By Doug Belton
I remember reading Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series back in the early 1980’s. I was fascinated by the places Jason Bourne traveled to and the way he out foxed his enemies at every turn. Sometimes he was shot or beaten, but he always got the upper hand through sheer guile.
I know everyone says the book is always better than the movie and in most cases I agree. However, having seen the Bourne books brought to life by Matt Damon in movie form, in this case, I have to disagree. In particular I want to draw your attention to the third movie, “The Bourne Ultimatum.”
In this movie Jason Bourne finds himself in a crowded train station in London trying to protect a foolish journalist who has stumbled onto some information he doesn’t understand will get him killed. In this scene Bourne manages to keep the journalist alive for several minutes among a group of trained killers that the journalist is not even aware are out there to kill him.
If you have not seen this movie, get it and watch what Bourne does. Bourne is practicing an old technique of observation that airport security personnel call, SPOT. The acronym stands for, Screening Passengers by Observations Techniques.
The idea is simply a matter of understanding what normal behavior under a certain context is, and separating out behavior that is abnormal for that particular context. For example, normally when people travel they purchase round trip tickets with a credit card and they carry enough baggage to allow them to stay comfortably in the place they are visiting until they return.
If for example a citizen of Yemen who is on an international terror watch list were traveling to Detroit in the middle of winter, having paid cash for his ticket, checking no luggage, and not carrying or wearing a coat to protect them from the harsh elements of an average Detroit winter, it might be a good idea to stop the person before they board the airplane and check their underwear for explosives.
Of course that scenario is so ridiculous even the producers of the Bourne movies wouldn’t touch it because it is so far beyond the scope of practical reality.
Law enforcement has used this technique for years and in fact they have caught a considerable amount of flak for what has been termed, racial profiling. Profiling is good police work, racial profiling is not only poor police work, it is damaging to the community.
The idea behind profiling is simple. If a police officer is patrolling a public park where mothers typically take their children to play and the officer sees a middle aged man in his car offering candy to children while their mothers are distracted, he should take a closer look and perhaps even ask some questions of the man.
These techniques must be applied to Executive Protection work as well. You are the professional that should know what is and what is not normal under any given context. If your protectee is enjoying him/herself at a night club, know the typical clientele of that establishment and make note of anyone that does not fit.
Business meetings and political summits also have particular types of people engaged in fairly specific activities that you should know well. When you see someone in these settings that does not fit, be aware of them and make note of any unusual activities they engage in.
The key for the Executive Protection Professional is advance notice of a potential threat. Unlike the law enforcement officer or the customs agent working in an airport, Executive Protection Specialists do not have the luxury of taking someone into custody for further questioning.
However, knowing who to keep your eye on can give you the vital seconds needed to respond quickly to an emerging threat. Once you spot someone who does not fit or whose behavior is inconsistent with the context you are in, you can begin to form contingency plans for evacuation, or if necessary, offensive action.
Knowing who fits and who does not offers you the opportunity to pass this important information on to others working the detail with you, and in some cases, you may be able to pass this information on to your protectee. Your protectee will often be able to identify this person as a known threat.
While you may not be Jason Bourne, you can use the SPOT techniques and your professional training to become familiar with the environment you are in and to keep your protectee safe.