Early Warning System of Counter – Surveillance

An ISDA Note – This article was written by ISDA members Steve Powers approximately 15 to 18 year ago.  Note that the article mentions those ancient documents called Maps, and references are made to events in that occurred in that period.

The key to thwarting an attack is to have an early warning system in place. The basis of an early warning system is a sound counter-surveillance program. This system keeps a close watch over abnormal activity near the home, office and your travel routes. Awareness of your environment must be raised to the point whereby anything out of the ordinary is noticed and reacted to. This cannot be stressed enough. Most systems fail not so much that the pre-incident indicators weren’t noticed, but rather nothing was done about them. People tend to rationalize a change in their environment rather that check it out. One example would be the Gas Company crew working on the street. Is the work and crew, legitimate? Call and find out.

Danger Zone Log

The advance team should create a Danger Zone Log. Normal and abnormal activity occurring on routes of interest should be recorded in a Danger Zone Log. Voice -activated tape recorder is ideal for noting activity as one drives along. Tapes may be transcribed later into a hard copy log to be shard with the remainder of the protective team.

Awareness Levels

An effective early warning system is based upon a conscious awareness of your environment. You must be alert to the degree that changes in the environment even if subtle, are noticed. Examples include:

Strange vehicles parked near the home or office is immediately reported to police.

People standing, walking or sitting in vehicles near the home or office are noticed.

Your “gut instinct ” tells you that you are being followed.

Awareness varies from complete ignorance to the point of panic, where it is truly too late to react effectively to attack. Tony Scotti’s color-coded system is very useful for establishing operational awareness.

Condition Green

The driver is completely unaware of what is happening around him. Often resulting from boredom or fatigue, he is in a reactive mode.

Condition Yellow

The driver is aware of his environment. He makes conscious decisions based on his observations of the environment, anticipating problems and seeing ahead.

Condition Orange

The driver is alert enough to recognize pre-incident indicators of an imminent attack.

Condition Red

The driver makes the transition from condition orange to condition red, taking immediate action to counter the unfolding attack.

Advanced Considerations

Environmental awareness is critical to a protection team’s ability to operate successfully. While this was addressed before, an additional distinction must be made. Awareness sounds simple enough however the differences between a domestic environment and an overseas one are dramatic. In his book The World’s Most Dangerous Places, Robert Young Pelton jokingly points out that in the U.S. a bodyguard is more likely to hit himself with a car door or drop a package than face a real threat. While this may not always be true, this simply is not the case when referring to the third world. What is normal in Kosovo would be abnormal in Cleveland. An associate who was assigned to the Aristide Presidential Detail in Haiti provided an example. He stated that they routinely carried their Uzi’s at the ready on their way to work. It was “normal” for him to witness random acts of street violence by armed bands as well tire “necklace” burnings of people. It is important to note that when initially introduced into a new environment, you will be the “alien.” It will take time to be able to recognize what belongs and what doesn’t. This discovery process requires a substantial investment of time and resources. This is where a proper advance and the careful use of properly vetted foreign nationals as translators and guides will pay enormous dividends. In a high-risk environment, additional considerations include:

Analysis of the terrain from a military point of view.

The landmine and roadside bomb threat.

The indigenous use of rocket propelled grenades (RPG series), anti-armor weapons.

Choice of vehicles according to what blends in with the environment, vehicle functionality such as an off-road capability, and armoring considerations given the threat.

Reliability assessment of local authorities with a determination of possible collusion with terrorists, guerrillas, rebels, and organized crime.

Availability, access, and timeliness of official support assets such as medical evacuation and air support resources from the military. Examples would be assets belonging to the Bosnia Stabilizing Force (SFOR) and Kosovo Force (KFOR).

These resources would normally only be available to official government details or those operating under auspices of the U.S. State Department’s Worldwide Protective Services Contract.

To analyze terrain from a military point of view employ the acronym, “KOCOA.” This analysis will reveal likely ambush points, indigenous roadblocks, official vehicle checkpoints, covert observation posts, and possible sniper hides.

Key Terrain is any natural or man-made feature that would give either side a significant advantage. The decisiveness of terrain to both an attacker and defender cannot be overstated. The Brazilian urban guerrilla, Carlos Marighella, gave great credence to it in his Mini-Manual of the Urban Guerrilla. Considered the bible for urban guerrillas and terrorists, he noted the importance of terrain to a successful ambush by stating, “the urban guerrilla’s best ally is the terrain, and because this is so, he must know it like the palm of his hand. To have the terrain as an ally means to know how to use with intelligence its unevenness, its high and low points, its turns, its irregularities, its regular and secret passages, abandoned areas, its thickets, etc., taking maximum advantage of all this for the success of armed actions, escapes, retreats, cover and hiding places.”

Obstacles are both natural and manmade. Examples are rivers, a washed out road, destroyed bridge, road construction, minefields, burning cars, a demonstration, etc.

Cover and Concealment. Wooded, heavily forested terrain, culverts, multi-storied buildings, abandoned buildings all offer potential covert observation posts, possible sniper hides and areas to conceal possible ambushers.

Observation and Fields of Fire Areas that dominate the area either through observation of the road or area of interest and that facilitate the use of use of standoff, longer-range weapons such as an RPG or remotely controlled landmine.

Avenues of Approach Avenues of approach can be a road, street, path or simply terrain that facilitates approach as well as offering a means of escape to a potential attacker.

The 101st/1308th Engineer Detachment of the Alabama Army National Guard produced an excellent example of a terrain analysis of a foreign environment. As part of the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, they concluded the following: “Overall the area of Bosnia is mountainous and is very well drained (numerous rivers). The terrain does not allow fast mobility, and with mines everywhere, there is NO off-road mobility, whatsoever! All travel is hampered by the weather. Snow, mudslides, avalanches, washouts, and flooding and even fog cause us all to take extra precautions when traveling throughout Bosnia. By the way, the word “Balkan” in the Turkish language means “Mountains.””

Counter-ambush drills to be effective must be realistic. Everyone agrees with this premise, however, few trainers achieve the realism required. The secret to an effective counter ambush program is scenario-based training. Scenarios should be drawn from historically based attacks in the environment you will be operating in. Is the threat from roadside bombs? Snipers? What weapons are available to your adversary? How has the group you are operating against attacked targets before? This topic alone is the other half of the counter surveillance and route planning equation. It is hoped that what has been presented up to this point will provide a firm foundation for creating a Vehicle Ambush Counter Measures Program.

Full discloser I (Tony Scotti) am prejudice when it comes to practitioners like Steve. He is one of those ISDA members that is the poster child for success in the profession. Steve works in the Global Security Security Department for Starbucks Coffee Company as a senior protective services specialist and has 23 years of experience.

You can reach Steve on LinkedIn – Click Here

Security Driver Magazine Newsletter Sign Up – Join over 4,000 of your peers!


Become an ISDA member today

The return on investment (ROI) that members receive for the $75 per year (less than $1.50 per week) is access to exclusive content, in addition to recorded and future webinars, over 300 articles, references, white papers, free books, the opportunity to expand brand awareness by sharing your content through the ISDA network (estimated 7500+ protective services practitioners).

For more information on membership benefits and certification click here.