By Scott Prater
The U.S. Air Force takes its communications security seriously. A failure to adequately encrypt and secure communications can allow unauthorized interceptors to access its most vital information and compromise entire missions and operations.
As a space operations base, the 50th Space Wing is responsible for maintaining massive amounts of COMSEC material designed to protect its assets and classified communication networks. So it makes sense that the Air Force would inspect the wing for COMSEC compliance on a regular basis.
One such inspection occurred in April. Teams from the Air Force Network Integration Center combed through thousands of inspectable points during a two-week period, viewing everything from specific documents to entire programs.
The results proved astonishing. Inspectors inventoried more than 7,900 accountable items, discovered zero incidents, zero critical findings and zero non-critical findings.
What made this inspection so satisfying to wing leadership was the fact that the AFNIC team treated it as an Information Assurance Assessment Program inspection, the highest level assessment it conducts, according to James Wacaster, 50th Space Communications Squadron, base support element chief. During the debriefing, the inspectors said this was the best assessment they had conducted since they began inspecting installations more than two years ago.
“The threshold for failure is incredibly small,” said Hank Brinlee, 50 SCS Information Assurance/COMSEC manager. “Potentially, one user could fail the entire wing in a matter of two minutes. For example, if a COMSEC user fails to perform an inventory on COMSEC material or document a few things here or there, that’s a critical finding — and a unit like the 2nd Space Operations Squadron has something like 300 users.”
Brinlee said the AFNIC team did discover some minor findings and that the 50 SCS IA/COMSEC account team worked tirelessly to remedy those before inspectors departed, but that the overall results rose well beyond expectations.
Though the COMSEC account team members are the professionals who train units and users on proper COMSEC practices, Brinlee gave credit for the “huge inspection win” to squadron and unit commanders.
“The squadron commanders were all over this,” he said. “Our COMSEC account team members can’t be everywhere to make sure material containers are inventoried correctly and proper documentation is followed every time. All we can do is train users and COMSEC-responsible officers. From there, the commanders are responsible for maintaining their programs.”
Still, the six member IA/COMSEC account team spent more than four months preparing the wing for inspection — training, informing and scrutinizing at the unit level.
The team doesn’t have much time to exhale and celebrate as the wing’s Compliance Unit Inspection occurs later this year.
“I’m proud of the dedication, commitment and results of this COMSEC inspection, which was truly a wing-wide, team effort,” said Lt. Col. Fred Taylor, 50 SCS commander. “The wing IA team prepared and implemented a campaign, but we would not have had such great success without the support of wing and unit leadership focusing their attention on these important security programs. Additionally, I’m grateful to COMSEC responsible officers in the trenches for their diligence and attention to detail on their specific programs.”