from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2011, Issue No. 78
August 12, 2011

Secrecy News Blog:


There can be such a thing as too much security, the Navy said in a new Instruction on "Operations Security" or OPSEC.

OPSEC refers to the control of unclassified indicators that an adversary could use to derive "critical information" (CI) concerning military or intelligence programs.

"Properly applied, OPSEC contributes directly to operational effectiveness by withholding CI from an adversary, thereby forcing an adversary's decisions to be based on information friendly forces choose to release," the new Navy Instruction said. "Inadequate OPSEC planning or poor execution degrades operational effectiveness by hindering the achievement of surprise."

But even if adequately planned and executed, not all OPSEC is necessary or useful; sometimes it is actually counterproductive.

"Excessive OPSEC countermeasures... can degrade operational effectiveness by interfering with the required activities such as coordination, training and logistical support," the Instruction said. See "Operations Security," OPNAV Instruction 3432.1A, 4 August 2011:

Unfortunately, the Instruction does not and perhaps cannot provide criteria for distinguishing between proper OPSEC and excessive OPSEC. Instead, it directs commanders and program managers to "evaluate" each operation and draw the appropriate conclusions. What if the program manager is shortsighted or simply makes a mistake? What if OPSEC is justified from a security perspective, but also undermines government accountability or public confidence in government integrity? The Instruction has nothing to say about that.

Because of the subjective element in such decisions, the use of OPSEC (like the application of national security classification controls) is often arbitrary and disputed.

After 30 U.S. servicemen, including 17 Navy SEALs, were killed in Afghanistan on August 6 when their helicopter was shot down, U.S. Special Operations Command asked that the names of the SEALs not be disclosed for security reasons. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rejected that view and the names were released by the Pentagon yesterday.

But in a questionable nod to OPSEC, the name of the unit to which the SEALs were attached -- the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU) -- was not cited by the Pentagon, Bloomberg News reported. Instead, the DoD press release referred only to "an East Coast-based Naval Special Warfare unit." Yet the Navy itself has previously acknowledged and referred by name to the same SEAL unit. See "Pentagon Releases Identities of SEALs Killed, Not Unit Name" by Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg News, August 11.


While information sharing among government agencies has increased dramatically over the past decade, it still falls short in some areas.

Due to "impediments to intelligence information sharing between U.S. forces and coalition partners," information sharing with U.S. allies in Afghanistan has faltered to the detriment of the military mission, the Inspector General of the Department of Defense said in a mostly classified report last month.

Continuing impediments have "resulted in information not being tactically useful by the time it is authorized for release," the Inspector General said. See "Results in Brief: Improvements Needed in Sharing Tactical Intelligence with the International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan," excerpted from DoD Inspector General Report 11-INTEL-13, July 18, 2011:

The 2011 Annual Report on the DNI Information Sharing Environment said that "steady progress has been made" in information sharing, especially with respect to homeland security and law enforcement.

Among other things, the Report noted that the intelligence community intranet called Intelink "recently crossed the 100 million document threshold for records exposed to Intelink search services.... In one month alone this year, Intelink recorded over two million searches." Such datapoints "highlight the ability of IC personnel to acess more information quicker and more effectively, enabling them to better share information and thus perform their missions," the Report said.

Another recent report from the Government Accountability Office said the Information Sharing Environment still had not identified its desired "end state." Six years after it was created, "there is not a clear definition of what the ISE is intended to achieve and include." See "Information Sharing Environment: Better Road Map Needed to Guide Implementation and Investments," Government Accountability Office report GAO-11-455, July 2011.

It should be understood that "information sharing" is quite different from "information disclosure," and the two practices are usually at odds. In fact, the prerequisite for most so-called information sharing is an official assurance that the information to be shared will not be disclosed to unauthorized persons such as members of the general public.


The Obama Administration is putting the finishing touches on a new executive order that is intended to improve the security of classified information in government computer networks as part of the government's response to WikiLeaks.

The order is supposed to reduce the feasibility and the likelihood of the sort of unauthorized releases of classified U.S. government information that have been published by WikiLeaks in the past year.

According to an official who has reviewed recent drafts, the order addresses gaps in policy for information systems security, including characterization and detection of the insider threat to information security. It does not define new security standards, nor does it impose the security practices of intelligence agencies on other agencies. ("It doesn't say, 'go polygraph everybody'," the official said.)

Rather, the order establishes new mechanisms for "governance" and continuing development of security policies for information systems. Among other things, it builds upon the framework established -- but not fully implemented -- by the 1990 National Security Directive 42, the official said.

The order, developed on a relatively fast track over the past nine months, has already gone through two rounds of interagency coordination and is expected to be issued within a matter of weeks.


Secrecy News will resume publication the week of August 22.


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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