July 5, 2017

Within the discipline of personal security which is that set of ‘portable wisdom’ we should take with us when outside of the protective, familiar cocoon of our homes or workplaces, there can be widely held but fundamentally false beliefs about our safety. Usually the culprit behind false ideas is complacency—the ‘it doesn’t apply to me’ attitude. This can be quite injurious or even fatal for those who must venture out into today’s uncertain and volatile world. As we have regretfully seen, threats can strike just as effectively and suddenly in London or Manchester, as they can in Baghdad or Sana.

Hence, here are a few of the myths or illusions of security that need to be debunked:

01 it cannot happen to me

When it comes to one’s personal security, the greatest threat quite often is the fact that no threat at all manifests itself to life and limb. A trip or two proceeds without a hitch. The hinterlands of the supposedly ‘dangerous’ outback of a country in the throes of civil war are in fact peaceful, pastoral, and uneventful. A sense of hubris, of luck, creeps in and in turn breeds overconfidence. The truth of the matter is that, sooner or later, one’s luck runs out. It is not a matter of ‘if ’ but ‘when.’ The reason is simple, complacency begets bad habits. These bad habits might be cutting corners on a disciplined approach to route security between workplace and home. Allowing one’s mind to wander while out for a stroll; not paying attention to the environment around you; just muddling through security arrangements for the next trip— bad habits have a way of accumulating and creating vulnerability. And threat actors, whether they are out to kidnap you or steal your wallet, are attracted to such vulnerability. Sooner or later it ‘will happen to you’.

02 bodyguards and armored SUVs will protect me

Bodyguards and armored SUVs provide an excellent layer of protective security around the VIP or executive. However, in the absence of additional procedural measures in terms of the route and timing of the movement, or use of decoy convoys, the armored SUV and bevy of men in-black with weapons and sunglasses is, regrettably, an illusion of security. Firstly, having this kind of protection at your disposal is expensive. Secondly, lowering the profile of your movement, keeping its timing and route details confidential, using a non-descript vehicle—might save you from getting killed because terrorists or insurgents make the assumption that up-armored, high-profile convoys contain important people worth targeting. Also, individuals who are accustomed to having this kind of executive security around quite often abdicates responsibility for their personal security to the dark-suited mannequins and in the absence of the bodyguard, is clueless about what to do concerning their own safety.

03 she is really into me

You are relaxing at a hotel lounge after a long, tiresome journey. Suddenly, a well-dressed stranger comes and sits next to you and strikes a conversation. This person could invite you to his or her room for a chat. Unknown to you, he or she really is not that into you. More likely than not, such a person could have received payment from either a foreign government or a corporation targeting the data on your laptop, and/or your company’s network. While you are in that room, another group of individuals are in your room mirroring all the data on your laptop and leaving ‘the gift that keeps on giving’ on it before they depart… a covert keystroke logger or some other malware that will migrate into your company’s network when you next plug your laptop in and connect to the corporate server. It is the oldest game in the book.

04 it is just a coincidence

Déjá vu is the feeling of something ‘same’ happening before. In the 1999 film The Matrix, Neo sees a black cat walk by followed by another black cat that behaves the exact same way. It makes him feel that something is wrong… and he was right. The same is true in personal security. When you are on the street in a strange, new place and you get that sense of déjá vu, pay attention. There are no coincidences when it comes to your security. Kidnap teams while doing their ground work on you must, out of necessity, survey your routes, routines, the places you go for lunch or entertainment. In doing so, they may expose themselves. If they are not very good—and more often than not they are not—they make mistakes. If you are attentive to your surroundings, then you might notice that the same woman or man has shown up in a different place or time. That is not a coincidence.

05 ‘go along to get along’ syndrome

It is a rookie mistake. You are a newly-appointed team leader who is in charge of herding a group of engineers or executives through work that your company has contracted in a less-than-desirable city. The location is rife with armed insurgents, corrupt police, and kidnappers and not to mention a surfeit of run-of-the-mill street criminals. You are responsible for the security but you want to maintain harmony in the group at the same time. You compromise and negotiate. At the first armed roadblock, someone from your team argues with the policeman checking papers and the next thing you all know, you are arrested. Or a group goes out to a local dive and one of them gets kidnapped. It is a myth that patience and long suffering, when shepherding your team abroad into tough places, will work. It does not. Be firm and clear about the dos and don’ts of operating in a country and when one of them gets out of line, send them out. If your personal security program is disciplined and principled, then you will pass those same values along to those for whom you are responsible.