap telephone service to their friends and families back home. When anything happens on the Forward Operating Base (FOB), chances are, linked in families back home hear all the details within hours, if not minutes. (Local commanders in many cases wisely invoke Internet and telephone blackouts for short periods in the event of significant injuries or deaths.)

Frankly, much of the most popular ("live action") combat reporting on the web makes me nervous. Many of these young men (and women) are not at all careful or discrete about their identities, unit compositions, and even very minute operational details. All of us understand how popular such accounts are, people back home and even fellow soldiers are really hungry for knowledgeable front line reporting. But this same accuracy and realism may be providing our enemies -- who gain some advantage they wouldn't otherwise have if we ignore their collection or reconnaissance capabilities -- with useful information for planning more effective attacks (and by the way, allowing them at least some useful battle damage assessment (BDA) information).

Which then brings me to my second concern with such reporting. The effect all this "real-time," embedded soldier reporting has on our families and loved ones back home. I remember the day not too long ago, when press accounts of an incident included a unit identification, that allowed a young woman just enough information to realize that her husband's unit had lost personnel. She spent several frantic hours seeking to verify that her husband was safe. He was, she was overjoyed, until a few moments later when she realized the occasion of her joy would spell tragedy for some other family.

On a personal note, long time readers of my blog may remember the day, early on in my deployment, when we conducted our combat patch ceremony. On that particular day, I related in a post that many of us also experienced our first real combat, with a mortar attack in the parking lot of our dining facility (DFAC).

I send a lot of my posts out to friends and family by email, and I had enough sense to realize that I should tell Mrs. Dadmanly about the incident before anyone had the chance to ask her about it or express concern for me or for her. I happened to reach her on her cell as she was on her way with Little Manly on some errand or activity.

She sounded okay to me on the phone, it was the weekend and I knew I'd be talking to her again Sunday after church, so I felt I'd done what I needed to do.

By the next evening, my Pastor and a concerned man of the church both contacted me, and told me that my wife had come into church that Sunday morning, crying and distraught. What I had taken to be "good news" (in that none of us were hurt), brought home to her the risks and dangers we faced as a normal part of our life deployed. They took her aside after the service and prayed with her for my safety and for her peace and assurance in God's protection, but both of these gentlemen strongly challenged me to consider whether it was a good idea to share too many (especially graphic) details with my famly back home.

I spoke to Mrs. Dadmanly later, and she felt that I should share even these events if I really feel the need to share them, that she would find resources and people to help her "weather" whatever burden I needed to unload. But I was convicted that day, that I have 200 fellow soldiers here to share those kinds of experiences with, and that the last thing I want to do is cause any greater worry or concern or fear or uncertainty for my family than they were already going to experience.

So my blog will never include those gripping accounts (unless they are borrowed from somebody else), and no doubt I will have less readership as a result. That's okay, my family is more important.

So ladies and gentlemen MILBLOGGERS, I urge you all to consider carefully how much information you share "real-time" with our eager audiences back home. Hopefully, when I get back home, there will still be quite an audience for all the "war stories" I'll have to tell, safe and sound, back home, a lifetime away from violence.



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