This blog originally appeared on Security Driver.com on April 19, 2015. Thanks to Tony Scotti for letting us re-use it here. The blog is the personal opinions of the authors and not their employers.
T he notion of ‘intelligence’ covers a broad spectrum of concepts. It conjures an array of images from military operations utilizing drones to attack a predetermined target, to clandestine spies meeting with sources in a dark corner of a bar in Prague, or computers utilizing algorithms to monitor big data. It is also an essential part and beginning of any protective detail’s advance work. How you find and use it can help set the operation towards success.
The word intelligence itself has sadly become an almost meaningless buzzword in today’s society. Although there are a lot of different types and definitions of intelligence, the easiest way is to think of intelligence as information. In this context you can utilize it for a strategic or tactical need and this how it is best suited to support a Close Protection detail. In this manner, it is generally referred to as Protective Intelligence (PI).
From someone who is not a career Intelligence Analyst, doing all this may sound really complicated, but it’s actually much easier than you think. For the most part, many Executive Protection (EP) professionals already do this. However, here are a few ‘suggestions’ for conducting your PI efforts more efficiently.
What makes it Intel?
Why do we keep referencing, ‘information in context’ as intelligence? There is so much information floating around and it is easy to quickly use a search engine (like Google or Bing) to find almost any information you may need for your advance. Things like street maps, building schematics, and background information about your location start to create a good working file before you even put “boots on the ground.”
This is all tactical information to assist with your planning. Strategically, you can search for information on your principal’s background; which may include, but is not limited to, negative information about this person, their company or business interests which could affect how you assess the needs of your detail.
The real issue is this; sometimes there is too much information online. Putting it ‘in context’ means you discern what information is actually important to your principal and the detail; this turns the information into intelligence.
Does it matter if you find an article from three years ago about your principal working for a company conducting animal testing? It does, if while researching you identify a potential PETA protest at the event your designate is attending. It may not be pertinent if there doesn’t appear to be any prospective animal rights protest activity at the event. Again the context of the information is what makes it strategic intelligence that you would then have to mitigate operationally.
Always think critically about what’s called “all-source” information. Unfortunately, just because it is easily accessed does not mean it is accurate. Be wary of the information you are consuming because if the information is incorrect or unreliable, your intelligence will be off. An easy example:
A popular TV commercial says 4 out of 5 dentists prefer a certain toothpaste brand. Sound legitimate?
The question you should ask is how many dentists they asked, 5, 50 or 50,000. The difference in the number of sampled data sets can be a huge discrepancy in the actual results.
The second question that should be is asked is what is the background of the 4 dentists who picked this toothpaste brand. Are they being sponsored by the company? Did they choose the toothpaste due to the effectiveness of cleaning someone’s teeth or did it just taste better than the other brands?
Yes, this is a really simplified example, but it shows how a seemingly legitimate statement can be skewed because a “so-called expert endorsed the brand.” The moral of the story being – Vet the authenticity and accuracy of the information you are researching via multiple sources.
Know what sources are available. The Internet makes it so easy to find information, however, that does not mean you are finding accurate information or using the best material. Often, US media sources can (more often than not) be slanted, jaded or just plain ridiculous due to the sensationalist approach. A quick exercise:
Read an international news story from a US news source, and then read a story from another country’s media, like say the BBC. This will quickly open your eyes to the discrepancies in mainstream US media.
Social media is one of the fastest communication mediums in our society. Among other things, it provides a really good strategic overview of public perception. Social media can also be utilized for tactical PI. An example of this was seen during a recent protest where many activists were live streaming and utilizing Twitter to post the ongoing activities on social media. By reviewing this free and open source information, one could make tactical decisions regarding how ongoing risks may need to be mitigated while in the middle of a detail.
Besides the Internet, there are a lot of really great free sources available to a close protection professional. For example, government entities, like the Department of State, Overseas Advisory Council (OSAC), will provide geopolitical security risk intelligence. However, this is still considered single source information. Remember, PI should be a combination of several different sources.
Another great source of PI includes other EP professionals or trusted contacts. Human intelligence is a very reliable form of information. In most situations, other close protection professionals have had to work similar details, so your peer network can be a wealth of information.
If, by doing your open source research it is determined the threat level (or situation) is complicated enough, a number of really good paid vendor intelligence groups exist. These groups provide services that can range from fairly economical to ridiculously expensive. Additionally, they can cover everything from social media monitoring, geo-tracking, international risk intelligence, and so on. If you find the need for an intelligence professional, try to be clear on what you want prior to engaging.
In the end, protective intelligence starts with you and the mission. Determine your end state and work to fill the intelligence gaps. Think critically and vet your sources. Don’t let the process overwhelm you or the team because any plan will change the moment you hit the ground and so will the intelligence.
Good luck and keep your head down!