Thursday, March 13, 2008

No Leaks in On-Line F-22 Comments

An F-22 pilot who made numerous internet posts about his state-of-the-art aircraft did not divulge classified information, according to an Air Force operations security (OPSEC) assessment and a security review. Both were conducted prior to a recent briefing by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), which suggested the on-line comments confirmed technical and operational details about the fifth-generation fighter.

An AFOSI spokeswoman also revealed that a widely-circulated PowerPoint presentation on the incident was intended for internal use, and not general release. Entitled “Cyber OPSEC: An F-22 Case Study,” the unclassified briefing was designed as an in-house training tool for the OSI detachment at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. But, after its initial presentation at the Arizona base, the briefing was quickly passed to scores of Air Force units and military bloggers.

“There’s been a lot of misinformation about this,” said Linda Card, a public affairs specialist at AFOSI Headquarters in Washington. She emphasized that the organization did not conduct a criminal investigation into the pilot’s on-line comments, which appeared on a popular aviation forum.

“The guy did something dumb—not illegal,” Card observed.

According to the OSI spokeswoman, the organization’s involvement in the matter was limited to a classification review of material posted by the pilot, who used the screen name “Dozer.” OSI personnel conducted the review in conjunction with SAF/AQL, the Headquarters Air Force acquisition directorate in charge of special programs.

The classification review determined that none of the pilot’s forum comments revealed sensitive information about the F-22. SAF/AQL is the service’s original classification authority for a number of systems that incorporate classified technology, including the F-22.

Card also said that an operations security (OPSEC) study, conducted by Air Combat Command (ACC), reached a similar conclusion. Headquartered at Langley AFB, Virginia, ACC has been responsible for integrating the F-22 into combat units. The Air Force’s first F-22 wing is based at Langley, and the pilot involved in the internet episode was formerly assigned there.

During his tour at the base, Dozer also served as the Air Force F-22 demonstration pilot, showcasing the jet at various airshows around the country. He has also been interviewed by a number of media outlets and appeared in TV documentaries about the stealth fighter. He is now the commander of the first F-22 squadron based outside the CONUS, at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska.

The AFOSI public affairs representative said she “did not know” if agents who assembled the PowerPoint presentation spoke with “Dozer” as part of their research. Asked if those agents were “read into” the F-22 program, Card said “not to my knowledge.

Personnel with that status—which requires additional security screening—are privy to the most sensitive information on the “Raptor’s” technology and performance.

Card confirmed that the OSI’s Davis-Monthan detachment built the briefing after receiving information on the OPSEC study from ACC, which cited it as a “good example” of on-line security hazards. First delivered at Davis-Monthan last month, the briefing was intended for unit training. But it quickly circulated to other Air Force units and military bloggers, generating a minor tempest.

The briefing’s cover slide contains a silhouette photo of an F-22 and the shields of four military and law enforcement agencies: the AFOSI, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and the Department of Homeland Security. The appearance of those shields suggested that the presentation was a multi-agency product.

However, Card affirmed that none of those organizations assisted with the briefing, or the original OPSEC study. She said that agents who prepared the briefing decided to insert the other shields because they assist the AFOSI in the investigation of cyber-crime and security issues. They also participate (along with the OSI) in threat working groups, a target audience for the cyber OPSEC briefing.

Separately, a DHS official in Washington stated that his organization had no involvement with the OSI briefing or the earlier security assessments. Representatives from the FBI and NCIS did not respond to e-mail requests for comment.

Much of the AFOSI presentation is devoted to Dozer’s various posts on the forum, and queries from other participants. One of the briefing’s final slides, labeled “What Have We Learned About the F-22,” lists a wide range of technical and operational information, ranging from aircraft lot numbers at different bases, the function of specific flaps and doors on the jet, and “weapons systems operational details.”

But an analysis of the information, conducted by In From the Cold, determined that virtually all of the data was already in the public domain. One question, about the F-22’s lack of a helmet-mounted sight, could be easily answered by on-line articles dating back to the late 1990s.

Another interrogatory, about a mock dogfight between the Raptor and the new Eurofighter ”Typhoon,” was also the subject of prior press reporting and on-line speculation. An Aviation Week article—easily accessed through internet search engines–provided details on the deployment, and hinted that the Typhoons had some success in tracking the stealthy F-22.

Answers to other questions were also readily found, through other on-line sources.

Card said it was unclear why the training brief was circulated beyond the OSI detachment at Davis-Monthan. While the 28-slide presentation is clearly marked "unclassified/open source," there are no overt indications that it was intended solely for training purposes--or that distribution was limited to the Arizona detachment.

In the wake of the F-22 controversy, Air Force members have received additional training on security hazards associated with social networking sites. That training has been provided by public affairs specialists.

While cyber-crime is a major mission for the OSI, Card noted that the organization rarely investigates OPSEC issues on blogs and message boards. "The OSI investigates criminal cases for the Air Force," she said in an e-mail. "This particular situation did not warrant a criminal investigation nor an official inquiry."


Ken Prescott said...

An AFOSI spokeswoman also revealed that a widely-circulated PowerPoint presentation on the incident was intended for internal use, and not general release.

Translation: "And we would've gotten away with it if it weren't for those darn kids . . . er, bloggers!"

The folks out at Davis-Monthan gave the entire AFOSI organization a black eye by using all of those emblems on the cover and failing to note that it was for training only.

Words mean things. So do heraldic devices. That's why use or non-use of either can cause a lot of problems.

OmegaPaladin said...

Excellent work, this is written like an actual investigative journalism report.

This is what blogging can be.