Letter Re: OPSEC and Pattern Analysis

Dear SurvivalBloggers:

The concept of operational security (OPSEC) is simple. You conduct yourself in a way that doesn’t give anyone the impression that you’re doing anything out of the ordinary. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It’s not.

Everything you do and say is an indication of the things that are going on in your life. Most importantly, people tend to operate in predictable patterns. It’s called a rut. When you get into one, you define who and what you are. If someone has an interest in you, all they have to do is watch and establish that pattern. If you make a change, it stands out. Think about it.

You’re suddenly happy for no apparent reason.

You call the newspaper office from your work phone and put a hold on delivery.

You call the post office and do the same with your mail.

You leave brochures around for Disney World, and you live in St. Paul.

How long would it take someone who is interested to figure out that you’re going on vacation? You haven’t said word one about your vacation to anyone in the office or workplace, but it’s pretty obvious, right?

The same applies for your preparations. I know, it’s over the top obvious when you have a pallet of MREs drop-shipped to your driveway. The neighbors will notice. They may never say anything, or ask you about it, but they will know. Too obvious? Okay, try this. You suddenly take an interest in off-road vehicles. A 1965 Bronco shows up in your driveway, and you live in suburbia. You’re not known as an outdoors type of person, but suddenly you develop an interest in guns. The neighbors see you carry gun cases into your house, or out to your vehicle when you go to the range. How much intellect does it take to put those images together?

It’s the little things that make the difference. You set up a tent in your backyard, but you never go camping. Your house grows an extra antenna or two. You’re at the company picnic and the topic of camping comes up, and you spend twenty minutes telling your co-workers the difference between a 5.56 and a .223. You explain to them the best types of water filters available, and the best places to buy them. Someone is going to pick up on that.

This is not a bad thing in itself. In the military, we operated on a presumption of ignorance in many cases. It can’t be avoided. When your tactical air wing is being deployed, it’s hard not to let the world know about it. Everyone from the day care operator to the guy who mows the grass is going to know something is going on. The important part of that was to try to make sure they didn’t know where you were going, or what you were going to do when you go there.

So what do you do? Again, it’s all about patterns. It’s important to make your preparations part of your normal life. Don’t drop-ship that pallet of MREs. Instead, carry in a box or two at random occasions. Better yet, every time you go to the grocery store, buy a couple of extra of what you normally eat anyway. Someone will notice you carrying in boxes, but nobody will give a thought to a couple of extra bags of groceries. Once a month, do your grocery shopping and pay cash. Those store discount cards are an excellent way to track what people are buying. I’m sure if someone had access, they could tell what you have for just about every meal for the last year. You did pay for it with your debit card, right? They look up the name on the store discount card, match it with the name on the debit card, and viola! they know what you’re buying, how much of it, and most importantly, if you change your buying habits.

Is this paranoia? Probably, just a bit. Is it warranted? Probably, just a bit. One of the largest employers for the last several years has been the Department of Homeland Security. To put that into context for you, the Soviet Union called their internal security apparatus the Committee for State Security. We knew them as the KGB. (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti.) Did the pucker factor just go up a notch or two for you? I hope so. I have no delusions that there are people sitting around, discussing me in the context of a threat to national security. I’m just not worth their time. They have bigger fish to fry, and all that. Does that mean I’m not aware of the possibility that someone is taking a look now and then? No.

Does that mean that I’m not being careful about the image I’m putting out there? Nope. Most importantly, I’m constantly aware of my usual patterns. What I do and when I do it. I make a habit of letting people know that I like to camp, and that I go to the range a lot to shoot, just for fun. I don’t buy a lot of ammo at one time. When a sale hits on ammo or something else, I pay cash. The guy at the Army surplus store knows me. I go in and just talk on occasion, looking around without buying anything. When I do buy, I pay cash, and I never buy a lot of anything at one time. I park on the street, because I don’t have a garage, and wait until after dark to bring in the big packages. The neighbors don’t know me very well, and that’s the way it’s going to stay. I put out the image that I’m a fairly harmless guy, maybe a little redneck, but basically nobody anyone would be interested in. I don’t hassle cops, and generally try to be a good citizen.

Most importantly, I try to maintain a pattern of normalcy that doesn’t draw any attention to myself. If I have to hunker down, I can do that. If I need to throw it in the truck, (which I bought because, you know, I live in a little valley, and that last snow storm had me stuck for a week with that little car) and G.O.O.D., I can do that too. I don’t let the gas gauge get below half, because you know, the truck runs just as well on the top half of the tank as it does the bottom half. I keep an eye on most of the political situation, and even a closer eye on the economic situation, and try to be ready. That’s all we can do right now, but it’s important that we do it in such a way that WTSHTF, I don’t have sixteen neighbors showing up on the doorstep. – C.T.

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