An Opinion Piece by Michael Mancino
Security is both a feeling and a reality. The propensity for security theater comes from the interplay between the public and its leaders.
When people are scared, they need something done that will make them feel safe, even if it doesn’t truly make them safer. Politicians naturally want to do something in response to crisis, even if that something doesn’t make any sense.
In light of two recent attacks in Florida in the last two weeks I feel it’s important to address a topic that is widely discussed in the security world that most people outside of it are woefully ignorant of.
We’ve all seen security theater at work. Look no further than our own illustrious TSA. In fact, the quote at the beginning of this opinion piece was spoken in the context of that organization. When we go to a club, a sporting event, even a restaurant, we are often witnessing security theater. Too often our venues attempt to give the impression of safety and security by using flashy uniforms, big men in tight shirts, fancy titles and expensive machinery that most of the staff have no idea how to operate.
Unfortunately, our society is beginning to learn the hard way that such measures are largely ineffective against a determined attacker.
Part of the problem in the security industry stems from an overall lack of training and quality of the guards that are fielded. I challenge anyone to find more than a small handful of individuals working at these events or venues that are career security professionals. More often than not the front line people are chosen because of their looks or their associations with whoever happens to be hiring.
Those of us who make security and safety our lifestyle experience no end of frustration.
We understand that effective protection requires brains, training and forethought. Security theater lacks much of this. Going back to the two incidents in the last two weeks illustrates this well.
Christina Grimmie, the Voice singer who was gunned downed while signing autographs, was not a megastar. I’m not going to sit behind this keyboard and speculate to motives her agent, or manager, or whoever, had in not providing adequate personal protection. What I will do is stress that anyone in the public eye is prone to targeting.
Being that she was at a performance venue there was almost certainly some form of ‘security’ present however it was most likely for show. The assailant was able to walk up to Grimmie and fire on her from a very close distance. Properly trained security personnel could, and should, have identified this individual as a threat or at a minimum discovered the firearm on his person before he was able to enter the venue.
A trained executive protection professional may have identified pre-incident indicators leading up to the attack and avoided the incident altogether.
As far as the Orlando nightclub shooting goes, the only mention of security is two bouncers and an off duty police officer. One of the bouncers, former Marine Imran Yousef, is credited with saving multiple lives. His training and experience in the US Military undoubtedly aided in his reactions and decision making.
Generally, bouncers are not hired for their intensive training in the security industry, and that needs to change. Most clubs will hire bouncers based off of their appearance, whether or not they can handle themselves in a fight or because they know someone. Off duty police officers are often used in clubs, however they are not always the best choice. Police officers are extremely well trained when it comes to reacting to threats, engaging with disruptive persons, etc and are undoubtedly an excellent deterrent and an excellent resource if it hits the fan, however a properly trained security professional arguably receives more training in assessing threats, threat mitigation, and pre-incident indicators than does your average patrol officer.
Again, I have no desire to Monday-morning-quarterback these situations but I take this opportunity to stress that our society needs a change of perception. Dangerous people exist. Whether a lone crazed gunman obsessed with a celebrity, or a terrorist out for blood, violence can and will happen.
As a society we must understand that true safety requires professionals that are able to identify, mitigate, avoid and respond to threats properly. Security theater as it exists now is dangerous and it will certainly be paid for in blood.
I, and all of my associates, am more than happy to assist an organization in discussing their needs. More importantly, we are eager to illuminate those areas that are so often missed when mitigating a threat.
“Lone wolf” terrorist attacks have been thrust to the forefront of our attention recently. The Boston Bombing, the beheading in Oklahoma, a hatchet attack against NYPD, the attack against Canadian Parliament, the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris and the most recent foiled attempt to attack the US Capital building indicate that lone wolf terrorism is increasing.
Much of the response has been met by government officials calling for increased security measures in government institutions, heightened alert statuses and calls for better intelligence gathering. What all of these measures have in common is that they all rely on government action and protection of federal assets. Except for attacks against government properties, these acts are not likely to be thwarted solely by government intervention.
Thousands of private businesses and public institutions are vulnerable to an attack regardless of how much money the US government dumps into prevention and detection. Therefore, it is paramount that private industry take steps to minimize the danger of these attacks.
Institutionalized policies for prevention of violence are widespread and, unfortunately most focus on reaction. Corporations, like governments, often exhibit bloated bureaucracies and extensive reams of policies and procedures that would put even the most hyperactive person to sleep.
Private security practitioners involved in the planning of day to day operations protecting property, assets and personnel, therefore, should consider the possibility of lone wolf attacks and plan accordingly. As we all know, if we allow an attacker to pick the time, place, and mode of attack, we will most likely lose. In the executive protection (EP) world our job is prevention, which the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center likes to define into three principal components:
Awareness: The ability to recognize actual or possible threats
Avoidance: Avoid recognized risks
Defense: Practicing a continuum of responsive force would use the first component (awareness) to utilizing intelligence to determine the range of threats that it can prevent at any time. So we can avoid these risks whenever possible.
An example we could use is the recent World Alpine Ski Championships in Vail and Beaver Creek Colorado, which Sarge had the privilege of being involved in. One of the primary concerns with the law enforcement and security officials associated with the event is vulnerability of soft targets. For any EP team or agent, a main concern will be the hotel your Principal will be staying at. Most hotels will have a security operations center equipped with fire and security controls, video surveillance monitors and recording equipment. Unfortunately, they are not always staffed 24/7.
A skilled and knowledgeable EP agent will provide an advance that recognizes the signs of any type of lone wolf attack. Here are six signs to watch for which should alert us to a possible attack, and may be helpful for future advances:
- Surveillance: Look for any suspicious individuals taking photos of any aspects of the security operations of the hotel or protection detail.
- Information Gathering: Be concerned if an individual is inquiring about any information about the hotels fire & security controls.
- Testing Security: If your client is part of an attack on Principal (AOP), a lone wolf terrorist may follow you around to throw you off and test your reaction time.
- Impersonation: Be questionable of any possible impersonators that may disguise themselves as a first-responder, mail couriers and any organizations that report any stolen supplies such as a uniforms.
- Rehearsal: Keep your eyes open for any pending rehearsal attack to measure emergency response time.
- Deployment: Lone wolf terrorists may be arranging their assets ahead of an attack.
A prime example of #6 are the backpacks left by the Boston Terrorists and used in the attack. I cannot stress the importance of the EP team utilizing the hotel security staff at all times. In larger hotels, there is typically a security director on staff. This individual will prove to be valuable due to their knowledge of the hotel and their unlimited access. They will be familiar with local events and can identify authorized and unauthorized individuals.
In addition to protection from attack at events in public places, agents must also be mindful of the security situation at the principal’s place of business. Most organizations will already have in place an operating procedure for detecting and mitigating events of workplace violence. The “lone wolf” may exhibit many of the same indicators as someone about to commit an act of workplace violence. When considering lone-wolf attacks, we can capitalize on existing practices and standards.
Where we diverge, however, is considering ideological differences that may drive an attack associated with some form of extremism as opposed to attacks by disgruntled employees or customers. For example, a hypothetical business that is known to support animal testing of pharmaceutical products may be especially vulnerable to a lone actor who sympathizes with groups such as PETA but is willing to use violence to express such beliefs. When considering this type of threat the security practitioners must add to their awareness specific factors that elevate the likelihood of direct targeting.
Religious institutions and organizations that support various religious groups are also prime targets. Church security, for example, is an ever increasing concern of religious leaders due to the potentially volatile emotional reactions antagonists may have and direct toward their community. It is crucial, then, that when developing operational plans, whether protecting a single principal in a bustling crowd riddled with soft targets, or protecting larger institutions from retaliation or ideological attack, specific triggers be taken into account during the threat assessment phase.
Depending on the size of your organization, the use of an intelligence analyst is very beneficial in the Executive Protection world, especially during the advance stages. By gathering various types of data from a variety of sources, from local to national news, a network of people on the ground, and open source intelligence subscriptions such as those provided by Stratfor, the intelligence analyst can then transform that data into actionable information that the EP team can use as part of their decision-making processes.
When the EP team is preparing a detail in a specific region or locale, they rely on intelligence analysts for informative briefs that help them create optimal plans for client safety. Small or medium sized companies may not have the resources or funds to employ an intelligence analyst. Therefore, these are skills that all EP agents will need to learn during their initial executive protection courses and training.
The most significant domestic terrorism threat for the foreseeable future will be the lone actor, or “lone wolf” terrorist. They may draw ideological inspiration from a variety of sources from formal terrorist organizations, right’s groups or religious extremism, but operate on the fringes of those movements. So the question of who, what, where, when, why or how will have to be diligently researched and considered by all within an executive protection operation.
Know that it is not a matter of “if”, but “when”. By using extensive threat assessment, advance work and intelligence analysis we will be better prepared to mitigate, prevent and avoid such threats.