Friday, August 26, 2005

 

Blogging and OPSEC

Operations Security (OPSEC) is a critical concept in warfare, and vital in our efforts against a well organized, patient, and secret enemy that can take maximum advantage of our transparency and press freedoms while easily denying us an equivalent advantage against them.

I have just received through multiple official channels a warning from the highest military officials, which should have received the widest dissemination possible. I would be virtually certain that any active duty, reserve or guard military member in a leadership position has received it as well.

This communication essentially reminds the Chain of Command of their OPSEC responsibilities, alerts them to the very active enemy exploitation of our open sources, and informs leaders that many soldiers are violating OPSEC via their blogs. The official reaction to these OPSEC concerns will include a rewrite to applicable Army Regulations (AR).

(UPDATE: For more information on the communication, see Blackfive's post.)

It wasn’t the primary point of the post, but in one of my recent profiles I warned:
They were on such a mission recently when Insurgents carried out a deadly complex attack against U.S. forces. I can’t share details about this attack, because to do so would:

• Aid an enemy making a Battle Damage Assessment (BDA) of the success of their attack;
• Spread knowledge of the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) to other cells that otherwise might not learn of new methods;
• Jeopardize operations security (OPSEC) for the Scouts, Quick Reaction Force (QRF) and other first responders to Jihadist attacks; and
• Open up specific unit and leader decision-making to inappropriate public scrutiny. This can create situations where information necessarily incomplete due to immediacy, preservation of individual Soldier rights, and classification, would otherwise distort how the overall information might be received and interpreted.

These are not trivial concerns. I cast no aspersions against my fellow MILBLOGGERS, in no way should this be interpreted as criticism of those whose very graphic and exciting stories provide vivid detail to an information starved public.
In an even earlier post, I explained why I thought this issue was so important:
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 with 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).
I would hate to think that good OPSEC might interfere with what is some of the best reporting available on our great efforts in Iraq. But I likewise think that MILBLOGGERS need to carefully (and prayerfully) consider if, in the interest of feeding a hungry audience, we likewise satisfy an avaricious enemy. This is an enemy who knows how and where to get information vital to making his efforts against us more deadly and effective, and knows how and where and to whom to get this information into the hands of those who would harm us.

If we ignore this responsibility, aren’t we doing the same as the big media we so frequently criticize? In the interest of “hits” and traffic (equivalent after all to ratings or circulation), we go for the gritty detail, and disregard real and significant concerns about whether this in some way increases the danger to our soldiers?

Sure, most of the more biased media pander to an anti-war agenda, and that’s destructive too, but any reporter or editor will tell you, “If it bleeds it leads.” There is a very strong profit motive to everything they do. If we broaden the meaning of profit to include that which benefits us or end results that we desire, if we seek that at the exclusion of any threat or risk considerations, we have put our own benefit above the soldiers we would claim to support.

Among the many freedoms we give our lives to defend are the freedoms of speech and the press. There will be no point to our sacrifices if we must deny these freedoms.

But I for one know how critically important it is for us to win this war. As a result, I remain committed to taking every step necessary that nothing I write will damage troop morale, nor provide our enemies even the slightest advantage they would not have had otherwise. I can do no other, and that is the least I can do.

Links: Blackfive, Castle Argghhh!, Chromed Curses, Dawn Patrol at Mudville Gazette, Assumption of Command



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