The nuances of personal protection and the specialist options available to High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI’s), VIPs and Celebrities are never ‘one size fits all’. With each client, the situation and threat level will vary, as will their requirements and appetite. When it comes to security there are a myriad of options available, often (and hopefully) with multiple, complementary components working together in harmony. One weapon in the personal protection armory is Protective Surveillance. This article attempts to provide a comprehensive overview of a service that has multiple benefits, quite a few limitations, and several misrepresentations.
What is Protective Surveillance?
Protective surveillance is the creation of a covert security team around an individual or group, forming a protective bubble around the client in a covert manner. The Protective Surveillance Team (PST) watches those that may be watching the client. The primary role of a PST is working to control spaces and areas that would be used by hostile surveillance and potential imminent threats. Their objective is to pro-actively identify hostiles and threats (achieved through counter surveillance, behavioral analysis, and risk assessment). The other role of a PST (that runs concurrently) is to be able to react as a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) if required in extremis.
Why Utilize Protective Surveillance?
Hostiles normally use some form of pre-attack surveillance – whether rudimentary or professional. This may be short-term surveillance e.g. perpetrated by an individual opportunistic criminal looking for the best time to strike, or a high-level, multi-person surveillance team on a high-value target for hostile intent e.g. kidnap or murder. The PST will also be set-back from the Close Protection Team (CPT) and will likely have more of an over-arching perspective, able to dynamically risk assess without being caught ’in the weeds’.
Why Do Hostile Gangs/Terrorists Undertake Surveillance?
Hostile individuals or groups need to gather intelligence on their target. To increase the chances of a successful attack it is useful to know the comings and goings of a target, their habits, and routines. What security they have, its strengths and weaknesses. What are the opportunities and threats? A hostile surveillance team will be trying to answer all these things and more. It is with this information that they can formulate a plan to attack their target more effectively and with a greater chance of success.
One example of hostiles undertaking pre-attack surveillance is the kidnap of Anneli-Marie in Germany, 2015. The kidnappers told police after being caught that they followed her for weeks, gaining information. Eventually, when the time was right they struck. Anneli-Marie was walking the family dog around the estate near her house when they attacked, dragged her into the car trunk and zip tied her. This incident, unfortunately, ended badly after the kidnappers panicked when they thought she saw their faces. They killed her, and still tried to obtain the ransom.
Protective Surveillance Teams – A pro-active resource
Identifying threats early is vital to ensure time to react. If one has time to react then the chances of a favorable outcome are increased dramatically. Any aggressive force normally has the advantage of surprise. The attack occurs on their terms. Very few aggressors will attack if they don’t feel they have the upper hand, they do so at a time of their choosing, and probably after extensive planning and preparation.
The assassination of Denis N. Voronenkov in March 2017, a former Russian lawmaker who was killed in Kiev in a widely publicized killing, identifies what happens when Media Security does not have time to react. Denis Voronenkov, who’d been a Communist member of Russia’s lower legislative house before he left, was fatally shot outside a hotel in broad daylight. The assassin walked up behind the target and his personal security, then shot Voronenkov, after which a gunfight ensued and both Assassin and security were shot, and the VIP left dead.
There is an increased chance that a PST would have identified the threat early, communicated with the CPT and been able to pre-empt the attack, or intercept.
Protective Surveillance is NOT Close Protection
A normal CPT will have a multitude of tasks and duties to perform that require their undiluted attention. Their focus must when moving with the client, be on the there and now, able to react at a seconds notice to the immediate threat. They provide the necessary ‘close’ protection.
Although a CPT will likely carry out anti-surveillance, taking actions to determine whether they may be under surveillance, a CPT cannot be protective surveillance, and a CPT cannot carry out counter-surveillance. It is the author’s opinion that effective hostile surveillance detection on high-level adversaries can only be undertaken as an entirely covert separate entity. To have complete separation to the CPT and be no way linked over time or by proxy minimizes the chance of being compromised – this is key to successful Counter-Surveillance.
What is the Difference Between Counter-Surveillance and Protective Surveillance
Counter-surveillance is when a third party is utilized to identify whether an individual or group is the target/subject of surveillance. A dedicated counter-surveillance team utilizes multiple methods both physical and technical to determine covertly whether someone is under surveillance. This terminology is often horrendously misused within the industry from commercial ‘experts’ causing extensive confusion. Please click here to learn more about Hostile Surveillance Detection.
A protective surveillance team carries out counter-surveillance as one of its main roles but also has an underlying objective to protect the client from all threats, unlike a counter-surveillance team that remains covert and disseminates intelligence; a PST is in position, and trained to react to threats if necessary, and to break cover in the interests of client safety if required.
Why does the CPT not just carry out Anti-Surveillance?
Accurately and efficiently identifying surveillance comes down to a large number of variable factors, the core ones being; the skill of the surveillance team and the skill of the anti/counter surveillance operators. It is very easy to look, but actually quite hard to see. Meaning: Many so-called surveillance ‘experts’ know the theory, but few have quality experience e.g. counter-terrorism, counter-espionage at a Government level, and/or extensive commercial experience.
Many close protection officers and self-titled hostile surveillance experts have only done at most a week or two of surveillance training or only commercial operations. The majority, have never been operational against surveillance aware, government level targets in challenging and dynamic environments. In most cases this is just not enough to have a comprehensive ability to identify organized surveillance teams. A trained surveillance team should be able to identify anti-surveillance being carried out by a CPT, and avoid it. Likewise, poorly implemented counter-surveillance is easily identifiable. This is compounded even further if the people carrying out the anti or counter-surveillance do not know what they are looking for and when – leading to a false sense of security.
How Can Hostiles Identify and Avoid Good Counter-Surveillance?
If done correctly, effective counter-surveillance is extremely hard to identify and nearly impossible to avoid. If a professional counter-surveillance team carries out the role, the hostile surveillance team will never know they have been identified. This is what the PST does, they undertake counter-surveillance in a dynamic role, but ready to function in other roles including as a QRF.
Protective Surveillance is NOT Low-Profile Protection
Low-profile protection is not to be confused with Protective Surveillance, low profile is not covert, low profile is not counter-surveillance. There are multiple uses and reasons for the application of low profile security, but the key objective of this article is the description of Protective Surveillance. A PST, to be effective, must remain covert and separate from the close protection detail.
What Are the Objectives of a Protective Surveillance Team
The PST’s main objective is to remain covert at all times, working constantly to covertly identify hostile surveillance and any other potential threats to the principal. By conducting Counter-Surveillance there is an increased chance of identifying hostiles in attack-planning stages, or identifying pre-attack indicators of hostiles. If such hostiles are identified there are normally (but not limited to) three follow up options:
- Inform the close protection team of a potential threat so that the Team Leader can make an informed decision e.g. the removal of the client to a safe environment, but without highlighting that a threat has been identified.
- Aim to follow the hostile surveillance team to gather intelligence on them (conduct surveillance on that hostile surveillance team – sometimes incorrectly referred to as Counter-surveillance), obtain intelligence, positive identifications etc. so that the necessary authorities can deal with and extinguish the threat.
- If the threat is perceived as being imminent the PST can either disrupt, defend, pre-emptively attack, or supplement.
When Should Protective Surveillance Be Utilized?
Protective surveillance is best suited to individuals, families, or groups at high risk of kidnap or attack. It is, due to the covert requirements, a resource-intensive role. To source experienced operators and have them working in a protective surveillance role requires significant investment. Sometimes a blend of close protection, low profile protection, and hostile surveillance detection may be commensurate with risk, or better suited to budget.
Protective Surveillance for High-Risk
For a high-risk client, it is imperative a security team is pro-active and not reactive. Too many times history has shown that systems are put into operation too late. When it comes to high-risk clients, protective surveillance must only be used in conjunction with a close protection team. The two teams though separate, are symbiotic. They work hand in hand towards the shared goal of keeping the client safe and secure. A PST on its own would likely be able to identify certain threats at an early stage and act accordingly. However, they would rarely be close enough to protect the client from an impromptu attack, or act as a last line of defense. They are also not an overt presence that acts as a visual deterrent to potential threats. This is why the two teams work perfectly together, each with a different scope of work, yet entirely interlinked.
Let us look at a real-life scenario, highlighting where protective surveillance could have fitted perfectly in conjunction with close protection to help engineer a very different outcome.
Protective Surveillance – Case Study – A Colombian former interior minister Fernando Londono in Bogota was attacked during a vehicle convoy. His two-car convoy were held at a set of lights (one free lane to its left, two free lanes to its right) A bus then joined the left lane followed by cars to the left and right. Then a man crosses the street approximately 20 meters behind the cars carrying a large object. He circles around the bus and approaches Fernando Londono’s car attaching a limpet mine to the left front side. Within 30 seconds the mine explodes leaving two dead and 48 injured. Fernando Londono was very fortunate to survive; his level 5-armored car played a significant part in this. Some of his security detail were not so lucky.
It seems highly likely that the attackers in this instance would have had to have put Londono under prior surveillance to establish his routes, what car he traveled in, what security he had with him, did he have a pattern of life? Where best to carry out the attack and how to escape (the attacker ran down an alley to a waiting motorcycle).
A multitude of questions would need to have been answered to carry out such an attack. Protective surveillance would have most likely identified hostile observations and highlighted the imminent attack planning. Further, a PST follows the client at distance to observe the surroundings. There is a good chance that the team would have spotted a car following the client and more so an individual carrying a large suspicious object purposefully walking towards the client’s vehicle. As mentioned earlier identifying threats early is vital to allow time to react.
To further delve into this case study, Londono survived and was removed from the vehicle (via the trunk) injured and dazed within 30 seconds. His surviving close protection officers did a great job of extracting him through the crowd. What if there had been a second wave attack though? Let us imagine that the attackers had mounted a small arms assault post-explosion.
There is a good chance the surviving officers would have been overpowered due to their trauma and the focus on removing the principal. A PST also acts as a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) and would have been able to move in and work to protect the immediate vicinity, and help counter any secondary or tertiary attack. Thus, a PST can provide the necessary cover and support so the CPOs could withdraw to the protective surveillance’s vehicles and extract the client. This is obviously in an ideal world, and hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the principle is valid.
A QRF does exactly as its namesake; it is a force (in this case a PST) able to react quickly in case of emergency. The covert nature of the team would be disregarded at times of extremis to act as a suitable support team. Whether this be as an assault team, a medical support team, or an extraction team. The fact that they would be covert right to the last moment provides an extra level of surprise and advantage to the protection detail.
A Focused Tool
Protective surveillance is a specific and focused tool in the provision of security to an individual or group. In the case of High-Risk protection, it is ideally suited to work hand in hand with a close protection team. Their symbiosis allows for a greater level of protection to be in place and most importantly allows TIME TO REACT. For a PST to be effective it requires operators skilled and experienced in surveillance and counter-surveillance, as well as preferably Close Quarter Battle (CQB) and dynamic Hostage Rescue. Able to remain covert at all times whilst being in the right place at the right time to identify threats, and then react accordingly. This is why ex-Special Forces (UKSF and Tier1 US SF) and former Government level operators are perfectly suited to PSTs.
Covert Protection – Unknown to the Protectee/s
Protective Surveillance can be used without the client knowing they are being protected. This is often used in cases of children that may be at risk from abduction or kidnap but do not know the risk for whatever the reason, or the guardians require a greater degree of peace of mind. High net worth individuals and celebrities for example, may have close protection teams but their children do not, and have no appetite to do so. Yet the risk still exists. Kidnaps and abduction are a significant risk for these individuals as was identified in the Anneli-Marie case in Germany.
There are multiple limitations to this form of protection. As discussed prior, there would be no ‘bodyguard’ or person/s close to the protected at all times. Although not providing the level of protection that a CPT does, a PST can mold to this requirement of covert protection, allowing a parent to have peace of mind that their children are being observed, and overseen by a security team.
Point to Note: With reference children, a PST can be supplemented by a Close Personal Protection Officer Male or Female that operates in a Nanny, or Child Minder role (overtly responsible for safety and welfare of the child) but covertly they are trained CPOs, medics and in constant covert communication with the PST.
Protective Surveillance – Client Not Wanting Overt Security and Willing To Accept The Limitations
Whilst protection may be required, overt bodyguards or close protection teams may not suit the client. Certain clientele desire covert protection, not wanting the attention gained from having an overt team in close vicinity at all times, yet wanting the confidence that someone is watching over them, and working to protect them. Just like earlier there are multiple limitations to this form of ‘protection’ as no person is close to the client at all times. But, if done well a PST can adapt and constantly work to control the areas around the client, be in the best position possible, at the right times, undercover. This method is often expensive, more suited to short-term, set-itineraries, but can be achieved.
Mark is a risk management specialist whose experience stems from his previous career as a Covert Operational Officer with the British Government. Since leaving HMG he has developed ETS Risk Management into one of the leading security companies for individuals, organizations, and corporates requiring a range of boutique protective services including protective surveillance.