“The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.” – Sun Tzu, Art of War, Chapter 4 (5th century BC)
Imagine that you are a security agent assigned to the protective detail for an important VIP. Your assignment is to watch a portion of the crowd as the VIP passes by and ensure that no harm comes to him. It seems a simple assignment, a few tense seconds while the VIP approaches, then the danger would subside with each step that he takes going away, as the opportunity to attack fades. The crowd has been gathering for an hour and, as the VIP arrives, numbers approximately 100 people in your zone.
What do you watch for? If you see something suspicious, how and when would you react? Police officers are trained to look for the commission of a crime. They often tell potential victims, “There’s nothing we can do until the suspect breaks the law.” Is this true for security personnel? Must the agent wait until a law has been violated before reacting or taking action? Obviously not, and the goal of the security detail should be to prevent a violent or embarrassing act from being committed. Left of Bang, as Patrick Van Horne describes it.
As the VIP approaches the agent’s portion of the crowd, a young man in front of the crowd squats down. The agent sees the action and recognizes that it is not what a person, who has been waiting for an hour to get a glimpse of a passing VIP, would do. The others in the crowd are up on their toes, smiling, shouting for the VIP to stop and shake hands or pose for a picture.
The young man picks up a rock and stands up. What now? Can the agent grab him? Should he warn the rest of his team? Denial might comfort the agent with logical explanations for the young man’s actions. Perhaps he’s a rock collector and spotted an interesting stone at his feet. Perhaps he believes that rocks are precious gems and wants to present this stone to the VIP as a gift. Perhaps the man fears he might float away and has picked up the rock for ballast. The agent’s mind, in a flash of a second, might ponder a dozen reasons for the man’s actions. But, as a security professional, he must also recognize that picking up a rock is a Pre-incident Indicator or “PIN” for throwing a rock at the VIP. What now? Does the agent wait for other PINs to appear before acting? Does he wait for the obvious PIN for throwing a rock, which is for the man to draw back his arm?
One of the most common reasons that attacks on public figures succeed is because security personnel are out of position or absent. They either miss PINs or are too far away to take effective action. At this point, the agent has done a good job of observing the crowd. He has spotted a PIN for public figure attack. As security personnel see PINs that warn of risk, they must not only process the information, but take action, as well.
“Changing from the defensive to the offensive, is one of the most delicate operations in war.”
– Napoleon, “In His Own Words” (1916).
At this early stage, the agent’s actions are limited. The “force continuum” for law enforcement and security personnel begins with presence, followed by verbal communications, control holds and restraints, chemical agents, impact weapons, and deadly force. The agent is already present. At this point, he could certainly issue a verbal command, “Hey, Sparky, drop the rock!” For the young man to refuse would be another PIN for his intended use of the rock. But has he reached the level where the agent can grab the man’s arms? Has enough information surfaced to convince a jury of the man’s intentions? Probably not. The agent doesn’t want to overreact, but that doesn’t mean he must stand helplessly by and wait for the man to take the next step.
In order to hit the VIP with a rock, the young man needs something, too. He must have opportunity, and his window of opportunity will be brief, probably only several seconds of time as the VIP approaches, then moves away. He’ll also need a clear shot. If the VIP is surrounded by staff and bodyguards, the odds of his success diminish. He’ll need accuracy. Calm nerves. Velocity. These are all things that the agent can spoil, by stepping in front of the man, placing a hand in front of the man’s eyes, or by distracting him with a question or command. Any of these actions would change the dynamics of the young man’s situation. He would now be on a new timetable, having to calculate new angles, perhaps weighing the consequences of his actions. His continued resistance would quickly signal his true intent. He might still get off a shot, perhaps a successful one, but the agent has taken action, which lowers the odds for the man’s success. As Gavin de Becker says, “The secret to protection — the trick, if you will – is being able to recognize possible PINs in situations and settings, in order to deduce your vulnerability, without waiting for someone to exploit that vulnerability. If you feel vulnerable in a given situation, you should take steps to change the situation.”
One of the greatest generals of all time, Maurice de Saxe, commanded the French army of King Louis XV. His brilliant work, Reveries on the Art of War, was published in 1757 after his death. De Saxe’s description of the ideal commander includes many of the same qualities as that of a world-class protector, who guards the battlefield surrounding the Boss: “He should possess a talent for sudden and appropriate improvisation. He should be able to penetrate the minds of other men, while remaining impenetrable himself. He should be endowed with the capacity of being prepared for everything, with activity accompanied by judgment, with skill to make a proper decision on all occasions, and with exactness of discernment.”
Tom is the coauthor of the best-selling and must read book – Just 2 Seconds