Hiding in Plain Sight – OPSEC For Defense Contractors

While on vacation this summer I had the opportunity to bump into a famous actress. Actually, I didn’t even notice her until my wife pointed her out. But, there she was walking right past us in Dollywood, USA. At first, I did not recognize her because I really was not looking for her. Also, she had not been dressed in the fashion of her TV career. A moment later I asked my wife to continue with the children while I back tracked to get a better look.

I turned back and finally caught up with the actress and her group. Since I only wanted to verify my sighting and not bother her, I continued to walk past her, took a right and pretended to be lost. I looked around as if searching for something. After taking a discreet look I was able to finally recognize her as the TV personality. I then made my way back to my family smiling and nodding to the actress as I walked by.

“I’m not sure, but I think that was her,” I later told my wife. “Good sighting”.

Later that night, after returning to our vacation cabin my wife came running up to me.

“See, I knew that was her.” My wife held open a gossip magazine with the actress and her famous boyfriend in a photo walking along a resort beach.

In the picture, the actress had worn the same pink trucker hat and brown sunglasses we had seen her in earlier that day. I couldn’t believe it, it had been a good sighting.

“So, why didn’t you talk to her?” asked my wife.

“Well, I really didn’t know what I would say. Plus, I really think she just wanted to enjoy her holiday,” I replied.

I’ve been thinking of the event on and off since returning from our vacation. This actress had made an attempt at assuming a normal life on a normal vacation taken by normal people. However, instead of really blending in she stood out enough to be recognized by my wife (who has also been able to spot other celebrities at airports during our travels).

Our actress had attempted to blend in dressing in clothing to be somewhat incognito. However, the hat and sunglasses really made her stand out. Here in the south, many like to wear baseball caps. That day, few people wore hats. Those who did wore regular baseball caps and not the mesh type of trucker hats; especially not hot pink ones. The sunglasses were oversized and clashed with the hat (and outfit) and kind of made the appearance of someone doing everything wrong in an attempt to look like everyone else.

Not that I am a sound fan of fashion, but I am looking at this in an OPSEC or security point of view. Our actress attempted to have fun at a theme park while not drawing attention to herself or her celebrity status. However, her attempt to blend in may have failed because of her unusual dress.

Cleared professionals could learn a lesson from this story. Defense contractor and Government work should be performed in such a way not to bring attention to the operation. This applies for both classified and unclassified efforts. Practicing good OPSEC includes taking a look at your operations through the eyes of someone wanting to exploit your vulnerabilities. A good question to ask is “how would an adversary recognize our effort and how will they attempt to learn more about it?” Security managers should study the surroundings, situation, and environment to ensure performance on contracts, proprietary data and otherwise privileged information remains low key. Teach employees to work in a way to not draw unwanted attention.