Is Operational Security a Real Concern?
There has been a lot going on lately that has made me think about OpSec. Some comments on other blogs and podcasts, things in the news, and people that I know.
In the past, I've done different levels of OpSec. I've had a nom de plume and a post office box to subscribe to survival-related magazines; I shopped at grocery stores on the other side of town; I've had gear delivered through the mail room at work; and I've gone through phases (pre-Y2K) where everyone at work knew what I was all about - in some ways it was my way of encouraging others to prepare themselves, in other ways it was to cultivate my image - I've outgrown that stage.
There are four main categories for which we need to consider OpSec: total strangers; loose acquaintances/distant family; close friends and family; and nearby neighbors. There are some other considerations such as government and corporate interests, but those will be a topic for another day. Let's look at each of the four main categories.
Some of the comments around the recent Doomsday Preppers show on National Geographic concerned worries that folks on the show have given out too much information about their locations and that if it hits the fan, people from all over will remember seeing the show and track them down. Similar comments have been made about folks who appear on local news or write blogs and host podcasts.
In my mind, total strangers are the least of our worries when it comes to OpSec. A whole lot of "ifs" need to happen for them to become a risk, and if all those ifs come together, other precautions you've taken should suffice. If the stranger happens to see the show, article, etc... If the stranger remembers it... If things go bad... If the stranger has a malevolent streak... If the stranger has the resources to track you down... If the stranger doesn't have easier or or more convenient targets... If the stranger can make it to your area of operations without becoming a victim himself... I think the odds of a total stranger becoming a threat because of your lack of OpSec while building preps is pretty slim.
Loose Acquaintances/Distant Family
I think this could be one of the most hazardous groups where loose OpSec could cause troubles, and not only if it hits the fan.
That ne'er do well cousin who runs with a rough crowd... he overheard you talking at the last family reunion about your silver bullion and guns... now he owes some money to his bookie or drug dealer but doesn't have it... wonder what information about you would be worth.
How about your brother-in-law and his 3rd wife, and their four obnoxious, spoiled kids... they are mortgaged to the hilt and live on maxed out credit cards to keep up the payments on matching his & hers Rolexes, SUVs, private schools, dance classes, little league teams, family ski trips, beach condo time share... He doesn't understand how his sister can stand to be married to you and live in that tiny house with all that garden to take care of and how you "make" her slave over the sewing machine like she is some sort of pioneer or something... When you give them the gift basket of home canned fruit, stews and spaghetti sauce at Christmas, they fake appreciation, then toss it in the dumpster because they know it can't be as good as what they get at Williams-Sonoma... If it hits the fan, you know they are going to show up at your doorstep with nothing constructive to offer. In their minds, you owe it to them to take them in.
You know that loudmouth at work, the guy that you are up against for a promotion? He overheard you talking to your friend in the lunch room about your new gun and taking him out to learn to shoot it last weekend... His wife saw you at Costco with three cases of toilet paper, six cases of bottled water, four 20 pound propane cans, and three cases of granola bars... He recognized your voice when you called in to the local radio home improvement show and asked about adding solar panels to your power supplies... He knows you are competition for the promotion... Next thing you know, rumors are flying about you being a paranoid wacko who is building a compound and starting a doomsday cult... Promotion interview, or being "down sized" and escorted out by security?
Close Friends and Family
These are the folks that most of us actually want to know what we are doing... not so much so that they will show up on our door steps, but so that they will take the steps to prepare themselves. I have three of four good friends who are preppers. We help each other prepare, learn from each other, and know that we can depend on each other if it hits the fan. Other old friends know what I do and believe... They may not be doing anything to prepare their families, but they know two things... If they ever want me to help them prepare or share information, they only have to ask... and if it does hit the fan, they know not to come here because then it is too late to help them. They understand the parable of the ant and the grasshopper, even if they do nothing right now to become an ant.
Close family is similar... they may not be ready to adopt the prepper lifestyle completely, but they know where to turn for information and help before things get bad. Some of them are getting closer to at least having some basic preps set up for a major disaster. I pray frequently that they will all take precautions and be ready before something major happens becuase then it would be too late for us to help them.
As demonstrated in yesterday's Twilight Zone posting, these can be the most dangerous. They see the frequent UPS trucks... they hear the target shooting in the backyard... their kids talk to your kids in school... During the last ice storm, they saw that your lights were on, your chimney was belching smoke 24/7, and your generator never stopped running for the whole week... this can lead to an angry suburbanite mob beating down your door demanding thier right to share in your preps, or furtive calls to the local authorities complaining of your "hoarding" while others suffer.
Or, they can be your best allies. If they have a garden, go hunting, can and store food, and fired up their own generator during the last storm, even if you are not close friends, you can still help each other... Have an extra set of two-way radios and mutual understandings of defense... Coordinate with the local church (even if neither of you actually attends that particular one) to set up a program to anonymously distribute some charity during a breakdown... Develop a trust to watch each other's houses and pets while away from home...
There Are No Answers
How much do your need to worry about Operational Security? There is no set answer. The best advice I can offer is that you must be aware of OpSec and the various risks and rewards of lowering it. You need to look at your environment and circumstances, and it needs to flexible to adjust as needed.
Don't let a fear of OpSec concerns keep you from discussing preparedness with others, just know who your are talking to, and don't divulge more than the conversation is worth.
I hope this convinces you to evaluate OpSec and consider if you need to increase it or if you have been too tight lipped about your preps.
I'd be really interested in feedback on this, either as a comments below or through email.
This blog entry is actually yesterday's. We got in too late last night for me to get one out, so this is it. I'll get out the regular Sunday one later on this afternoon or evening. Sorry for any confusion!