My neighbor next door has been hosting Friday night bonfires since the weather improved. My street is filled with a good mix of professionals from government, finance, lobbyists, business owners, senior military & federal law enforcement. When the drinks start flowing, “our weather has been nice” conversations change into heated political debates. You can put two and two together about the differing opinions on foreign policy.

Personally, it’s the highlight of my week. I love to hear the voices grow louder as the business owner tells the lobbyist how wrong is his point of view! The military guys and most of the government folks, (myself included,) tend to stay silent. I chime in when the tensions die down and the conversation turns back to friendly banter.

This past Friday I was completely caught off guard at the bonfire. In the midst of the typical friendly fire, one neighbor turned to me and said, “NJ, don’t you do something with this line of work?” Cue the awkward laugh.

Finding the line between Classified and Unclassified

We spend a good amount of our days in the “back hall” getting information on current topics that don’t see the light of day. Couple that with what we hear on the news and read in blogs…it can sometimes start to blur what is unclassified versus classified (especially as time goes on). I have found the best practice for myself is just to not give my opinion or at the very least play dumb and share that my job doesn’t have me “dialed in” to whatever topic is being discussed. Others have different methods on how to keep things kosher in their minds, but for me, it’s best to just sit, stay, roll over & play dead. Sometimes I wish I could just tell people that they have no clue what they’re talking about and should try getting information elsewhere besides a social media post from great Aunt Helen. But because I value my career, I lock it up.

5 Tips for Navigating Social Circles with an OPSEC Mindset

From the moment we start our cleared careers, OPSEC gets drilled into us, and those rules are worth remembering. Next time you’re out socializing and the drinks begin to flow, here’s five tips to guide you.

  1. The first rule of thumb is do no harm. Loose lips still sink ships.
  2. Don’t tempt fate. When in doubt, just don’t share. You don’t have to prove that you know more – you have to keep information secure and our nation safe. And you also never know who is listening or interested in what you have to say.
  3. Classification is a necessary evil, we need to keep the footprint as small as possible. If it’s classified, you have to follow that – even if it seems like overkill.
  4. Most people are not wired for a security mind set, it’s stressful and often times exhausting. Cut yourself some slack and know that it’s challenging to walk the line between having close friends and holding information from work close.
  5. Classification is something you signed up for. If you are uncomfortable with it, maybe you are in the wrong line of business. But the reality is, you made a choice to follow the OPSEC rules already. Don’t relax just because you don’t feel like following it.

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NJ has over 10 years inside the DoD working for various organizations and cleared defense contractors. With an ear to the ground on all things OPSEC, cyber, machine learning & mental health, she is an untapped keg of open source information.