Predator Hunting and Preemptive Intervention – Essential Skills for Executive Protection

In our previous article, we discussed the importance of training executive protection agents on how to identify suspicious behavior in order to prevent dangerous or embarrassing situations for their clients. We also brought up, as an example, the Manchester Arena terrorist attack that took place in 2017 and resulted in 23 deaths.  An incident that drew the public apology from the head of MI5 who said “he was profoundly sorry the security service did not prevent the Manchester Arena attack.”

 

For those who are not aware of the incident, during the investigation, one of the event security guards, Kyle Lawler, said that the terrorist was reported by a member of the public who, himself, had thought the person looked ‘’dodgy’’. He also found his appearance and behavior to be “out of the ordinary”; however, he failed to confront him because he was afraid he would be labeled as “racist” by doing so. If he had approached the terrorist and investigated his presence and intentions further, perhaps the outcome of that incident would have been different.

 

 

How predator/threat hunting training program was born

Executive Security International (ESI) was founded in 1980, initially focusing on reactive techniques such as martial arts, shooting, and escape & evasion driving. However, we weren’t convinced that these skills alone were sufficient to prepare our students for real-world scenarios. We continually sought to evolve our training programs to ensure our graduates could be more proactive, stopping attacks before they happen. For those who know me, they know how many decades I’ve spent training in martial arts. While “hard skills” are necessary, it’s equally important—sometimes even more so—to teach “soft skills.” Bad actors are smart, trained, and will often study you, staying steps ahead. Hard skills won’t save you if you fail to prepare and prevent situations. So, I kept asking myself, what will keep us ahead of our game?

 

After filming our 60-Minute documentary in 1985, the producer for the CBS 60 Minute program generously offered to grant me access to their archives and sent all of their newsreels of assassination attempts on public figures: Reagan, Wallace, President Park, Mrs. Marcos, etc. All of whom had protection details and, yet those men and women failed to intercept the bold attacks. We would say, their “Situational Awareness” amounted to “Waiting for something to happen- It happened- The protection detail had to clean up the Mess”. Since I was given this unique opportunity to view this amazing collection of attacks on public figures, I began creating my own, which I continue to amass to this day. While the access to the CBS library was transformative and supportive of my view of teaching philosophy and inspired a search obsession with investigating deadly assaults on public figures (and later Pranks), it was not until early 1990 that I began to apply the concepts in our reactive teaching curriculum, and by 1992, replaced our thrilling Escape & Evasion Driving course. I had now discovered that trained agents could identify abnormal behavior and, by acting appropriately, prevent bad situations for their clients.

 

Additionally, it was the video research about assaults on Public Figures, inspired by the 60 Minute archive, that slowly inspired me to question the Secret Service Protocols, taught then by one of our most brilliant teachers, as they applied to Solo Protectors and small protective teams. Changing ESI’s teaching methods, that for two decades revolved around SS Protocols, took time to evolve and I had to find the instructors who understood and could teach the concept; consequently, it took some years for this program to grow and apply effectively.

 

Threat hunting by executive protection teams

Threat hunting is a method used by many industries, such as cybersecurity, government and defense, financial and banking, etc. In physical security and protective operations, threat hunting can have an important value as we will analyze later on. Within EP operations, threat hunting is the proactive approach used to identify previously unknown, ongoing, or non-remediated threat actors/predators within the environments where executive protection is provided. It is the process of proactively and iteratively searching through physical spaces, monitoring activities, and assessing behaviors to detect and isolate advanced threats that evade conventional security measures. Because threats evolve and traditional reactive measures are no longer sufficient to ensure the safety of high-profile clients, threat hunting becomes essential. It can be used by EP teams to identify and neutralize potential dangers or embarrassing situations before they can harm their clients, ensuring a higher level of safety and security through continuous vigilance and strategic intervention.

 

Unlike traditional surveillance and monitoring, which may rely on passive observation and reaction, threat hunting is an active process. It requires a strategic approach to detect and isolate advanced threats that might evade conventional security measures. Today, we see situational awareness being mentioned many times and plenty of EP training academies include it in their training curriculum. However, they focus too much on just “be on the lookout” and on passive observation (and reaction). They don’t teach their students how to identify a POI before they act, so they learn to merely look for things to just happen and clean up the mess afterward.

 

The evolution from a reactive executive protection agent to pro-active one

Returning to the Manchester Arena attack, despite the suspect being reported to the security guard, no confrontation occurred. If it had, the outcome might have been different. If the security guard had been properly trained in how to engage in a friendly conversation with the suspect, gain more information about his intentions, and what to do afterward, there might not have been so many lives lost. This tragic incident, resulting in 23 deaths, highlights the necessity of overcoming such hesitations (especially if you are in a protector role) and knowing how to implement practical threat hunting practices. Proper training in proactive threat identification and intervention could have changed the outcome.

 

The Importance of threat hunting for EP teams

  • Proactive Protection: Threat hunting helps protection teams anticipate and neutralize threats before they can execute an attack. In some situations, threat hunting can make a person of interest (POI) surface and reveal their presence to the EP agents, significantly reducing the risk of harm to the client.
  • Higher Situational Awareness: By continuously monitoring and analyzing the environment, EP teams can maintain a higher level of situational awareness, which is crucial for identifying anomalies and potential threats.
  • Adaptation to Evolving Threats: Threat hunting allows protection teams to stay ahead of evolving tactics used by adversaries, ensuring that security measures are always one step ahead.
  • Building Client Trust: Clients feel safer knowing their protection team is actively seeking out and mitigating threats, rather than just reacting to them. Many clients prefer their protective teams to rely on proactive measures rather than the use of firearms and deadly force.

 

ESI’s Threat Hunting and Sifting training course

Our Threat Hunting and Sifting training program, refined by our senior instructor Jenny West, teaches students to use their intelligence proactively. The course includes a full day of training on what to look for and what to do after identifying a person of interest (POI). Students then apply their knowledge in real-life scenarios on the streets. Jenny teaches about baselines, recognizing deviations, and blending in, but most importantly, she teaches what to do after spotting a POI. This involves “Talking to Strangers”, a soft interdiction—approaching the POI to gather more information and assessing their motives, which is then passed on to the protective team. Approaching strangers is considered a skillset, few people are naturals, and the majority have to be taught how.  Talking to people you don’t know is hard and that makes it a very important skillset for those who can do it successfully and without raising suspicion. An EP agent must have an intervention strategy to preemptively intervene. Hunting the Predator, Identifying the POI, and Engaging, are handmaidens of protection. Without them, the protector is waiting for something to happen, and when it does, all they can do is “Clean up the Mess.”  Perhaps it’s a simple phrase to say, but effectively teaching “Talking to strangers” is a whole another order of ability.

 

Our program focuses on the key components of Threat Hunting in Protective Operations which are:

  • Preparation: Students have to prepare their stories and stick to them; they have to know how to blend in so as not to raise the alarm for the POIs. Learn well and rapidly the environment they will operate within and gather baseline data on normal behaviors and activities.
  • Behavioral Analysis: Students learn how to understand and recognize abnormal behaviors. This involves studying typical patterns of behavior in various settings and identifying deviations that could indicate a threat.
  • Environmental Scanning: We teach our students how to regularly scan the environment for suspicious activities, anything beyond the normal norms, which will help in early threat detection. This may include monitoring entry points, exits, and high traffic/crowded areas.
  • Intelligence Gathering on a POI: Students learn how to collect and analyze intelligence from various sources, such as approaching and speaking, in a friendly manner (non-confrontational), to the POI to identify potential threats. Studying real-life incidents, we found that approaching individuals with ill intents often makes them uncomfortable, raising red flags about their intentions. We teach our students how to approach and start a conversation with a POI to gather valuable information or make them reconsider their actions. We understand that speaking with someone isn’t easy; it requires knowing how to be successful and gathering information without raising suspicions. This involves conducting a “first interview” with open-ended questions, encouraging detailed and elaborate answers, thus gaining more insight into the person’s intentions. It is important to mention here that the POI will be wary of contact by security identifying them, that is why it is preferred we use “friendly” engagements because you don’t know if your “instinctive reactions” are correct. Using the softer approach is preferable to a confrontational approach. The initial contact is a probe of personality and divining intentions. Since you have no way of “knowing” in advance, soft, friendly approaches are preferred. It is why women are more effective at this mission than “Meat Eating Security Guards.”
  • Information Sharing and Communication: It is vital during the threat hunting process that everyone within the EP team be informed about any POI findings.
  • Intervention Strategies: Students learn how to develop and practice proper strategies for intervening when a potential threat is identified. This includes soft interdiction techniques, where the protection agents interact with the suspect as well as passing on the information to the rest of the team.
  • Documentation and Learning: They must learn how to record all findings and actions taken during the threat hunting process. On many occasions, POIs or stalkers will go after similar public figures. By reviewing and analyzing these records, executive protection teams can improve future threat hunting activities and strategies.

 

We consider threat/predator hunting to be one of the most critical proactive measures in modern protective operations. It can serve as the first line of defense against potential threats. By adopting a proactive approach to identifying and neutralizing potential threats, executive protection teams can significantly enhance the safety and security of their clients. They can stay ahead of adversaries and prevent attacks, and embarrassments before they happen. The years required for us to arrive at this juncture in ESI’s teaching philosophy, is what distinguishes ESI from everyone else in the training business. While Pre-Indicators of Assault is not a new idea and the term has been around for many years, Hunting the Predator, Talking to Strangers, and Preemptive Intervention are shared by very few in the industry (Ontic, for example) and I must say, we were becoming the leaders, ideologically, by decades.

 

Bob Duggan

Founder & President

 

For those interested in learning more about threat hunting and preemptive intervention, please visit www.esibodyguardschool.com and stay tuned for our classes.