On a recent trip to France, Spain and Portugal we did a little “recon” work that produced some interesting results.
As you know, there have been varying degrees of unrest in France — with French farmers, and the younger populations of Spain and Portugal. In France the farmers protest the cost of basic goods and the controlling nature of the government, as well as the bailout of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and now Cyprus. In Spain and Portugal, the youth challenge the austerity measures forced upon them, blaming the EU or IMF for their fiscal woes. Some of the protests have, honestly, got ugly
As we have several assignments in these areas, we took this opportunity to have one of our investigators “check the lay of the land.”
The investigator started in Barcelona visiting the city square, Catalunya Square, where many of the protests had originated or erupted. He wore tourist clothing – as in fact, he was a tourist (clever, eh!) He spoke with some of the protestors one afternoon, and eventually had a few beers with them. Their grievance was simple — they were unemployed and wanted work. Most of this group were unemployed as a result, directly or indirectly, of cuts made by the government. There was a strong current of anti-authority (nobody specific, but specifically, everyone) and against the wealthy in general. Our investigator learned what hotels the protestors watched, which events they hoped to disrupt, and what type of cars they might choose to damage. All of the information gathered provided a somewhat detailed map of the minefield – and while we can’t share our findings completely in an open forum, we can once again caution — do not stay in western hotels, do not drive big black cars with escorts, and do not wander around glancing furtively.
Stay in local brand hotels, take cabs or rent small inconspicuous vehicles, pay in cash where you can (from your front pocket), and keep your wallet hidden. There is an inordinate interest in wallets and how they are handled, one reason being that the bank on your credit card will identify what country you are from.
These inquiries were repeated with farmers in western France and the townspeople of Oporto, Portugal. Our intrepid investigator gleaned excellent intelligence on the local climate and circumstances, planned rallies that were soft scheduled, and the triggers for the rallies. Advancing the mission past the limits of his official assignment, our investigator learned where to find local cafes and wines — where he did extensive study.
This intelligence kept our client safe. Impressed by our knowledge of local events, our client was also delighted at our investigators pick of cafes, menu items, and wines.
The instruction here is simple — if you’re going to a place where there is unrest — find out what you can about the issues, the perceptions, and the players. It’s not always in the budget to send a single person on a scouting mission, but if you have a valued investigator or team member in the area or in situ – use them.
It also should be noted that this investigator is notorious for being friendly, possessing the ability to chat up kings and anarchists all in the same day. His knowledge of the culinary arts and viticulture are excellent, and from his research he recommends the giant fried sardines and a vinho verde, (Castle Garcia – blanco or rose) in Oporto — with a nice aged port for desert.
This Executive Protection article was written or edited by Barron James Shortt, the Executive Director of the International Bodyguard Association (IBA).