Joe Autera authored this article approximately 20 years ago for ISDA’s predecessor, Security Driver.Com. At that time Joe was the Director of Security of a multi-national technology concern. Later Joe became the Vice President of Global Security Services for one of the world’s leading providers of crisis management and risk mitigation services to multi-national corporations and non-governmental organizations.
Advances in technology have dramatically impacted every facet of the security profession, including the executive protection field.
The availability of portable alarm and CCTV systems, personal “panic button” transmitters and GPS based tracking systems provide the modern bodyguard with some very effective means of increasing protection levels while minimizing the impact such an increase has on the principal and his or her lifestyle. The affordability and availability of personal computers, along with the advent of the internet, provide their benefit in the form of easier and faster access to the latest information regarding existing or evolving threats, routes, locales, etc. Those security professionals that provide one-on-one protection often realize the most significant benefit from applied technology. In situations where manpower and other resources are limited, the value of technology as a force multiplier cannot be overstated.
However, there is a downside to all of this; the same technology, along with its inherent advantages, is available to just about any would-be assailant. In fact, a case could be made that technology may actually increase the likelihood of a potential attacker becoming an imminent threat. We can use the tragic murder of Rebecca Schaeffer as a point of reference to help illustrate this concept. The man who stalked and eventually killed the young actress, Robert Bardo, went to great lengths to get close to his victim. Eventually, he spent a couple of hundred dollars to have a private investigator provide him with Ms. Schaeffers’ address, an idea that he borrowed from a newspaper article that detailed the actions of another celebrity stalker. It was at this address that Mr. Bardo came in final contact with Ms. Schaeffer, shooting and killing her as she stood in her front door. Today, some eleven years later, with the help of a desktop computer and the internet, a would-be stalker can easily gather the same information on their own and for considerably less money than Bardo spent to get his victim’s address. Because gathering the kind of information needed to plan and launch a successful attack now takes considerably less time and effort, there is no “cooling off” period that could serve to ease the anger and hostility of a potential attacker. Instead, the would-be assailant can gather the information needed and act upon their aggression and anger before there is time enough for them to return to a more rational state of mind.
In today’s world, even those who maintain what would traditionally be considered a low profile may be just as vulnerable as the high profile actor or public figure. After all, generally speaking, the victims of the Unabomber were relatively unknown outside of the professional circles and spheres of influence that they maintained. Kaczinski used open source information to select his targets. Eventually, despite his avowed hatred of technology, his information-gathering activities included the use of a computer and the internet. This, after it became apparent during the course of his attacks that the information he had gathered from printed sources was often outdated. In fact, at the time of his arrest, the Unabomber had in his possession detailed information about various oil company executives in the Dallas area. These files contained information gathered almost exclusively over the internet and included home and work addresses as well as vehicle information and detailed maps of the surrounding neighborhoods.
In both of these cases cited, the gathering of information preceded a successful attack. When the methods and tools used to gather that information are examined and compared, a rather stark reality becomes clear: Maintaining a low profile has taken on a whole new meaning in the Technology Age and poses some unique challenges for today’s bodyguard. The information needed to select a potential target and formulate a plan of attack can now be gathered in a matter of hours, as opposed to weeks or months. Doing so from “the comfort of their own home” as it were, also reduces the likelihood of attack preparations being detected in the earliest stages. Traditional measures such as avoiding unnecessary media exposure and blending in through appropriate dress and behavior no longer offer the same level of anonymity.
What does all this mean for the bodyguard? Well, it means that your job just got a little more difficult (not that this should surprise anyone). To provide adequate protection, you must have a thorough understanding of likely, probable and possible threats. With the help of technology, yesterday’s possible threat can very easily become today’s likely threat and will require a significantly different protection strategy. One must also maintain at least a basic understanding of existing technology, and it’s applications. Perhaps first and foremost, you need to know what sort of information is readily available regarding your principal (and his or her family) as well as how easily accessible this information is. Now, we’re not talking about the availability and accessibility of written documents such as a travel itinerary, vacation plans or the like; though it is still as important as ever to control and limit the dissemination of this information. Rather, we are talking about information such as mortgage records, which are an excellent source for correct addresses, phone numbers, spouse’s names, social security numbers, etc. In fact, they may also provide an accurate portrait of an individual’s personal wealth as well as their ability to quickly raise cash, just the sort of information a kidnapper would like to know. You must also be concerned with access to motor vehicle records, UCC filings, corporate registration and report filings and the like. All of the aforementioned information is considered, to one degree or another, public record and, as such, is easily accessible. In reality, that has always been the case. The difference is that today most of this information can be easily accessed from almost anywhere in the world. The only way to know exactly what’s out there in the way of information about your principal is to find out for yourself. More often than not, after a couple of hours of surfing for information, you will be shocked by what you find. The operative phrase here is to find out for yourself. The sensitive nature of the information you are researching all but precludes allowing someone else to perform the search.
Okay, you’ve done your research and gotten over the shock of what you found, so now what do you do? If you know what’s out there then who else knows? The answer to that question can probably never be answered with any degree of certainty. But, knowing what an attacker may know about the target can be very helpful in evaluating the relevance and adequacy of existing security measures. For instance, if you now know that the principal’s vehicles are all a matter of public record, from license plate numbers to the description of the vehicle, and provide address information as well, it may be time to suggest a new vehicle be purchased or leased. If you discover his or her spouse’s name appears in an overwhelming majority of public records, it may be time to consider providing some protection for him or her as well. As always, any suggestions you make or changes you implement should be in keeping with an up-to-date, objective threat and risk assessment. Record searches should also be updated on a periodic basis to ensure that any changes in information availability are noted as soon as possible. As far as limiting access to this information, while it’s a great idea, in reality, this is all but impossible to achieve. There is not much that can be done to remove information that is considered public record from a database once it has been entered. That’s not to say that it hasn’t been done, it’s just that it is expensive and time-consuming and one can never be totally sure that the information does not appear somewhere else. Beware of those claiming to be able to remove all traces of someone or something from such public records for a fee, more often than not the only thing that disappears is someone’s money.
While there may not be much you can do about information that is already in existence, there are measures that can be implemented going forward that will curtail the amount of useful information contained in public records. Homes and other real estate property can be purchased through holding companies, limited liability partnerships or management companies. Vehicles and watercraft can be registered to leasing companies or corporations. If that is not a viable option, simply list a P.O. Box as the address of record on the proper registration forms. The same should be done with the drivers’ licenses of all those residing at the principals’ primary residence. How far you go with this is limited by your own creativity, prevailing statutes and, of course, the principals’ willingness to cooperate. And while you are at it, you just might want to consider making some changes to your own publicly accessible records.
In today’s rapidly changing world, the bodyguard faces a myriad of challenges and threats that require thinking outside the traditional close protection box. Restricting a potential assailants ability to gather information critical to the planning of a successful attack has always been an effective way of ensuring that a possible threat doesn’t evolve into a headline-grabbing attack. This takes on added importance in a world where virtually unlimited access to a wealth of information is just a few keystrokes away.