Sgt. Eric Provost
4th Brigade Combat Team Journalist
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – In 2000, a copy of the al-Qaeda training manual was discovered in Manchester, England.
The “Manchester Document” instructed al-Qaeda operatives how to conduct the reconnaissance necessary to carry out attacks against Western targets. Now, it is used to train U.S. Soldiers on the importance of securing information.
In that training, the Army quotes the document, saying al-Qaeda believed that by “using public sources openly, without resorting to illegal means, it is possible to gather 80 percent of information about an adversary needed to carry out a successful attack.”
Our enemies believe the public will make it easy for them to gather all of the intelligence they want on U.S. capabilities and movements. The 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI), Task Force Patriot, asks for everyone’s help to prove our enemies wrong.
“Once an idea leaves your head and goes out into the atmosphere, you can’t control who can access that information again,” said Capt. Andrew Harris, an intelligence officer with 4th Brigade Combat Team. “In most cases, your immediate surroundings and the people you know will be fine. They won’t do any harm with it, but you don’t know who they’re going to turn around and tell.”
What Harris is talking about is operations security. OPSEC, as it’s commonly called, is the deliberate process of identifying information that can be used against you and protecting it.
In the social media era, OPSEC is more important, and more difficult, than ever. We must be concerned with both what we put on the Internet and with whom we talk.
The flow of information from one side of the world to another is now as easy as a few keystrokes, and takes only seconds.
Social media outlets like Twitter and Instagram have a constant flow of up-to-the-second information that could provide critical details to people looking to disrupt America’s interests.
Sgt. 1st Class Ray Martinez, intelligence noncommissioned officer in charge, 5th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th BCT, said their biggest concern right now is Facebook.
“Violent extremist organizations in general are very active on Facebook,” he said.
Whether someone is typing an email, surfing social media sites, or having a friendly conversation over a cup of coffee, the Army says following a few rules of thumb could be crucial in denying information to violent extremist groups:
wAvoid mentioning specifics about military operations, including mission schedules and unit capabilities.
wNever comment about missions in progress.
wConsider what information you are providing with the pictures you take, such as convoy sizes or base layouts.
wBe mindful that many social media outlets will tag locations of pictures or status updates, allowing people to track your whereabouts in real time.
If a conversation or status update can reveal compromising information, it is probably better to say nothing or go to a secure area.
“It’s the habit of talking shop, so to speak, outside of permitted areas – such as in the dining facility, outside the office, or the shoppette or online – that people may not even think about,” said Capt. Michael Peverada, intelligence officer in charge of 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 4th BCT.
America’s enemies have become experts at piecing together individual bits of information from different sources and using them to create a more complete picture for themselves. Even if someone thinks something they know is insignificant or it’s already public knowledge, it is still important to safeguard information an enemy can use against you.
Returning home from a deployment is always an exciting time and hot topic in the military. Redeployments are a military operation, and care must be taken to safeguard the details of these missions or Soldiers will be in unnecessary danger.
“Something like that wouldn’t just put me at risk as I’m trying to convoy out; it puts the new guys in danger too,” Martinez said. “It’s a domino effect, and people need to realize that.”
On the flipside, the Army believes practicing good OPSEC can have benefits beyond just protecting American operations.
“In terms of us interacting with a foreign force, us practicing (OPSEC) ourselves and them observing that, I think is crucial in terms of them conducting operations that are not revealed to the enemy,” Peverada said.