COMSEC vital to mission accomplishment

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, ILL. -- In 1985, John Walker and others were convicted of selling communications security, or COMSEC, cryptographic materials and equipment to the Soviet Union beginning in 1968. Their actions resulted in more than one million U.S. classified messages being deciphered by the Soviet Union.

It is believed that many of those compromised messages were passed to the North Vietnamese, contributing to many of the 57,000 lives lost during the Vietnam War. Those tragic losses reinforce why everyone in the Air Force must fully understand the need for COMSEC and comply with governing directives.

COMSEC materials originate with the National Security Agency and are used to protect all national defense information. Users of these vital materials must strictly adhere to Air Force Instruction 33-211, COMSEC User Requirements.

From communications squadrons, base COMSEC managers issue these cryptographic materials and enforce national security policies. Any unit requiring encryption materials must request them through the base COMSEC manager. Using locally derived codes to protect any official communication is strictly prohibited.

Once a unit receives COMSEC materials, they must store them in an approved safe or secure facility that can only be accessed by properly trained and cleared personnel. Any improper storage, use or access by unauthorized persons constitutes a serious incident that must be immediately reported to the base COMSEC manager. Each incident requires an official inquiry to be initiated by the violating unit's commander. The inquiry reports that result become part of detailed, up-channel reports to Headquarters Air Mobility Command, the Defense Department and NSA, and are used to determine whether any compromise occurred and determine if there are protective actions for our armed forces.

Because many COMSEC materials are used within all branches of the service, even a suspected compromise can result in the costly precautionary destruction of tens of thousands of copies of the same cryptographic materials used around the world. The resulting re-supply demands are very costly and can greatly delay mission accomplishment.

Remember, compromised cryptographic materials enabled our past enemies to covertly decrypt our nation's classified communications, gaining significant advantages in battle that resulted in great loss of American lives.

It also holds true today that COMSEC materials secure our most vital information, and any future compromise can and will have disastrous effects. Don't be the weak link in the communications security chain.