This blog is a personal commentary on the dilution of “protection” in protective surveillance, written by an expert in covert protection and surveillance detection.
The context calls for covert protection
The summer breeze was lost on me as I lay on the beach in the dark. The sand was cool, and together with the sound of the lapping waves, almost soothing as it shifted to the shape of my body and gear.
Though the grains of sand had no smell, the air was thick with the odor of fish – fresh and less so. Hardly surprising, as I was under an overturned fishing skip.
From my OP, I had a clear line of sight to the cliff on my left and the open beach on my right, as well as to the quiet, isolated beachfront restaurant where my principal sat: A very influential man breaking bread with another equally influential man. A clandestine meeting.
At the top of the stairs leading to the restaurant a couple walked hand in hand, nostalgic of their past together and dreaming of their future. They gazed toward the ocean, and were practically inebriated by their love of life. Close to the bench they sat down at, a taxi driver was enjoying a rest after a busy day of transporting rowdy tourists and short-tempered business people. Another young couple had just been seated in the restaurant, ready for a romantic dinner.
As dusk set in I could make out the 4×4 parked at the boat ramp to my right, but I could not see the man perched upon the cliff to my left.
I moved slightly to improve my line of sight, and removed my monocular night vision. If anyone approached the restaurant from any of the sides accessible from the beach I would see them and be able to assess if they were a threat or not.
My covert team
Near the bench where my principal sat, the cabbie was actually our highly skilled and very experienced operational driver who would be ready to evacuate our principal from the area in a hurry if needed. Our backup vehicle at the boat ramp would provide a beach-side evacuation option should this be necessary. High upon the cliff, our lookout would keep his eagle eye trained over the beach and restaurant using state-of-the- art optics. Any danger from within the restaurant would be mitigated by the otherwise amorous couple seated between the rear door and the principal.
A scene from a novel or a movie? Not quite. This scenario is based on a real-world deployment of a protection team utilizing covert tactics to protect our principal without drawing attention to him. And ready to surprise any would be attackers.
The primary responsibility of this team is to keep the principal from harm. The methods employed to achieve this are all based on identifying threats as early as possible and as far away from the principal as possible: If a threat is identified or confirmed at a hazardous proximity to the principal, time and distance must be created.
What is protective surveillance compared to covert protection?
This blog is not about hostile actions and the protector’s reactions. It’s about understanding the difference between the terms covert protection and protective surveillance.
I have wanted to write on this topic of “rebranding” protective surveillance as covert protection for quite a while now, but have simply not had the opportunity. The most recent reminder, or catalyst if you will, was when I was consulting for a client who had brought on a very inexperienced team to conduct covert protection and surveillance detection for a principal facing a credible threat from a capable adversary.
When interviewing the team members, I asked them what their role was, and was very surprised by their answers. The protective surveillance team understood their roles and responsibilities as “Watching the principal in order to let the mobile guys know if the principal left home, and they hadn’t noticed.” They also had a few interesting ideas about identifying hostile surveillance.
Strikingly, however, no team member ever mentioned the words “protect”, “security”, “covert”, “stop”, “threat”, “evacuate” or “warn”.
The omissions hammered the final nails into the coffin of “protective surveillance”
The principal, team leads, members and managers were all clueless as to what was required regarding “surveillance”, not to mention “protective surveillance”. The end result was that no one was actually providing a protective function. And in this case, the principal genuinely needed it.
To make matters worse, the answers as to why they were covert were resoundingly uninformed: “If the principal sees us, we’ll lose our jobs”.
If you’ve read this far you are nodding and probably smiling, if not grimacing. Most of us corporate EP professionals have been told “The principal doesn’t want to see security” and things of that nature. I’m absolutely OK with that; but not at the expense of protection when it’s needed.
Our job as protectors is to protect, and if we’re constantly hiding from the principal, and watching from a distance, we are not protecting. At such distances, we are not capable of protecting: We are simply conducting surveillance of the principal. Should a determined or even halfhearted attacker attempt to do harm, the surveillance team will be in no position to stop them, only to watch and then clean up the mess. The distance between the principal and the threat should vary according to the risk to the principal – not according to risk of the principal seeing the team.
Protective surveillance as a term has become misleading to those who don’t understand it at a deep level. Protection is the prime driver, not surveillance. That is why “covert protection” is a much more pertinent and accurate term for what has often mistakenly been termed as “protective surveillance”.