“Operations security (OPSEC) is a process that identifies critical information to determine if friendly actions can be observed by enemy intelligence, determines if information obtained by adversaries could be interpreted to be useful to them, and then executes selected measures that eliminate or reduce adversary exploitation of friendly critical information.” ~Wikipedia
OPSEC is understanding what information you should not tell strangers in order to protect yourself. Obviously, you don’t tell the drug addict on the street your banking information. Not obviously, you shouldn’t report to Facebook that you are about to spend two weeks in France, leaving your home empty.
While the concept of Operations Security is often used in the military to protect secrets that are critical to success of the mission, the concept can also apply to your safety.
Operations Security Mistake: An example of what I did wrong
My best friend lives in a different city that I do, half way across the country. We planned a fun girls weekend trip down to New Orleans, so we would be flying separately and meeting at the hostel. I landed on time and took a taxi to the hostel.
Along the way I learned that my friend’s flight had been canceled and she was rebooked on a new flight 4 hours later. I would have approximately 6 hours to kill, by myself in New Orleans.
I checked into my hostel early and the hostess explained my room was not yet available. She confirmed with me that we had booked a room for three girls and I casually mentioned that the other two were on their way but won’t arrive until later. There were other strangers in the hostel main sitting area.
I went out to lunch at the café down the street and returned to wait with the other travelers before my room was ready. The others were mostly young international folks, in town for a music festival. I enjoyed their conversations as they had cool travel stories from across the world. Most were staying in the cheap bunk bed section of the youth hostel.
When my room was ready, the hostess got the key and began to walk me out back toward the private room we had booked. I said goodbye to the folks in the lobby, and they said if I was bored I could come back and chat more.
While leaving the lobby, one of the guys said he wanted to see the back section of the hostel so he tagged along. While a red flag went off in the back of my head, he was friends with the hostess and I didn’t know how to get rid of him.
We walked though a second bunk house and the hostess unlocked the private room. The random guy peaked his head in, pronounced it a good-looking room and moved away. The hostess gave me the key and we parted ways.
I quickly locked the door, but noticed it was a flimsy inner (probably hollow) wood door. The lock also was a standard key with no deadbolt or chain.
At that moment, I realized the situation I had put myself in. I was a 24-year-old, 130 lb female in a hostel by myself, of which many people knew I was alone until my friend arrived in a few hours. My housing situation was not very secure, and that random guy had already gotten a look at the room.
I was starting to be nervous as I had just finished reading a kidnapping book. I wanted to take a shower after traveling on a plane, so I took off my clothes and ran the shower.
I did lock the shower door but while I was in the bathroom I very distinctly heard the floor boards creaking in the room. I was completely naked, holding a towel trapped in the bathroom by myself in New Orleans. Talk about being completely vulnerable!
When I got up the courage to open the bathroom door, the room was empty and I was able to put clothes on with a racing heart. (The floor boards actually were creaking because the house next door was using jackhammers to remove concrete, shaking the whole hostel.)
Nothing actually happened, but this was a great lesson in operational security. If it was just that one random guy attacking me, I knew I could take him. But if there was more than one attacker I would be overwhelmed by force. Lucky for me this didn’t happen.
OPSEC: What I Did Wrong:
- Told a room of strangers I was traveling alone.
- Allowed a random stranger to follow me and see the inside of my hotel room.
- Did not bring clothes in the bathroom with me.
- Did not have a weapon available.
- Did not reinforce the door with a desk or chair when I was concerned about it’s security.
“Loose lips sink ships.” ~War Advertising Counsel (WWII)
Have you ever made a mistake we all could learn from? Share your story in the comments section below.