OPSEC: It’s Not Just About Loose Lips

OPSEC-I’ve always been a little on the paranoid side. It started when I began working for the military back when I was almost 19. There was a lot of reconnaissance/intelligence work being done on the Naval Air Station, and I had opportunities to interact with Navy SEALS, cryptographers, intelligence specialists, naval aviators — but there was a heavy recon presence there. What they said they did and what they really did weren’t always the same.

Being in this environment for almost 6 years rubbed off on me.

Sometimes, I would get a call late at night to open up the facility where I worked. My instructions were to open the door, let people in, and then keep my mouth shut about who was coming and going. I was naturally reticent, so this was easy to do. I also learned to keep my mouth shut about an awful lot of things and this worked its way into my everyday life years later.

If this intrigues you, you may want to read an official Air Force manual outlining their basic OpSec practices.

What I learned about OpSec from these experiences is that:

  1. It’s not enough to just tell people to be quiet. What other people actually can see becomes part of the issue. If they can see it, they can talk about it.
  2. This is a biggie. It’s not so much who you tell, it’s who THEY tell. My father-in-law is a great man. He’s kind, generous, and he loves to talk. Every morning he gets together with a group of old men at the McDonald’s near his house. They talk about all kinds of things. Gossip about their families, and, naturally, pass along any interesting tidbits they’ve heard. I’ve always known that whatever he knows could easily be spread among this group of men and, in turn, they’ll almost certainly spread the word on down the line.
  3. You may confide in someone you totally trust but they may confide that information to someone else not as trustworthy or someone who is unscrupulous.
  4. Be aware of who’s around you, even if they’re just passing by. Keep an eye out for behaviors that indicate someone didn’t just coincidentally pause near you while you’re talking on the phone or pulling out a credit card.
  5. Cell phones are notorious for causing people to give out personal information, including things like PIN numbers, addresses, or travel plans as though no one can hear.
  6. I never throw away anything with personal information, even if that information is benign. I shred things like junk mail, just to mix it up with other mail and documents that I want to keep out of the wrong hands.

Bottom line, stop being so trusting. When it comes to prepping, no one needs to know specifics, including people in your survival or prepping group, if you have one. The other day, my verbose boss, Ronald, said to me, “After 3 years, I still don’t know you, do I?”

I purposely smiled slightly, to add to my mystique, but he’s right. He’s a talker. I’m a listener. OpSec is easiest for us listeners. If you can train yourself to listen at least twice as much as you talk, not only will that benefit you but you’ll gain the trust of those around you. Just my two cents.

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13 Responses to OPSEC: It’s Not Just About Loose Lips

  1. Fox says:

    Let’s take it a step further. There are times we are asked pointed questions and refusing to answer will send up a red flag. That’s when disinformation becomes necessary. A doctor or insurance agent may ask if we own firearms. “Absolutely not! Wouldn’t have one in my house. Too dangerous. I have grandchildren. Are you on drugs?!” Whatever the question and whoever is asking, if the truth runs counter to the official line or party in power, lie as convincingly as possible. Be adamant and indignant or boring as hell, go into a lengthy diatribe until the questioner changes the topic. Convince them you think they are crazy to even ask such a question. This also goes for nosy neighbors, school personnel, bureaucrats, the mail carrier, anyone who might benefit from reporting such information.

  2. Keith Davis says:

    There are so many OpSec steps that a Prepper should take that it would take a series of articles to address them properly. One of the biggies that most people really ignore is conveying personal information as a show of support to groups, organizations or ideas that the individual supports or agrees with.

    NRA (National Rifle Association) members get “logo” items when they join and maintain their membership. An NRA window sticker tells everyone who sees it that you, in all likelihood, own at least one firearm. Good information to have if someone is looking to steal a gun. It also provides law enforcement with a “clue” that you may have a firearm in your possession if you are ever stopped by the police for a traffic offense. What a GREAT tool to have when profiling a driver.

    A “My kid is an Honor Roll Member at ABC High School” bumper sticker tells ANYONE that you have at least one child, that the child is between 13-18 years old, that you live within a certain geographical area (the school district), that your home will have fewer people in residence during school hours and that a “bad guy” can use the ploy of a sick child (or parent) to distract you or someone who knows you in order to carry out whatever plans they have to rob, kidnap or otherwise really mess up your day.

    Cute signs on houses, whether true or not, also give the bad guys advantages when planning to do you harm. “This house protected by Smith and Wesson Security”, “We don’t call 911” with a picture of a handgun, and my favorite, “There’s nothing in this house worth dying for” are all signs that I’ve seen for sale and which Tells ANYONE that there is a gun in the house. While these signs may be poignant and clever they also give information to others that would better be left unsaid.

    The same thing applies to hats and T-shirts that so many proudly display when they are out-and-about. Are you giving unnecessary information to strangers via your clothing choices?

    There are many, many more examples of how people unknowingly give information to others without realizing it.

    The best rule of thumb that you should use when considering a bumper sticker, T-shirt, hat or sign on your home should be, “What, if any, information does this provide about me, my family, my home and/or what property I own. This may seem petty and inconsequential until you are robbed or have some other crime committed against you.

    Be aware and be safe.

    • Fox says:

      Good points. I’ve cancelled membership in a few such organizations for that very reason. If I want to contribute to a controversial cause, I do so with anonymous postal money orders.

  3. Paul Wellington says:

    continuing on with the school bumper sticker comment,
    this also moves into the “gray man” theorem, where you want your vehicle to remain as “low key” and inconspicuous as possible.
    “got ammo?” and “come and take it” stickers may seem innocuous to most of us, but it tells the thief or law officer you possibly have a stockpile of either weapons, ammo, or possibly both. If you have prepper stickers on your vehicle, you are telling everyone “come to my house for supplies!” after TEOTWAWKI…

  4. ken says:

    Had a young man who i barely knew at work start talking to me about all of his prep work. I had known him maybe 2 weeks. I finally said, “do you know me? ” “yes, he said.” “No, you really don’t. Let me give you a little advice. SHUT UP!! You NEVER talk about such things to someone you just met!!!” That was 4 years ago. He is much more discreet these days.

  5. Fox says:

    Preppers with children need to be extra careful with sharing specifics on supplies, particularly arms and ammo. Over the past few months I’ve had a number of local teenage boys helping around the farm and many of their conversations have revolved around their families’ preps, each bragging about how many and what calibers of guns and how much ammo for each gun they have, along with MREs or other food stores. One gave the exact location of their “hidden” BOL and what was cached there. Another named every member of their survival group and what supplies they had.
    Yes, we should teach our kids survival skills, including marksmanship, but we need to stress the importance of not sharing this info with even their closest friends. At that age kids tend to change best friends as often as they change underwear. They can go from best pal to worst enemy with one comment, so yesterday’s secrets become today’s weapons.
    How do we teach this without making them paranoid or giving them nightmares? Perhaps, it’s best to limit what info they have regarding supplies in the first place. And with some kids, it is better to give them a benign reason for learning a skill. They can’t divulge what they don’t know.

  6. Ben Leucking says:

    Good article, with much wisdom. I’ll take the principal of OpSec a step farther. There are guys that I’ve spent years working with on anti-drug smuggling operations whose names I still don’t know. We go by radio call signs and limit personal name references to only that. After all these years, I still only know where two of these guys live. Compartmentalize what you know and see, and keep your mouth shut.

  7. DAM says:

    A lot of things I never thought of, especially about the clothing and bumper stickers. I’m glad I’ve never put the stickers on our truck now. Thanks for some great info to think about.

  8. Jennifer says:

    ??why can’t we share with others about this

  9. Ed Harris says:

    Jennifer,

    Old Soviet-era proverb:

    “Two people can share a secret if one of them is dead…”

    Sharing too much information, even among people you trust, if blurted out inadvertently in the wrong surroundings, may be overheard by people having evil intent, who would target you, your family or home. Only those having a genuine “need to know,” should be aware of your preps.

  10. Red says:

    All of this. Also one thing that drives me nuts is when i see people wandering around with molle bags/backpacks. I don’t care how well it organizes your shit it’s broadcasting loud and clear.

    If i didn’t start prepping i never would have even heard about that system.

  11. i was a commercial beekeeper/pollinator with 350+ hives pollinating almonds and other crops between e. cc county and modesto ca. during my 15 years as a member of the mount diablo beekeeping club, I taught numerous members and others about the art and science of beekeeping. if you would like for me to wright about how easy it is to get started in beekeeping, I will gladly wright an article. always if possiable to find a local beekeeper or a bee club or failing that, there are many good books and youtube to help a newbee.

  12. Steve says:

    I don’t do car decals, ever.

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