May 11, 2007

Security Violator of the Year Award

Hatched by Sachi

We have recently read about new military policies promulgated by the Pentagon relating to milblogs; due to security concerns, they now want all milbloggers to receive counseling about operational security (OPSEC) and how to protect it. This got me wondering... just exactly how often do milbloggers unknowingly leak sensitive information?

The answer, according to retired Navy Intelligence Specialist DJ Elliott at the Fourth Rail is -- not often. Elliott has been keeping track of principal OPSEC violators; Elliott is publishing a series of Order of Battle (OOB) reports on Bill Roggio's site.

The type of secret information released to the public often seems harmless at the first glance. Look at the caption published by attached to a photograph published by the Multi National Force Division North:

U.S. Army Soldiers move to the UH-60 Black Hawk after searching the area for items of interest during an aerial response force mission, Iraq, March 31. Soldiers are assigned to the 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway.

What's wrong with this picture? It tells you which unit is operating down to the platoon level, their mission, and the exact date. Our enemies find these pieces of information very useful. I know for a fact that even during training exercises conducted inside the United States, this type of information is closely guarded. Why is it so casully released from the war zone? According to Elliott, this is typical:

Multinational Division-Central: Before they even stood up I knew which Brigades were officially in their command and what area they were getting. Since then the Commanding General has told the press that 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, and 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade are also joining them, I have their full OOB and the units are not even all there yet. The elements of 6th Iraqi Army Division in their area get ID'd all the time, however the security on unit IDs of 8th Iraqi Army Division is maintained.

In Elliott's post, he lists some of the worst offenders, ranking them from 10 to 1 (where 10 is the worst). So we're all waiting with bated breath; who is the most egregious offender? The answer may not surprise you, depending on your knowledge of the military:

The worst OPSEC violator in the senior staffs is the Pentagon. I get more advance notice from a Pentagon Press Brief of US movements from Kuwait into Iraq than I get from all other sources combined. The Pentagon acts as if it is not at war, and the leaks emanating from Arlington are enormous.

The Pentagon? Not the milbloggers? Say it ain't so, DJ!

In fact, Pentagon staffers are so bad, Elliott doesn't even bother including them in the list. So here are the lesser sources; all comments, unless [bracketed] off, are Elliott quotations:

  • 10. Multinational Division-North: Shoot your Air Force photographers as enemy spies.

    [Elliott retracted this statement after an e-mail exchange with an Air Force master sergeant combat photographer who, quite understandably, took extreme exception. But the basic point is important enough that we included the retracted comment -- which in fact remains in the blogpost.]

  • 9. Multinational Division-Central
  • 8. Multinational Division-Baghdad: The OPSEC was poor in the past, but it has improved over last three months.

Ranking in the middle are the Marines in Anbar and the training teams. They are good at not revealing specific IDs of Iraqi Security Forces, but they tend to get careless about themselves. Sometimes their commanders "expound a bit too much," as Elliott puts it.

The Brits and the Poles are much better, but even they slip up now and again:

  • 7. Multinational Force-West: The Marines in Anbar.
  • 6. Training Teams.
  • 5. Multinational Division-South East: The Brits have years of experience in talking around a subject and it shows.
  • 4. Multinational Division-Central South: The Polish lead force occasionally provides unit IDs and locations but, normally well after the fact of the operation...

Now the best three. Surprisingly, milbloggers come in third best:

  • 3. Military Bloggers: Despite the worries by the hierarchy, I have seen only five valid OPSEC violations in two years from Military Bloggers concerning ISF/Coalition forces (only 1 in the last year). MilBloggers tend to lose unit IDs and details in their writings in a way that PAOs [Public Affairs Officers] should study and learn from.
  • 2. Special Operations Forces: We have SOF? All joking aside their security is good and the Iraqi Security Forces is following their lead, except they do acknowledge that I SOF conducts operations now.
  • 1. Multinational Division-North East/Zaytun Division (Republic of Korea Army): The best in-theater OPSEC. Period. The only thing I see from their AOR [area of responsibilty] is what new project or jobs training is ongoing. Unit identification of coalition/Iraqi Security Forces below Division does not get released by the Koreans. I get my data on Iraqi Security Forces in that area from US PAO releases and briefs.

If you think about it, it is hardly surprising that boots on the ground (and their families) are very close-mouthed about the units' activities: They are the soldiers most directly affected by violations of OPSEC. The worst offenders are the commanders and senior staffers far from the battlefield, men and women who do not have to face bullets and IEDs themselves. They have a bad tendency to brag about their "achievements."

The good news is that, since the Fourth Rail started publishing these OOB reports, violations of OPSEC have plummeted:

Also since we started publishing these OOBs, the reported unit IDs have dropped by more than half. Some of the previous OPSEC violators have either rethought what they were doing or been "counseled". Good. The harder it is for the OOB to be updated the better I feel.

I congraturate Mr. Elliott and for his fine job and the Fourth Rail for giving him a forum. I hope the military will take this warning to heart and keep up the good work. Remember, "Loose Lips Sink Ships!"

Hatched by Sachi on this day, May 11, 2007, at the time of 6:41 PM

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Speaking of loose lips sinking ships... In recent months, several disturbing security breaches occured involving the United States Navy and the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (MSDF -- the Japanese "navy"); these cases appear to be deliberate acts... [Read More]

Tracked on May 14, 2007 4:39 PM


The following hissed in response by: Sachi

Why don't I get comments?

The above hissed in response by: Sachi [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 12, 2007 3:39 PM

The following hissed in response by: charlotte

A really good post, Sachi. Some of us have been out of town and touch or have forgotten how to type.

The milblogs are easily tomorrow's history, but our troops' chronicling makes for amazing reading that cuts through the current fog of war (reporting) for contemporaries-- hate to see it stifled beyond operational concerns. Our GIs deserve to be heard, other than through the dyspeptic NYT and stiff Pentagon spokesmen. Their narratives are more riveting and informative for being real, muddy/sandy boot accounts and observations available to us direct, since not deformed or stifled by the "experts", right and left.

May our service members be careful in their offering of specifics and be allowed to continue sharing their thoughts and experiences on the multiple fronts of War, Security and 21 C. Transformation efforts.

The above hissed in response by: charlotte [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 12, 2007 5:05 PM

The following hissed in response by: AMR

Off subject but see Supposedly the statement that, “With tacit American approval, plainclothes militiamen loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr set up impromptu checkpoints and patrol alleys near the mosque day and night,” was not correctly put on the wires by the AP reporter. No “tacit American approval” is involved. Too late now though; this truth is set in minds around the world. I swallowed the idea hook, line and sinker too.

The above hissed in response by: AMR [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 12, 2007 6:54 PM

The following hissed in response by: nk

"Why don't I get comments?"

Because you wrote an excellent, informative, coherent post. You and Dafydd do that all the time. What's there to say besides "Thank you, I didn't know that. Well done!"

[Gratuitous snark alert.] Now if you had just posted a photo of a spider crawling over a dead chicken you would have gotten a ton of comments and a link from Instapundit.

The above hissed in response by: nk [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 12, 2007 9:13 PM

The following hissed in response by: Trickish knave

The OPSEC police need to check message boards like The Knot. Those military spouses are the worst at violating OPSEC.

"My DH, who is still on the USS Shitty OPTEMPO, gets to pull into Yokosuka next month. I think I will fly out on the 15th and get there a few days ahead of him. Blah, blah, blah...."

The above hissed in response by: Trickish knave [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 14, 2007 12:53 PM

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