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Social media: Unwanted eyes may be watching Airmen, families

Tech. Sgt. Christopher Mosley, 354th Fighter Wing Plans and Programs NCO in charge, searches for operations security and personally identifiable information violations Jan. 28, 2014, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. During Operational Readiness Exercises, units are evaluated on OPSEC to ensure critical information is properly disposed of. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zachary Perras)

Tech. Sgt. Christopher Mosley searches for operations security and personally identifiable information violations Jan. 28, 2014, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. During Operational Readiness Exercises, units are evaluated on OPSEC to ensure Airmen properly dispose critical information. Mosley is the 354th Fighter Wing Plans and Programs NCO in charge. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Zachary Perras)

EILSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (AFNS) -- Social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr can provide an instantaneous and highly entertaining feedback stream of your daily activities to friends and family. The latest videos of dogs running with fireworks in their mouths, kittens tumbling in the snow or Internet memes of celebrity humiliations populate the news feeds of people around the world.

With so much content online and so many life events to share, it is easy to forget that unwanted eyes may be watching. Without realizing it, Airmen may unknowingly jeopardize the safety of themselves, their family, their friends or fellow military members.

The Operation Security program aims to reduce the vulnerability of Air Force missions by reducing the vulnerability of critical information.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 298, which established the National Operations Security program. The opening paragraph in the document states, "Security programs and procedures already exist to protect classified matter. However, information generally available to the public as well as certain detectable activities reveals the existence of, and sometimes details about, classified or sensitive information or undertakings."

"Social networking media is a big one," said Tech. Sgt. Jason Cooper, the 354th Medical Group OPSEC program manager. "People don't realize that giving certain things out such as 'I have be out to an area of operation for the next six months' just gave the adversaries an indication of military activity.

"Then they can get the demographic information off your profile, figure out where you are and what base you're at. And now they know you're gearing up for deployment and can figure out who's deploying, when and where they're going, and who has what missions."

Another acute danger of Airmen posting to social networks involves smart phones automatically geo-tagging pictures with data that can reveal exact locations of critical assets.

"If a photo of a sensitive airframe, troop movement, building or equipment were to be published, it could give away key information on a possibly critical operation," said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Speirs, the 354th Logistics Readiness Squadron OPSEC manager. "Giving away GPS coordinates of military assets can also give potential targets for terrorists or other adversaries."

OPSEC applies to all activities that prepare, sustain or employ forces during all phases of operations.

There are five steps in the OPSEC process -- identifying critical information, analyzing threats, analyzing vulnerabilities, assessing risks and applying countermeasures.

The one step that every military member, regardless of special training, is capable of doing is identifying critical information.

"That's the foundation -- finding out that critical information that adversaries can use to undermine your objectives," Cooper said. "Without that foundation, the program won't succeed."

OPSEC incidents are not limited to on-duty work environments and military tactical operations. 

"This is not just a program for while you're on the job or mission," Cooper said. "It's also one you can take home."

Airmen need to be cautious about certain visual indicators that may advertise their absence to potential criminals.

"If you have mail piled up and three or four newspapers on your porch, somebody who wants to break in to your home could be watching for that," Cooper said.

If Airmen realize how those indicators can affect their security, they can apply the proper countermeasures to prevent incidents.

"Taking simple steps such as calling the newspaper to tell them to stop delivering for the next few weeks or having a light switch timer that gives the impression somebody is home is a very good idea," Cooper said.

The OPSEC program encompasses the entirety of military operations that can be affected by military members, civilian workers, friends or family.

"Spreading the knowledge and reasoning behind the program to all involved with the military ensures everyone understands the importance of maintaining OPSEC with day to day operations," Speirs said.

Each unit employs an OPSEC manager to whom anybody may report suspected OPSEC incidents. For more information regarding OPSEC, refer to Air Force Instruction 10-701, Operations Secruity (OPSEC) on the Air Force e-Publishing website or contact your unit OPSEC manager.

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