Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
Isaiah 39:5-7

God’s word to Hezekiah, king of Judah, through the prophet Isaiah immediately followed a dramatic sequence of events that twice should have led to Hezekiah’s death, but ends with his miraculous healing and a visit by Babylonian envoys bearing gifts and congratulations. Hezekiah welcomed these envoys gladly and, for some reason, decided to show them “his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.” Isaiah was not aware of the envoys or their grand tour, and upon discovering their presence began questioning the king about them and what they had seen. The king’s confession prompted Isaiah’s prophecy above, and so it was that some 100 years later the first wave of Babylonian invaders began to deport Jews from their Judean homeland into what became known as the Babylonian captivity.

My theological beliefs hold that God is sovereign in all things, and He used Hezekiah’s actions and the subsequent Babylonian invasion to ultimately point the Jewish people back to Him. I also believe Paul in his second letter to Timothy when he said “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16). It follows then that the Bible is replete with great examples of how we should live our lives daily, not just in a spiritual sense, but in a very practical sense. God used Hezekiah’s mistake as part of His ultimate plan of redemption, but that does not take away from the fact that Hezekiah made a very grave error in judgment by laying open all the possessions and capabilities of his kingdom to foreign visitors, ultimately making and giving justification to their later invasion.

So what lessons do you and I stand to learn from Hezekiah’s actions? Any student of history, and certainly any frequent reader of SurvivalBlog, should be intimately familiar with the concept, application, and importance of Operations Security (OPSEC). However, being familiar with OPSEC and putting it into practice are two very different topics. Today we face the same danger that Hezekiah faced. Relatively speaking, things are good for many of us in this day and age. We lead busy, active lives and while we know dangers exist, our busy lives have a way of lulling us to sleep and coaxing us to take our guard down because total chaos has been averted for yet another day. Just as you should not wait for a disaster to begin making use of your preparations and training, you should not wait to begin practicing OPSEC in your daily lives.

Where do you start? Any writing on OPSEC that tries to address the entire concept in a few short pages is being overly general and probably not very useful. With that in mind, I will try to focus on one specific aspect of OPSEC: the role of critical information in maintaining essential secrecy.

Let’s begin with two definitions:
Critical information is that information that is either 1) important to you successfully
achieving your objective or mission (i.e. your route to your retreat WTSHTF) or 2) information which may be of use to an actual or potential adversary (i.e. the fact that you have a deep larder when Wal-mart’s shelves are empty and never being restocked).
Essential secrecy is actually a condition that is achieved by denying critical information to actual or potential adversaries, through the combined means of traditional security (physical boundaries, guards, etc.) and OPSEC.

As preparedness-minded people, our goal is to maintain some type of essential secrecy. Note that there is a difference between maintaining essential secrecy and being paranoid. If you treat everyone in your life as a potential adversary, then you already have little hope of surviving, much less thriving, through TEOTWAWKI. This is where the often understated importance of community comes into play. It is a subject that I feel we do not emphasize often enough, but nevertheless, it is not the topic of this article.

We achieve and maintain our essential secrecy by protecting our critical information. In DoD parlance, it would be incorrect to refer to your critical information as “secrets,” but for our practical purposes it is fundamentally the same thing as few of us have a tiered system of classifying documents. To practice OPSEC is to keep your secrets secret. One of the first and most important steps in the OPSEC process is to identify information about you and your capabilities, activities, limitations (including vulnerabilities), and intentions (CALI) that you consider to be critical in nature. What is critical, you ask? Naturally, it depends.

Immediately, the size and location of your larder, the grid coordinates to your retreat, and your bug out route may come to mind. Yes, these are very important capabilities and activities, but do not stop there. Go back to the CALI acronym above. We like to focus on positives – the fact that we have made preparations and plans. Equally as critical to the things that we have done are the things we have yet to do – our limitations and vulnerabilities.

As you begin to formulate in your mind what information you would classify as critical, it is good to set a few parameters. First, you should initially limit your list to ten items. Over time and as your OPSEC practices improve, this list can expand. Trying to prioritize pieces of information in importance can become cumbersome, which brings us to the second point, prioritization. To those in your immediate circle who are like-minded and cooperatively preparing with you, your critical information will be common knowledge. However, as new members are brought into the fold, the extent of their knowledge of your preparation should be based on your critical information list and revealed incrementally as deemed appropriate by their proven level of commitment and upon approval of the primary members of your group. Next, the critical information list should be physical in form and its content and importance known by all in your group, with the understanding that its existence highlights the importance of keeping it secret from those outside. Why keep a hard copy? To serve as a reminder of what is at stake. If you cannot protect that document, what makes you think you can protect your family during a disaster? Finally, your critical information list is a living, breathing document. As your level of preparedness changes, so too should your critical information change. You should reexamine and update your critical information list quarterly, ideally at the conclusion of a rehearsal or training event (you are rehearsing and training for WTSHTF, right?).

The ability to protect your critical information is a result of the total process of OPSEC, rather than a few simple, one-time steps that will lead you down a mythical yellow brick road to essential secrecy. The fight to protect yourself is ongoing and ever-changing. This process only begins with identifying your critical information. In order to protect that, you must analyze threats against you, analyze your own vulnerabilities, assess the inherent risks, and implement measures to counter each of these areas. Each of these steps in the process have been the subject of countless pages of analysis and policy implementation, but for all the various means of implementing OPSEC, the first step will always be to identify your critical information. Without knowing your most important secrets, what use is it to plan painstaking measures to protect them?

To conclude, let’s go back to our analogy using King Hezekiah. We see that he exercised absolutely no discernment when it came to protecting the critical information and CALI of the Kingdom of Judah from his Babylonian guests. The foolishness of his actions, however, was all too clear to Isaiah when he learned of what had transpired, and God revealed to him the prophecy of what was to come for the people of Israel in the future as a result of these acts.

Now think about your own experience in taking steps to be prepared for the unforeseen. Whether you are preparing for a complete economic meltdown, an infrastructure-crippling CME event, or next year’s hurricane season, there are certainly things that are better left unsaid, especially to those who do not bother to reign in their own tongues or some who would undoubtedly turn to barbaric behavior as a result of their own failure to prepare. Perhaps you have even made an error in judgment of another’s character and trusted them with information that you now regret. Now is the time to begin systematically structuring your OPSEC plan so that it is an inherent, organic part of your preparedness plan, rather than a simple buzzword in your prepping vocabulary that you use on occasion. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” so spend this weekend identifying your critical information and start taking steps to protect it. Do not let the wisdom of the Bible as portrayed in Hezekiah’s mistake slip by unheeded.