Protective surveillance is the creation of an unobtrusive security team around an individual or group. Normally composed of highly trained and experienced covert operators, this team forms a protective bubble around the client in a covert manner.
The protective surveillance team (PST) will carry out counter-surveillance by watching those that may be watching the client. Their main aim is to occupy or control spaces and areas that would be used by a hostile surveillance team. Allowing the team, through their expertise and experience, to identify them. Other roles are to act as a quick reaction force (QRF) and as protective intelligence.
This article will look at protective surveillance and its role in executive protection and high risk protection. It uses two real life case studies to identify how protective surveillance can be used as an extremely effective tool in executive protection.
Why would hostiles use pre-attack surveillance?
Hostile individuals or groups need to gather intelligence on their target. To increase the chances of a successful attack it is vital 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.
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. It is simply action vs. reaction. Any aggressive force with the advantage of surprise and tactical planning is more likely to succeed. Their action occurs at a time of their choosing. Very few aggressors will attack if they don’t feel they have the upper hand, this is probably the result of a planned operation and therefore the hostile team will likely be prepared accordingly.
A normal close protection team (CPT) will have a multitude of tasks and duties to perform that require their undiluted attention. Their focus must be on the here and now, able to react at a second’s notice to the immediate threat. They provide the necessary ‘close’ protection. This however is also a potential weakness. Even highly trained operators will still need time to react to an action. This means they are immediately on the back foot and will be until they regain the initiative and win the fight. A number of factors and variables then come into play, the skill of the security team, the skill of the attackers, type of attack and even luck to name a few.
A CPT cannot be protective surveillance but they can carry out counter-surveillance and effect actions to determine whether they may be under surveillance. It is the author’s opinion however that effective counter-surveillance 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 to minimize the chance of being compromised. Further, counter surveillance is not easy and needs to be a focused effort. One cannot carry out effective counter-surveillance at the same time as focusing on close protection or bodyguard duties. Also it is far more likely a CPT will actually be carrying out anti-surveillance, not counter, the majority of the time.
What is the difference between anti and counter surveillance?
Anti-surveillance is when a person who suspects that he is being followed carries out certain actions in order to identify whether there is a surveillance team or individual following him and confirm that he is being followed, by drawing the team into a position where they can be identified.
Counter-surveillance is when a third party carries out actions in order to identify in a covert manner whether an individual is being followed and by whom. This can take place with or without the knowledge of the person being followed.
In a nutshell, anti-surveillance is what we would do ourselves to identify surveillance and counter-surveillance is when we would get someone else to help us identify it.
Hostile Surveillance Detection
Accurately and efficiently identifying surveillance, like all things comes down to a large number of variable factors. The skill of the surveillance team and the skill of the anti/counter surveillance operators are the major factors. It is very easy to look but actually quite hard to see. Many close protection officers have only done, at most a brief week or two of surveillance training. In most cases this is just not enough to have a comprehensive ability to identify organized surveillance teams. A trained hostile surveillance team should be able to identify anti-surveillance and avoid it. This is compounded even further if the people carrying out the anti-surveillance do not know what they are looking for, especially so if they are in a foreign environment.
Effective counter-surveillance on the other hand is hard to identify, let alone avoid. The hostile surveillance team will (if done correctly) never know they have been spotted. The PST should remain covert at all times and after identifying that a hostile surveillance team is showing an interest in the client, would aim to do the following:
• Inform the close protection team so that a covert removal of the client to a safe environment is carried out quickly but without highlighting that a threat has been identified.
• Aim to follow the surveillance team to gather intelligence on them so that the necessary authorities can deal with and extinguish the threat.
• If the threat is perceived as being imminent the PST can react accordingly as trained close protection officers.
For a high-risk client protective surveillance is a necessity not a bonus. 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. Shutting the gate once the horse has bolted is too often the phrase heard.
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 be able to identify 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 resort. This is why the two teams work perfectly together, each with a different task yet entirely interlinked.
Let us look at a two real life scenarios, highlighting where protective surveillance would have fitted perfectly in conjunction with close protection to help engineer a very different outcome.
The 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 metres 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 travels in, what security he has with him, does 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 tailing 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 win the fight to defeat any secondary or tertiary attack. Thus providing the necessary cover and support so the CPOs could withdraw to the protective surveillance’s vehicles and extract the client.
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.
As can be seen, the PST’s main focus is pre-empting danger and providing time to react. Ensuring that nothing is a surprise. Its secondary focus is acting as a support team able to react accordingly in times of emergency.
The second case study is that of Edelmiro Manuel Pérez Merelles. He was kidnapped after a number of assailants blocked his vehicle, killed his driver/bodyguard and fled with him in tow. This was by all accounts a planned and well prepared attack. They didn’t hesitate to kill his bodyguard and carried out the attack in front of witnesses.
The bodyguard had no time to react. If protective surveillance had been in place, there is a good chance the attack would never have happened. The assailants would have carried out some sort of surveillance to work out his routine, routes and vehicle. They would almost certainly have had to follow him to then block the vehicle in. These actions would have been identified prior to the attack and allowed the bodyguard and PST time to react accordingly to avoid the threat. Worst-case scenario, and the attack had already occurred, the PST would still have been able to react as a QRF and provide support to the bodyguard. The benefit of remaining covert; the PST would have the upper hand, an action vs. a reaction.
There is clearly a worthwhile case for the implementation of a PST, or at the very least effective counter surveillance. For high risk clients it is imperative that security teams focus on pre-empting danger, allowing time to react. If protective surveillance teams are utilized, when or if a client does attract the unwanted attention of hostiles focused on causing harm to the principal or their family it will significantly improve the chances of a favorable outcome.