I never fully understood all the secrecy surrounding ship’s port calls. At least in the endgame, it’s certainly not classified information. If it was, family members would have no idea when or where, and we all know that’s not the case. At some point, staff officers at numbered fleets are talking with husbanding agents on the phone. One can only presume they are not having that discussion on a secure line. There are tugboats, harbor pilots, and line handlers. They must be told what day to come to work and why. Let it suffice to say that no aircraft carrier has ever arrived in a foreign port of call unannounced. By my best estimate, I’ve made some 50 port calls over the years during cruise and workups. Yes, workups. Don’t ask. There was never a single moment when someone acted surprised to see us there. I once visited the lovely island-nation of Malta. By the time we were pier-side, the citizenry of the entire country was already queued up awaiting a tour of the ship. They somehow got the word.
As it was explained to me, and as I was reminded during annual computer-based training, Operational Security (OPSEC) is the process by which we protect unclassified information that can be used against us by our adversaries. You diligently make efforts to safeguard information, even if it’s not classified, because when combined with other pieces of seemingly harmless information, certain conclusions become discernible. Flight schedules are an easy example. They are not classified, yet we don’t post them to the internet. Instead, we e-mail them to those who need to see them, or we password protect a sharing portal. We take these steps with a single thought in mind. Don’t make it easy on the enemy. Remember that.
This is the Navy’s response to the recent release of the ISIS “hit list”. For those who don’t want the re-direct, here is the text.
RMKS/1. As you are all aware, this week 36 of our shipmates’ names and addresses were posted on a website claiming to be friendly to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) cause. While Department of Defense (DoD) and Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) have not found evidence of operational planning or an imminent threat, there is little doubt that this gesture has caused concern and anxiety specifically for those on the list, their families and shipmates and more generally to the force. To inform conversations with Sailors and their families, I want to address some of the most common concerns we’re hearing across the Fleet.
2. This incident is a reminder of the importance we individually have to place on our personal safety and operations security. The guidance shared with Sailors in their sustained and cyclic training remainsvalid…stay aware, stay vigilant and be prudent about the information you share. Standing guidance for our web pages and command social media accounts remain valid as well–there is not a need to make a change. Ongoing intelligence and law enforcement assessments continue to reinforce that sharing information smartly and with due caution remains safe—this includes dealings with vetted U.S. and international media. If anything changes or new intelligence becomes available, we will pass that information via the appropriate channels.
3. We serve in the most dynamic and powerful Navy on earth, made possible by our Sailors’ efforts and the support of their families. Taking the time to discuss this issue, to place it in the appropriate context, will help ease anxiety and focus responsive effort on productive, appropriate and necessary measures. This approach serves our Sailors and their families best.
Perhaps some of you have trouble reading between the lines. If you count yourself among them, allow me to translate. “You all need to review and heed our guidance in order to adopt best practices. We’re good though. Business as usual. Best of luck. We’ll be in touch.”
I have spoken with people directly affected by the “hit list”. Like in the message above, I assured them that someone would have called if there was any corroborating evidence of planned action. I’m quite confident the ISIS Hacking Division (the dudes at Anonymous are rolling their eyes) got a pre-paid $50 debit card and an account at whitepages.com. Or Spokeo. It doesn’t matter. Terrorists use fear as a weapon. That’s why they are called terrorists. You can tell a service member there is no cause for alarm all day. Try that same approach with a wife who has been alone with the kids for months and already hears random noises that keep her up through the night. She deserves better than to be told, “All is well. No changes are necessary at this time.”
I don’t know the young lady in the photo that was in Wednesday’s post. In spite of the fact that I am proud of her and what she is doing, I don’t even remember her name, which is why I never needed to read it in the first place. If you want to post a picture of her, with name attached, hoisting a Pilot of the Year trophy while on shore duty, have at it. Doing the same while she’s preflighting a jet before flying into combat? C’mon, man. We’re better than that.
I understand the need to tell our story. I also understand the need to find balance. Everyone can devise better guidelines and business practices to that end. Everyone includes not just the individual, but the institution as well. Above all else, don’t make it easy on the enemy. Surely we can we all agree to that.