OPSEC a family responsibility

  • Published
  • By Special Agent Patrick Brom
  • Air Force Office of Special Investigations Det. 221 commander
"Hi, I'm Jane Doe, 23. I'm 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 more than a year. We came from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D. 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 from 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 example above gives a lot of information that can be used to harm that Airman or his family. 


-- The active-duty member is deployed and I'm home alone with a baby. Translation: Rob me, assault me and kidnap my child.

-- Here are the details of my family. Translation: I am home alone while my husband is gone.

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 Airmen 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.

Air Force Office of Special Investigations agents spend 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 his safety and the safety of the mission has 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 Airmen and their families is not to give them these pieces. Missions fail and lives are endangered when OPSEC is compromised.

Times that 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 are to:

-- Know your groups, forums and owners of the groups.

-- Post no information on a spouse's location, dates leaving or returning from a deployment -- this is need-to-know information.

-- Don't post personal information such as addresses, phone numbers, specifics about children and family members on public forums.

-- Use groups or forums that have moderators. These middlemen can usually aid in flushing out potential OPSEC breaches or personal information before messages get posted.

An OSI agent'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 also 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 is power. Airmen and their families need to protect themselves and avoid assisting those who would harm them.

If you are concerned with information that you have posted on the Internet, please call any agent at your local OSI detachment.