We all know how important it is to maintain operational security (OPSEC). During work-up training and while deployed, we hear it every day. With modern-day communications available almost anywhere, OPSEC has become more essential than ever. Every day from every level of command, we’re told to keep information given to family and friends to a minimum.
Now I can’t speak for everyone, but most combat arms guys don’t really want to tell their family about what’s happening on the crazy days outside the wire: the potential threats, the close calls, and near misses. We prefer to talk about the boring day with no TICs in the AO, a long uneventful patrol, how we pass the time in the platoon house, our childish shenanigans that make deployments great, the two pounds of sugar they somehow manage to squeeze into one Green Beans iced chai, the first time we realized that man-love Thursdays are a real thing over there, and how hilarious it was when you caught the local herder getting intimate with his livestock every night through your FLIR just east of OP4 (those who have been there know exactly where this took place).
When you’re deployed, OPSEC becomes very important. A simple message on Facebook or email to your wife and kids that says, “We’re flying out Monday morning,” could be easily intercepted, telling the enemy to expect a convoy move within a certain area sometime Sunday or early Monday, putting an entire rotation in or out at risk. Any information about you or your family can potentially be used against you personally, or your entire cause. This is drilled into us on day one of basic.
I remember on my Basic Soldier Qualification course, a staff member found an abundance of information on a candidate through open social media sources. To prove the importance of information security and OPSEC, the staff printed the names and images of his parents and siblings as found on Facebook, as well as his parents’ place of employment—address included—and leaked the info to the OPFOR. The OPFOR then snatched the candidate from the trench line in the early hours of the morning and zip-cuffed his fire-team partner.
Upon the candidate being shown the information and photos, the OPFOR coerced him to execute his fire-team partner and draw out the layout of the platoon defensive position, which included their section-level hides, the platoon RV, location of each trench, and support weapons trenches. The candidate remained a POW of OPFOR for the next 24 hours. While the rest of the candidates were freezing in the trenches and eating IMPs (Canadian MREs) during the Canadian winter FTX, the candidate in question was in a warm, heated tent, receiving fresh coffee and meals.
The next night, the OPFOR lit us up hard. They placed an MG just out of range of our small arms and caused a stand-to. They also placed an OPFOR soldier on the track plan between each section hide and their trench lines. As soon as the stand-to was called, the members who were racked out rushed to their feet, donned their fighting order, and ran right into the OPFOR waiting for them.
Needless to say, the platoon of candidates was completely annihilated. We lay in the snow, “dead,” and waited for further instruction. The course staff walked the captured candidate through the “dead” members of his platoon, told us all what had happened, why it had happened, and even showed the lovely map the POW had drawn out for the OPFOR. We were pissed, but it really drove home the importance of OPSEC.
Later, while deployed, my platoon received briefings on OPSEC regularly. The lessons learned on that Basic Soldier Qualification course years before always resonated with me.
While deployed, we set up burn pits and barrels to dispose of hard copy information. We also burned the envelopes and boxes from the morale boosters our friends and family sent. We did this knowing that the terrorist organizations we were combating had supporters all over the world, and potentially within our own compounds through civilian contracts. A sergeant major in our camp reiterated the importance of properly disposing of personal mail.
One morning, the sergeant major asked Corporal X if he knew a Mr. and Mrs. X of the same last name and hometown. He replied, “Yes, why?” The sergeant major told him that they were killed back home in a suspected act of targeted violence by supporters of the Taliban. The corporal was awestruck, as those were the names of his parents. The sergeant major then tossed him an envelope—one his parents had sent him with a return address—that had been recovered from a local cook’s bag, and said, “See? It’s that easy.” The lesson was not forgotten.
So why am I writing about the importance of OPSEC? Every soldier should already know of its importance. The importance of OPSEC increases exponentially when dealing with SOF. Currently, CSOR is operating in Kurdish-controlled Iraq; this is public knowledge, as CSOR is the somewhat public face of CANSOFCOM.
I did speculate that there was potential for JTF2 to operate in the region as well, but due to OPSEC and the high level of security surrounding Canada’s most elite SOF unit, it is nearly impossible to confirm their participation or the scope of their missions. JTF2 and CANSOFCOM as a whole also have the issue of dealing with Canadian politicians.
These politicians don’t get the briefings and training on OPSEC that even the most basic qualified soldier receives and understands. In the first week of May, 2015, the Canadian prime minister broke OPSEC. However unintentional it may have been, the deed was done. Two promotional videos of Stephen Harper visiting troops in Iraq and Kuwait were released by the PM’s media team.
The first video displayed the faces of CANSOFCOM operators in-country, fully kitted up, and followed them as they escorted the PM through the “front lines” of the Canadian Op IMPACT. The second video again broke OPSEC; in the background of an interview with the Canadian minister of national defense was a plethora of Canadian military equipment being used in the ongoing operation, and the faces of the operators who use this equipment.
The videos released have officially confirmed the presence of JTF2 assaulters in the region, although the scope of their presence there is still unknown. This is the reason that public officials need to give space to the SOF community. Lucky for the operators, the videos were quickly removed from open media sources and the PMs office, and the Canadian Armed Forces has released a public apology, concluding that, although OPSEC was broken, the tangible risk because of this incident is miniscule. I hope they are right.