Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Operational Security for Special Forces Collateral Damage

By David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen

It wasn’t that long ago that the news media was prohibited from showing the faces of any Canadian military personnel taking part in the Iraq mission. Official photos from the mission were issued only after the faces of mechanics, pilots and other military personnel were blurred out. Journalists were told they were not allowed to take photos showing the faces of CF members involved in the Iraq conflict.

The reason?

The threat of retaliation from the Islamic State against a military member or their family was very real.

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office inadvertently released a video showing the faces – albeit from a distance – of Canadian special forces the Liberals rose in the House of Commons and accused the Conservatives of putting Canadian lives at risk.

Harper’s office later issued an apology and removed the video imagery which was shot while the prime minister was visiting Canadian special forces in northern Iraq.

That was then.

Now it seems there has been a significant change of heart on operational security when it comes to the Iraq mission, and in particular, when it comes to Canadian special forces deployed to a war zone.

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance recently took a tour of the front lines in northern Iraq with journalists in tow.

The media were not only allowed to photograph Canadian special forces but interview them as well (CANSOF personnel have been interviewed and photographed before by the Citizen, CBC, Global TV, CTV and other news outlets but on training missions and with various caveats attached…these latest interviews and photographs/video were taken in an active combat zone).

So what has changed?

The Islamic State is still a resourceful and significant enemy….or at least according to the Canadian government and Vance himself.

Military sources say the difference this time is that the Liberal government is keen on showing that Canada is indeed contributing to the Iraq mission, even though the Trudeau government pulled the CF-18s out of the coalition bombing campaign.

Vance was more than happy to accommodate the Liberals and so the military proposed the media tour of the front lines, highlighting Canadian special forces, sources added. It was all done in close co-ordination with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office.

CANSOF operational security was simply collateral damage, sources say.

(Photo below screen grab from CTV news report about Canadian special forces in Iraq. The video was taken during Gen. Vance’s recent visit to special forces).

My Ottawa Citizen colleague Lee Berthiaume has more details here in his article:

There are those inside the Canadian Forces who argue that OPSEC is too rigid for Canadian special forces. And still others who say it isn’t tight enough; that no faces should be shown or interviews granted….ever.

Whatever the case, the Genie has now been let out of the bottle.

In the wake of this new development on OPSEC, it should be interesting to see how the Canadian Forces will go about justifying operational security for future missions. If it is willing to show off its special forces in an active combat zone, where the enemy is a resourceful terrorist group that has shown it can strike at targets in the West, then it could prove very difficult for the Canadian Forces to rightfully claim OPSEC for other similar, or lesser operations.