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The Shah of Iran and A Family View of OPSEC

Sometimes OPSEC is just an acronym many folks do not know the definition of or if they do know it means Operations Security they are not sure how it affects them. In fact, military families may not understand that it may directly affect the safety of their loved ones and the members of the unit they belong to.

I usually illustrate the point by telling the story from when I took part in a special mission involving the movement of "high value" passengers. There had been a revolution in Iran and the Shah and his family had left the country. We watched from our overseas location having no idea that it would impact our location or unit but it became very real and close and personal. When the Panamanian president, Omar Torrijos offered the Shah and his family a place to reside in during this very tumultuous time; he accepted. The embassy in Tehran had come under siege and the US was trying to ease the tensions and the Panamanian offer was quickly accepted (the Shah was in the US at that point). As a point of security the Shah's family was going to the Presidential compound on the island of Contadora and the plane from the US could not land there due its short runway.

Now at this point the new government of Iran had offered a million dollars to anyone who killed the Shah! We were seeing that on the news. Then came the call to our unit to get our helos ready to finish the trip from Howard AB to Contadora. We put some special measures in place to protect the crews of the helicopters that were moving the Shah and his family and its luggage, pets, etc. We brought in bomb dogs, expanded security on the ramp, etc. Normal things for a high visibility visitor.

A quick bit of geography to make clear the implications of the OPSEC violation that occurred later. Howard AB was on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal where ships waited their turn to enter the canal--sometimes there were 100 in the waiting area and most were "foreign flags". We had to fly over that area to get to Contadora with the President's guests. Also, there frequently was an Soviet spy ship in the area monitoring our communications including our phones. So there was motive and the means to take a free shot at a million dollars!

About an hour before our takeoff a military member who should have known better told their spouse on an open phone line that the Shah was arriving and would be moved by our helicopters! The spouse decided to let a friend know about it too! I think the word quickly spread as others watching their TVs thought this bit of information just needed to be shared.

But the implications were pretty clear! Imagine the crews surprise to learn upon returning after a very long day to find out that the whole base knew about the flights and what an extra risk it had provided to them. I remember being very surprised and a bit chagrined about it. I know my family when it was explained always understood the implications and always appreciated the value of good OPSEC!

Protect your loved ones by thinking before emailing, picking up the phone or talking to the neighbors!

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