Competitors and adversaries
One of the things that distinguish OPSEC from other forms of risk management is the emphasis on specific threats. That is to say that normally a risk management team looks at what is valuable and figures out how to protect it from likely threats. This means that we are largely aiming at crimes of opportunity.
In some cases this means that we try to make the potential target unattractive, so that bad-guys will go elsewhere. Thus, when dealing with protective services, our hope is that our principal will be protected to such a degree that a potential kidnapper will choose some other, less-well protected potential victim.
In other areas it means that we look at potential solutions to general problems. Thus, if we are prepared for flood and fire, we are equally prepared to deal with earthquakes and either random or specific violence. This approach generally works well, especially with common threats so we know that if we build to code, have sprinklers and fire alarms, do regular fire drills, and have fire extinguishers at hand, we are largely safe from fire. But we still aren’t safe from arson.
OPSEC – the identification, valuation, and protection of critical information – information which would give your competitors and adversaries an advantage – steps in where there are specific threats. But in order for OPSEC to work, you have to be able to identify these threats. And herein lies the somewhat artificial distinction between competitors and adversaries.
Competitors are fairly easily identified: They are the people and companies that do what you do, and are competing with you for business. Most domestic competitors within the United States will cheerfully gather competitive intelligence to use against you for their own benefit. Rarely will a U.S. corporation do anything illegal to gain information. Foreign corporations may not be so scrupulous, particularly on their own turf. But since over ninety percent of the information gathered even through questionable means is open-source intelligence, the threat from competitors – from competitive intelligence – can generally be dealt with in a cost effective manner once the company commits to dealing with the problem.
Adversaries are a more active threat. They can vary from people or organizations who wish you harm, to governments or corporations willing to move from competitive intelligence to economic espionage. People or organizations may wish to do you physical harm for a wide variety of reasons. These span the spectrum of motives: Those who wish to kidnap or harm you for money; those who wish to harm you for religious reasons; those who wish to harm you for political reason; those who wish to harm you for ideological reasons; those who wish to harm you for economic reasons, and those who wish to harm you because they are just plain crazy.
While it is easy to identify competitors, identifying adversaries requires more sophisticated intelligence gathering and will involve co-operation with others, both on a governmental and non-governmental basis.