Does your trash talk? OPSEC extends to the wastebasket

Does your trash talk? OPSEC extends to the wastebasket

By Dave Smith

21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.  —  If your trash can could speak, what would it tell you? More importantly, what would it tell someone who meant harm?

It could tell them a lot, according to Staff Sgt. Michael Craddock, 21st Space Wing operational security coordinator. For instance, he said things like deployment or temporary duty rosters, recall rosters, organizational charts and printed email can benefit an adversary.

“Anything with a name or identifying information on it can be used by somebody,” he said. “Something as simple as a receipt can be used by identity thieves.”

It may not be an individual piece of information that is revealing by itself, but when that piece is added to others that have been collected it can be compiled into data that can be dangerous in the hands of adversaries, Craddock said. A recall roster collected at one point could be compared with purchase accounts and dependent lists to piece together troop movements or locations, for example.

“When they put things together it can get people hurt,” said Craddock. “Especially with the enemy we have now. They aren’t looking for a tactical advantage; they are looking to cause harm.”

If it doesn’t seem likely someone will go through the garbage of a non-descript office on Peterson Air Force Base, think again. A recent Interagency OPSEC Support Staff newsletter mentioned that trash from the U.S. is being shipped to foreign nations. That material can be sorted through and examined to mine data that could be used against American citizens.

There are some practices that can help prevent information falling into adversarial hands, Craddock said. A few simple, precautionary steps can go a long way in applying good operations security practices where trash is concerned. The biggest one is following established procedure.

“The number one thing people can do is adhere to the 100 percent shred policy,” at Peterson AFB, he said. “All offices on base should have one. If it is paper and it has any information on it, it should go through the shredder.”

Craddock advises against collecting stacks of paperwork prior to shredding, but rather recommends shredding it right away. Piles of paper requiring lengthy sessions at the shredder are more likely to get thrown into the trash, he said.

All military, civilian and contractor personnel should be familiar with the Critical Information List. The list should be posted at all workstations, Craddock explained. The list has a dozen types of documentation that should be disposed of with great care.

“It’s information that needs to be protected, but it is not necessarily classified,” he said.

A third way to exercise OPSEC for trash is practicing situational awareness. If anyone observes a person rummaging through waste or recycling receptacles, such as a recent case reported out of Pueblo, it should be reported.

“It’s also an opportunity to see something in the trash or recycling that shouldn’t be there,” said Craddock. “You should not see (documents) in those ever.”

Before throwing items into the trash, or even the recycling bin, think about what it might say to an adversary looking to cause harm. Exercising OPSEC in regard to what ends up in the office trash basket can prevent seemingly harmless information from completing a puzzle with catastrophic results.

A shred truck will be on Peterson Air Force Base from 10-11:30 a.m. on Jan. 30 at buildings 845 and 350. No classified or secret documents are permitted. For more information, contact Craddock or Master Sgt. Darren Snider at (719) 556-1798.