02 May 2011

Physical Security, OPSEC, and Killing Osama bin Laden

One of the primary goals of physical security is deterrence. By showing off visible signs of security, such as signs, fences, barbed wire and other such measures, the idea is to deter a breach by those who may be contemplating it by raising the risk of being caught.  The compound in which Osama bin Laden was found and killed certainly exhibited some of the measures--it reportedly had 12-18 feet high fences with barbed wire, internal compartmentalization, only two access points, visible CCTVs, and generally stood out like a sore thumb in the neighborhood.

On the other hand, these very visible measures of security tend to conflict with the concept of operational security--a process by which actions observed by adversaries can be useful to them in gathering intelligence.  The very presence of visible security measures in an otherwise non-descript area leads one to wonder what exactly is being protected there. That, together with other reported operational security issues (the burning of trash, no Internet or phone connection despite a presumably upscale compound, the women residents known to speak Arabic) add fuel to the fire.

Another article talked of these measures as "extremely elaborate operational security" but might better be termed "elaborate physical security" as the operational issues noted above were precisely some of the clues that led to bin Laden's discovery.  Added to that, the belief that bin Laden had been staying in this compound for at least a year and potentially much longer lends one to believe that the idea of operational security was perhaps not as elaborate as initially supposed.
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