OPSEC – a family responsibility
By Patrick Brom , Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Det. 110
/ Published May 21, 2007
LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE -- "Hi ... I'm Jane Doe, 23, married to John, 25. He works in the Security Forces Squadron as a gate guard. He is deployed right now and will be home May 10 after being gone for nine months!! We have one son, Johnny, who is 20 months. We have been here for a little over a year. We came from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota ... we were there for three years. I would like to join the playgroup when you guys start it up ... my son would love it!"
Where would someone get this information? Maybe a support group on base or at a base picnic, right? In those arenas this information would be harmless and it would be a great way for the speaker to reach out and find others like her.
But what if this same information is posted on the Internet for millions of viewers - many who do not have the best of intentions for those in a vulnerable position?
This is an example of information that is actually out there and it is a major concern for leaders across the Air Force who have the responsibility to protect the Airmen and their families within their charge.
The above example gives a lot of information which can be used to harm an Airman or his family. Specifically:
· The active-duty member is deployed and the young wife is home alone with a baby - translation: rob me, assault me and kidnap my child.
· Here are the details of my complete family, oh, and my complete address - translation: I am home alone while my husband works and my kids are in school.
· Here is enough detail to explain to them how you can pick them up, and here is where you can pick them up.
The advent of the Internet, incorporating the vast amounts of information that can be garnered just by surfing the Web, has made it imperative that military personnel and their family members pay special attention to the information placed in public and even private forums there.
For military members, specific training is conducted annually and reminders are posted daily of what is appropriate and not appropriate discussion within the Internet world. Unfortunately, family members are not always kept abreast of the latest threats in the cyber realm.
The Air Force Office of Special Investigations spends a considerable amount of resources and effort in protecting Air Force operations, people, resources and its family members. To do so, OSI special agents use Internet resources just as anyone else would to collect information. When necessary, agents look at MySpace, Yahoo groups and personal profiles.
What are the agents looking for?
Internet forums such as MySpace and Yahoo groups are excellent arenas to meet new people in a new duty location. The intent of these sites and the people starting these groups is to inform and have a place to engage in conversation with a broad audience on a variety of topics. Participation in these groups is not what concerns OSI agents and Air Force leaders. However, during the course of random searches, it was found that too often the information posted in these forums included dates of spouse deployments, locations of deployments, specific squadrons where they work and return dates. In some extreme cases, agents have found individuals posting their addresses and even detailed information about family members.
From an operation-security standpoint, it is imperative for the warfighter to feel comfortable knowing their safety and the safety of the mission have not been compromised. Terrorist organizations use Internet resources much like the intelligence world. They collect, analyze and put pieces of a puzzle together to give them a full perspective of what the Air Force and the United States are doing to combat them. The responsibility of our Airmen and their families is to not give them these pieces. Missions fail and lives are endangered when OPSEC is compromised.
Times spouses are gone during the day or if they are gone at all, specific addresses, telephone numbers and detailed personal and family information are very valuable from the criminal viewpoint. Criminals are just as calculating as terrorists and collect and target this information. People can see examples of this daily just from reading the newspaper and turning on the local news.
As warfighters, Air Force members want to be sure their families are safe and not potential criminal targets. It is being comfortable with the situation at home that allows the deployed member to concentrate on the mission at hand and safely return home.
Some basic OPSEC and Internet practices:
· Know your groups, forums and owners of the groups.
· Post no information on spouse's location, departure or return dates from a deployment. (This is need-to-know information.)
· Personal information such as addresses, phone numbers and specifics about children and family members should not be posted on public forums.
· Use groups or forums that have moderators - these middlemen can usually aide in flushing out potential OPSEC breaches or personal information before messages get posted.
OSI's primary focus is to protect the Air Force's people, resources and mission. This includes not only the military members deployed and stateside, but the family members as well. Agents are not spying on Airmen and their families. The organization exists to support all Airmen and their communities by educating and seeking out potential threats to the lives and well-being of the communities they serve. Awareness and information are power. Airmen and their families need to protect themselves and avoid assisting those who would harm them.
If individuals are concerned with information posted on the Internet, call the base OSI at 310-653-5436.