Using intelligence to spot potential threats
An executive protection plan, even with the most professional security personnel, is often reactive: threats are only dealt with once they appear.
Integrating ongoing intelligence into an executive protection program profoundly changes the strategies and level of protection. By using online tools and networks to track and monitor potential threats, many issues can be mitigated long before any threatening action takes place.
The key is understanding both the available tools and the warning signs that signal possible threats from individuals and organizations and then implementing a strategy to manage those risks.
Spotting early warning signs with intelligence
Psychologists who work with criminals, psychopaths and others know that individuals and groups rarely act without warning. Whether attacking a high-profile individual, such as an entertainer or the president, or a supervisor in his/her company, individuals often communicate their intentions before acting. To gain emotional support or find a potential partner, many individuals will express their feelings and desires with others before an incident through a variety of means.
Social media, too, is where many plans begin. Groups, even loosely organized ones, will use social media to plan and organize protests and other events, as well as to recruit new participants. Campaigns to monitor social media of persons and groups of concern can provide extensive insight to the protection specialist when designing strategies to manage stalkers, protesters and other unwanted persons.
Even when direct threats aren’t mentioned, early warning signs exist. An employee may start acting strangely, talk about a gun he recently purchased, or begin complaining about how a supervisor is frustrating him. A disgruntled employee may suddenly start asking an administrative assistant about an executive’s whereabouts or schedule. Security cameras and other equipment may show that an employee is suddenly visiting a storage area where he shouldn’t be, frequently making trips out to his car, or otherwise moving and acting differently. Studies have shown that surveillance, planning and preparation are all good indicators of possible threatening activity.
There are few legal or other penalties from monitoring potential threats when done properly, as long as an intrusion of privacy does not occur; however, there can be disastrous consequences when a possible threat goes undetected.
Who can benefit from protective intelligence?
Any company or high-profile individual who draws attention on the Internet should incorporate protective intelligence into the executive protection program. The more visible the company or the executive, the more critical the need to be proactive. Protection specialists must recognize the link between an individual’s public life and others’ perception of his or her life, which may draw unwanted attention. A security analysis should look at lifestyle, the environment the company/individual works in, corporate exposure, and what the brand stands for. Even a seemingly non-controversial product, such as blue jeans, is seen as a symbol of America by groups who hate Americans, and can be a target.
Designing and implementing a protective intelligence program
For in-house security teams, only key personnel should have access to the executive protection and protective intelligence program. Associates from the IT Help Desk and Employee Assistance Program, executive assistants, as well as the Chief Information Officer, and others should be included in the network as they are likely to see the first warning signs of abnormal interest. These individuals are invaluable assets, who will require direction and training to properly support the program. Both groups have the same goals: the protection and safe operations of the organization and its people.
In-house security team members should be trained to recognize potential threats, such as employees or callers who are asking questions about executives or expressing discontent with the company or its products/services. Every employee should be educated about things to look for: a calculating though disturbed individual may still be very capable of probing your executive protection program to identify its vulnerabilities and bypass your protection strategies.
For companies that rely on outside experts for some or all of their corporate security, an outsourced protective intelligence program can provide 24/7 monitoring of potential threats and persons of concern.
Avoiding the technology trap
Many technologies are designed to collect massive amounts of information related to a company – enough to bury security personnel. It’s easy to collect tons of data and assume that all security threats are being monitored.
The key is to use computer and human analysis to spot the patterns that point to potential threats and link to specific individuals or organizations that should be monitored. That analysis should be coupled with a management strategy for dealing with that individual or group.
Even in-house security teams can benefit from a third-party expert with the technology and capabilities to monitor and analyze potential threats. An in-house team might deal with a disgruntled employee or outside group once every few months. An expert, external security firm monitors and mitigates these types of threats every day, and also knows when sometimes subtle, long-term patterns indicate that a potential threat is escalating.
Finding and qualifying potential threats
The other part of the protective intelligence equation is identifying whether threatening individuals or groups have the capabilities to carry out their threats. For example:
- An individual in Australia posted violent threats against an American executive on his social network. Monitoring tools found these threats. A threat assessment investigation showed this individual had been in the U.S., but had returned to Australia. Further investigation in Australia showed the individual was expressive but lacked the capabilities to carry out a threat.
- In another case, an individual was communicating with several people within an organization. Individually, none of the communications raised a red flag, but collectively they indicated a potential threat. Additional investigation showed that this individual had pursued other public officials in the past and was recognized as a serial stalker. Strategies were designed to mitigate the threat he posed after providing insight into his typical behavior.
Threats don’t always involve technology. In one stalking case, a former employee called an executive’s vacation home and identified herself to house staff as an assistant to an executive of a partner organization. She was easily able to obtain information about the family’s schedule and plans to arrive at the house, demonstrating the intelligence possessed by many stalkers.
An integrated protective intelligence program provides significant threat mitigation because individuals and organizations almost always communicate their desires and actions in some way before the actual activity. Whether to people within the organization, on social media or elsewhere on the Internet, the warning signs are there. A strong protective intelligence program can find, analyze and qualify those threats to provide an extra, proactive layer of protection.