Field Problem – OPSEC

Are my e-mails and/or letters to my husband being read? Seriously, I’m not trying to sound paranoid, but someone from his ship told me they were. I’d just like to know, if this is common practice, why.
Shannon; Naval Base Kitsap (WA);
Active Navy spouse; 20 months

Dear Shannon:

Two words come to mind. No doubt many have heard them: OP SEC (really Operational Security or OPSEC).

Operational Security might be the reason behind why e-mails or letters to your husband are read, if they even are. The logistics behind reading every communication to and from port or ship is quite daunting though. Most likely there is a policy that requires “spot-checking” what is going back and forth.

If you write letters about soccer practice and broken dishwashers, you may wonder why the Navy or any military unit would even care.

Here’s why
Operational Security is the practice of safe-guarding any information that is relevant to movement, unit strength, and unit capabilities with technology, ammunition, or skill sets. Especially at the outset of this war, a renewed campaign to educate service members and their families about what information to safeguard and how to do it was in full force. It is not that the practice of OPSEC is new, but the means by which we communicate is growing from snail-mail and secure phones to online family scrapbooks, to email, to VoIP. This puts a lot of information at risk of being viewed or gleaned by technologically smart foreign entities who may wish to harm the U.S.’s interests, service members, and/or her citizens.

Your email and letters may be mundane, but spot-checking everyone’s to determine possible vulnerabilities with regards to security measures and culpable content is just a commander exercising good sense. Additionally, a good commander knows also that there are a few other arenas which deserve a closer look, including online social networks, web logs, and message boards or discussion forums.

A letter is usually straight-forward and personal. “Here is what we did today. We thought of you often,” Love, the Family. There’s no need to exchange questions about how many sailors are “on board” or which equipment is “down” for maintenance. In general, you are writing for private matters and the information being shared is not detrimental to the safety of the mission or crew.

Online discussions are another matter. Oftentimes individuals get involved in documenting a particular experience or debating policy. There is little to be done about who reads what and who spouts what, so these avenues tend toward making the military more vulnerable if not monitored well. Because of this, OPSEC procedures and policy are constantly being reviewed and improved. Many liken the oversight to censorship, but we feel it is more about keeping service members and military interests safe.

Here’s what
In fact, the most useful part of good OPSEC training is helping everyone (including family members)
“get past” the idea that monitoring in some cases is oppression or censorship.

For example, the military does not tell you that you can’t express an opinion or document a homecoming; it just asks that you be careful how and how much. Too much or too specific info like your soldier’s remote location, your specific unit designation, or any mission details could be just what someone is waiting to hear in order to do sabotage or something much nastier.

Even a small part of information published in a vulnerable source (i.e. a blog) can be harmful.

We must keep in mind that the enemy casts a wide net. A small part of information from one family, another from a soldier, and still another from main stream media can comprise an accurate picture of future operations enough for planning a fatal attack.

Here’s how
Request a family class on Operational Security from a military subject matter expert. Good training
will help you understand why OPSEC is important, how the family plays a role, and what to do if you observe suspicious activity.

Search each of your favorite military-related, online networks for their OPSEC guidelines. If they don’t have some, request that they post some. If they are unclear, ask for clarification.

Report all OPSEC violations. It’s better to err on the side of caution than pave the way for the unspeakable.

Don’t ask questions of your spouse that may lead them to be conflicted between choosing safety and securing your sanity. There are truly things that families do not have a “need to know.”

Develop a family policy which addresses what can be shared with friends, neighbors and co-workers and how and what will be communicated between home and the deployed location.

Confirm all gossip with a military or designated official. Use an official chain to distribute approved, sanitized messages.

Good question Shannon! We know the idea of being “reviewed” is an uncomfortable one, but most likely it doesn’t happen often. And, if you practice the guidelines above, there should be nothing to worry about.

About Field Problems™

Field Problems™ is a self-syndicated column brought to you by Army Wife Network, LLC. Having made its debut in June 2006, Field Problems™ is a question and answer column geared toward empowering Army, National Guard, and Reserve spouses and families by providing real answers to common issues. AWN's desire to help military families by catering to individual needs, offering advice, and providing real-life, researched solutions to the issues many families face in today’s military (aka “Field Problems“), is a genuine effort to change the lives of our warriors! Have other questions? To submit your Field Problem™, e-mail Please include your first name, location, branch of service, and years in/associated with the military. Questions may be edited for length and clarity. Field Problems™ reserves the right to read on the air and/or publish on its Web site or in any other form the emails and letters that we receive. By sending us a letter or email, you agree to these terms. Solving the problems of Army families where it matters the field.

3 Responses to “Field Problem – OPSEC”

  1. Jay November 4, 2009 2:52 pm

    Its Operations Security not Operational Security

  2. Starlett Henderson November 5, 2009 6:15 am

    Thanks for reading the article Jay. Seems Operations/Operational are both used.
    Bottom Line: No-nos bring foes to our Joes!


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