Mention the word OPSEC in any patriot/liberty forum and you’ll get a host of responses ranging from “there’s no point” to “if you’re not on a list, you’re not doing it right.” Some folks will tell you that they protect everything. Some claim to protect nothing. The truth is, neither of those extremes is a good idea; in fact, both can be quite dangerous.
We talk about the need for OPSEC, security, and information protection, but what does all of that mean? It’s not enough to figure it out on the fly; you need a plan. It’s also not good enough to just assume that your information doesn’t need to be protected because “no one cares what I’m doing.” You talk to, interface with, and possibly engage in activism or resistance with others, who very well might be on the radar. Your sloppiness can put them and their families in danger.
OPSEC, or operations security, isn’t just about hiding secret squirrel stuff. It’s a logical, usually sequential process that determines what needs to be protected, why, and from whom, and it outlines a plan for you to mitigate the risk of them getting a hold of it. For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume that you’ve never done an actual full analysis.
Determine Critical Information
This might seem like a no-brainer; after all, if you don’t know what you’re protecting, how can you protect it? In truth, however, this is a bit of an exercise. If everything is critical, then nothing is; it’s important that you decide what exactly IS critical, and what’s not.
Let’s take your home address. Obviously, you’re probably not going to paste your address online in a forum. Is it critical information? That depends–can you realistically protect it? If you’re already using your real name online (or if your real name is easy to link to your online handle because you’ve been sloppy elsewhere), and you own your own home, your address is not only public record, it can be found in about 10 seconds. If you rent, and the person looking for you is any good at all, maybe 5 minutes. Now, there are ways to protect from that, and we will get into that in a moment.
In some cases, identifying critical info is a layered process in which you end up deciding that what you thought was critical either isn’t at all, or it can be protected by guarding another piece of information, kind of like a gateway. In the case of your home address, it might require protecting your full name and county, or even state; since we already know that home ownership is public record, the trick here would be to protect the trail that leads to that information, as opposed to protecting the information itself.
You might also consider putting your home under an LLC; that’s also a viable option to protect your address, as long as you can set it up correctly for such an endeavor (not a topic for this article).
If you have a home-based business, especially one with an online presence, your address probably won’t be critical information because you need customers and you need to market your business in order to be successful. In that case, you might end up making your business “appointment only,” or taking some other steps–unless that would defeat the purpose of having a business at all.
As you can see, deciding what’s critical isn’t as easy as saying, “CHOOSE ALL THE THINGS!” Each choice leads to more questions, and as you follow those logical paths, you’ll end up realizing that there are some things you genuinely cannot or don’t really need to hide, and there are other things that you absolutely must hide.
What Else is Critical?
Here’s a partial list of things that may or may not be applicable to you. You’ll need to consider them in the same way we did above.
- How many firearms you own, what calibers, and whether they are registered to you or not. (Also, whether you carry or not, and what caliber/setup you have.)
If you’re an FFL, for instance, you probably have inventory, so that’s all getting checked by the feds periodically anyway. It’s probably also a given that you own guns and/or carry if you’re somehow publicly involved in the gun rights issue or you write gear reviews on firearms, optics, and ammo. In that case, it’s probably unrealistic to try and hide the fact that you have firearms or what they are. If you are regular Joe Citizen, posting pics of your guns on Facebook and bragging about how many you have/what they are/that you got them all in private sales when you live in a state where universal background checks are a thing…what have you just done? You may have given the feds an ‘in.’ It’s hard to fade into the scenery when you’ve raised your hand and yelled, “HEY I’m over here!” (Yes, there is a place for open group defiance; I’ve been there and done that. I’m talking about individual, everyday actions when you have not yet drawn attention to yourself.)
- How much food and/or supplies you have stored up.
This is a big one, and it can be difficult because if you’re trying to help other people get prepared, by default you’re admitting that you already are, at least to some extent. Telling someone that they need X amount of something is almost a tacit admission that you have it–or at least that you’re going to have it and are working toward that goal. If you’re teaching classes on prepping at your local library or extension office, however, then once again it’s a foregone conclusion that you have stuff, and chances are if you’re in that position, people already know your real name. At that point, maybe protecting your home itself, or the stash’s location becomes the critical information. If you’re just Joe Public who’s prepping, you’re probably not going to want to advertise to family and/or friends what and how much you have. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a refugee camp on your doorstep.
- What your training level and tactical capability is.
Looking around the internet, this might seem like a crazy thing to say. Everywhere you look, random people are spouting about how well they shoot, how long they’ve been training, and what their opinions are on everything from gear to tactics. Establishing your bona fides is important to establish credibility if you’re an instructor in your area, author, reviewer, etc., but if you’re just Random Guy With a Blog, what’s the point? If you’re just talking about stuff within your group or local area and not necessarily teaching it, why does everyone around you need to know how good you are at something? It’s human nature to make sure that people know our whole catalog of skills, but unless you’re actively teaching those skills and need the people immediately in front of you to understand that you know your stuff, there’s a very good argument for letting people underestimate you–especially if the skill in question is something outside of your standard wheelhouse. Again, your mileage may vary here.
- Your political beliefs.
There is a time and place for everything. If you’re planning to infiltrate your local anti-gun group, you might want to make sure your social media page isn’t a shrine to Springfield Armory, filled with photos of you in your Mil-Surplus-Clearance-Rack getup. You might need to keep your online presence separate from your local town presence. You’d be surprised what happens to your local connections and support network when people that live around you see that you’re a jackass, liar, or bully online, for instance. Word spreads, especially in small communities.
- Your children’s names, photos, or even their existence.
The internet is a fantastic world filled with literally every piece of information you could possibly ever need, or any skill you could ever want. It’s also a disgusting, dark place, filled with dangerous, evil people. The innocent photos you posted of your kids in the bathtub could easily end up on a website that caters to people who shouldn’t even be walking around breathing, let alone looking at photos of your precious children; it’s happened plenty of times, and once it’s there, it never goes away. Your kids are also leverage against you for a whole host of unsavory characters; you might decide that the family members across the country can get pics in the snail mail as opposed to a Facebook page.
- The inside of your home
For some reason, people often post pictures of their newly-decorated rooms or homes. It’s natural to want to share these things, but think about what you’re doing. Are you offering a casual observer the layout of your home? Are you pointing out the exits, and exposing the type of locks that are on your doors and windows? Are you pointing out the exact place in your home where your children sleep–and that it’s across the hall and four doors down from you? Posting a pic of your dog lying on the floor or couch is one thing, if there’s no outer context to the photo and you’ve removed EXIF data, etc. Posting a full photo tour of the house you just bought is probably not your best bet, especially if you’ve decided that your wife and kids are to be critically protected.
- Who your contacts and friends are, and what their information is.
As you go along your journey, you’ll meet people with various skills and goods/services. They have done their own information analysis, hopefully, and so they have information they want to protect as well. Depending on your level of interaction with them, you may end up being an associate or even ally of theirs. By default, you’ll end up being privy to some of their information, based upon that level of trust. It is imperative that you understand a very basic concept: If it isn’t your information, shut up about it. Period. Full stop. There is no justification for disclosing information that belongs to someone else–even their first name, even the most minor thing. If the guy who gets you IV fluid bags when they’re prescription-only items in your state is known in the community by a specific alias or handle and you happen to know his first name, that is not your information to pass along–even to your “trusted” people.
The list goes on. What you choose to add for yourself and your family might be completely different than what I would need to include. It will take a bit for you to determine your list. You can get as detailed as you like later on; for the purposes of this exercise, however, just limit it to a few basic things that become obvious to you as you go through your initial list. You can edit–and you will, over time and as you start practicing the protection. You’ll add things or remove them, and that’s okay. At this point, what’s important is that you’re doing the analysis at all.
Next week we will look at Step 2: Analyzing the Threat.