Over the weekend, I read a great article by Scott Stewart from StratFor, a global intelligence and analysis company, about why he believes the March 5th knife attack on Mark Lippert, the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, could have been prevented. This article provides the opportunity to highlight three important points about how the Tactical Analysis program impacts the way that Executive Protection (EP) professionals prepare for a protection detail. You can read the full article here.
Stewart’s premise in his article is that, despite a great deal of media attention focused on the fact that Ambassador Lippert’s security detail was unarmed, that this was not the failure in the security system that allowed the attack on the ambassador to occur in the first place. The failure instead was in the protector not identifying the assailant as being hostile before he drew his knife and attacked. While I haven’t seen the video footage of the attack itself, based on what I have heard about the way that the attack was conducted and the setting in which it occurred, I agree with Stewart and this assessment. It is very likely that this attack could have been prevented, had the protector been prepared. There are three points that Stewart addresses in his article that I want to highlight, as they tie directly to the reasons why our Tactical Analysis course is structured the way it is and how important the content within the online modules are when it comes to recognizing threats.
The first point that Stewart addresses in his article is his own personal transition from working in the State Department as a protector, where he had the authority to be armed while working on a protection detail, to his work as an EP professional in the private sector, where he rarely now has the authority to carry a firearm. Not carrying a firearm had a significant impact on the way that Stewart operated in his position, as he quickly found himself very limited in how he could respond effectively to an armed attacker once an attack began. Quite literally, he could only bring his fists to a gunfight. This point is especially relevant for those making the same transition from working in law enforcement or the military into the EP profession. Look at the equation used to calculate and prioritize the risks a protector faces, which in the military is calculated by looking at the likelihood of an event occurring multiplied by the severity of the event should it happen. This formula shows that there are only two ways to reduce the risks you are exposed to. When you are armed, you have the ability to reduce the overall risk of an attack by limiting the severity of the attack, by engaging with and stopping the shooter right of bang. While having the sidearm and being able to reduce the risk right of bang was available to police officers or members of the military while they were serving, those opportunities aren’t available to many EP professionals. The only other way to reduce the risk of an attack is by reducing the likelihood of an attack occurring and getting left of bang. As Stewart discusses regarding situations when he was working unarmed, it required him to be hyper-vigilant in situations when the protectee was in contact with the public so that he could prevent situations before they went badly. That was his only opportunity to prevent an attack. The reason we provide training in behavioral analysis as the means to attain a level of informed situational awareness is because preventing assassination attempts on your protectee and getting left of bang can only come from a deliberate and repeatable observation process.
The second point Stewart discusses in his article is the only point of the three where I have a slight disagreement with him, which is when Stewart states that this attack on Ambassador Lippert was a failure of protective intelligence. I say that this is only partially true because, since the attacker was a known assailant, protective intelligence should have played a part in his early recognition. Had the protection detail known the assailant’s name and had his picture, they could have distributed it to everyone involved in securing the ambassador, thus increasing the chances of taking proactive action and preventing the attack if that person was spotted in the crowd. However, what if there were 300 people who had made threats in the past to the ambassador? Would a protector conceivably be able to remember all 300 faces? What if there was an assailant on scene who had never made any threat and was unknown to the detail; protective intelligence would not have helped in that situation either. Because valuable intelligence is not always accessible to those on a protection detail, intelligence alone should not be relied upon as the sole factor to identifying attackers in a real life scenario. The standard for executive protection professionals should be that you can identify an attacker when no intelligence exists so that you are not rendered ineffective by an attacker who has not yet made an overt threat. I’m certainly not implying that a protector should ignore any information that he or she has access to, but that is why our courses are based around the identification of people who possess a violent intent based on uncontrollable and universal elements of observable behavior. If your search is grounded in cues that fit those criteria, you don’t need to have any additional information about the people around you. When your awareness is informed and focused on indicators you can assess about every single person around you, you aren’t limited to considering the variables that exist in attacks or limited in your ability to succeed in your protection detail when no information or protective intelligence is readily available.
The final point Stewart raises in his article is that the only time a protector has the opportunity to intervene proactively is only when security personnel see a person displaying behavior that attracts your attention as they approach your protectee. Knowing that there are threats out there and being aware of your surroundings as you actively search for them is only a part of the solution. As we talk about in this article about the importance of getting into Condition Orange, it isn’t enough to simply look at a protector and say, “Go prevent violence.” Those protectors have to be taught what cues to look for and how specifically to look for them if they are going to do it a success rate better than 50-50. Knowing what to look for and how to look for the cues are what make the difference between information hunting and information hoping. What we find time and time again when working with our clients, including Marines and Soldiers from Special Operations Command, elite police units around the country and EP professionals, is that a deliberate approach to threat recognition is rarely something that people have been trained to do. Because recognizing threats is an essential and ever-present need, it is often considered an assumed capability. But through continuous testing through videos and attack footage, we find that protectors who do not have a repeatable process for analyzing their surroundings often fail to recognize threats consistently. The positive news is that we also find that it doesn’t take them long to integrate the observation and assessment process into the way they operate once they have learned it. This is why our Basic Program for executive protection and security professionals has two main points that are consistently driven home. The first is that our students are taught how to assess a person as displaying one of the four primary clusters, which helps them to know what specifically to look for. The second is that students learn how to use those clusters to establish a baseline and identify anomalies within “the approach.” The approach an attacker makes is one of the final steps in the attack cycle and just about as close to “bang” as possible. While behavioral analysis can help a protector move further and further away from bang by improving the way they conduct the advance and establishing the behavioral baseline, learning to recognize people with violent intentions as they approach your protectee is an essential skill.
As I mentioned, I certainly recommend that you read Scott Stewart’s full article. I believe that he is right in that the attack on the U.S. Ambassador could have been prevented, but the key takeaway for the protectors on the ground looking to learn from this situation is that, especially while working unarmed, the only way to reduce the risk of a successful attack on your protectee is to develop your ability to recognize threats left of bang. Your ability to respond once an attack has begun will be very limited, so this proactive approach is key. This should always be your absolute goal, to prevent the attack on your protectee by recognizing attackers left of bang, instead of waiting to respond once an assault has begun.