Over the weekend, I was browsing the Air Force Central news website, when I came across an interesting set of human-interest photos of a Senior Airman painting the logo of the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing on “one of two new barriers located in front of the distinguished visitors lounge” at “an undisclosed air base in Southwest Asia”. Wait – “undisclosed air base”? Right away, I smacked my forehead – hello, how many air bases in Southwest Asia could the 379th AEW be operating from? Well, according to Wikipedia – and Global Security – one: al Udieb Air Base, in Qatar. But, the internet has been wrong before, right? So, can we prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that this confidential, hush-hush location is actually in Qatar?
Well, yeah, actually.
But first, let me explain why I’m posting this. The location of the photos was presumably obscured intentionally, probably in the interests of Operational Security, or OPSEC. Theoretically, I guess, this is so that adversaries won’t find out that the “distinguished visitors lounge” is the building with the logo-decorated barriers in front of it. Personally, I think that’s kind of stupid, myself. If you consider that information “sensitive” – which I don’t – the OPSEC leak here is the unit name and logo, from which the air base can be identified fairly easily. Arguably, the fact that the sign is in front of the lounge is also an OPSEC leak, itself – and really, unnecessary for the photo caption.
But, here’s the thing: even without this knowledge, someone with decent computer skills can prove the photo was taken at al Udied – all using government websites! Here’s how:
The hunky artist in the photos referenced above is Luis Loza Gutierrez. A quick Google search turns up this page. From there, you can see not only that Staff Sgt. Darnell Cannady is the photographer, but that you can search the website for his photos only. Doing so will net – among other things – this image and this image, both taken a few weeks ago. Uncle Sam thoughtfully lets you view full-size, high-resolution copies of these photos; this is of course nice of them, but – IF you’re for some strange reason trying to hide the fact that these folks are at al Udied, Qatar, not such a good thing. You see, Staff Sergeant Pilgrim isn’t quite as good at covering up “sensitive” paperwork as he perhaps should be.
What’s that under your arm, Sergeant? What’s that say? 379 ECO-something, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar? Whoops. And, hey, what’s that green sheet of paper all about?
Oh, it’s from the Qatar Trading and Transport Company? Why, how interesting.
Sorry, USAF. You really either need to drop the charade that the 379th AEW and associated units are at an “undisclosed location”, or improve your OPSEC rather considerably. Given that everyone already knows where the 379th are, may I suggest that you stop trying to protect a relatively useless data point, and maybe, I dunno, find something important to protect? Like, say… Engineering drawings for a fairly obvious “undisclosed air base”?
(a few more thoughts on this are over here)