Counter-surveillance as an alternative to protection

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Counter-surveillance as an alternative to protection

On a recent trip to Bogota I met with a man who no longer made use of protective agents. His reasoning was that no matter how much he paid his people, the bad guys could pay them more. This is a valid concern, as trust always is an issue (without trust there can be no betrayal), which is why we sometimes get called in for sensitive operations because we are by reputation trustworthy (we vet our people very carefully and on an ongoing basis, and this writer is, literally, an Eagle Scout), as well as because of our capabilities. Instead, he chose an alternative approach to making himself inaccessible.

Rather than having one office he had three, and instead of having one car he had five. Each day he would randomly choose a car, and then randomly choose an office. By having fifteen office/automobile options, rather than one, he believed he had made himself a less-available target, a belief that was confirmed for him by the fact that he had not been kidnapped.

While we are, in fact, delighted that he is safe, and hope this state of grace continues indefinitely, there is a small flaw in his logic. This flaw is the underlying assumption that kidnappings are relatively spur-of-the-moment affairs, and that switching cars and offices will confuse potential kidnappers. In fact, kidnappers spend a lot of time investigating possible targets, choosing the appropriate target from a list of potential candidates, and planning the snatch. Indeed, the selection and planning stage rarely take less than six months, and frequently take more than a year. Thus, for our thus-far lucky subject, the fact that he leaves from one residence to go to one of three offices is not likely to be much of a deterrent.

The very thoroughness of kidnappers could, however, be turned to his advantage if he could assemble at least a small counter-surveillance team that he can trust. Naturally, if you have a problem trusting your protective agents, you will also have a problem trusting your counter-surveillance team, though this is minimized by the fact that they are, by nature, nearly invisible. In the case in question, the team would be responsible not for protection, but for counter-surveillance. Counter-surveillance generally begins with surveillance: When you notice that you are tripping over others doing the same surveillance as are you, then you know you have a problem which needs to be addressed.

And, of course, even if you do have a protective team, counter-surveillance, like intelligence gathering, should be one of its cornerstones. Be aware, however, that counter-surveillance is a skill that comes through training and experience. If your team doesn’t have that skill set, call us to talk about getting some training for them.

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