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Executive Protection Institute

Executive Protection Institute

The Power of Counter-Surveillance: What Criminals Fear More Than Guns

Counter-surveillance is undoubtedly one of the most effective and least employed methods in executive protection. Despite being a technique that has been widely known for a long time, its potential is practically untapped in executive protection operations.

Recent regrettable attacks in Mexico City support this point of view. In attacks such as the one on Norberto Rivera's house in 2018, the attack against the Secretary of Citizen Security, Omar García Harfuch, in 2020; restaurant businessman Eduardo Beaven in 2021 and Gabriela Sanches and Ciro Gómez Leyva in 2022; subsequent investigations evidenced that the victims had been subject to hostile surveillance by criminals for months prior to the aggression, without being detected in time.

 

An attack on an executive is known to last only a few moments, but the preparation for such an attack involves a prolonged process of observation and monitoring of the target by the criminals, which can last for months. Counter-surveillance makes it possible to detect and thwart the attack in this early observation phase, thus avoiding exposing the protégé to risks and uncertainties associated with the reaction.

The effectiveness of counter-surveillance is widely recognized, even by the criminals themselves. Olivera Ćirković, a former member of the famous international Pink Panthers gang, maintains that she never felt deterred by armed agents. However, if during pre-surveillance of a victim someone approached and took note of her vehicle license plate, or identified her and asked what she was doing there, she would immediately abandon that victim....

According to his own words, the most critical phase of an attack, from his perspective as a criminal, was not the moment of the aggression itself, since, by then, the victim had been studied exhaustively, being distracted and at his point of maximum vulnerability. On the other hand, the aggressors attacked with the surprise factor, hiding their identity with balaclavas, using stolen vehicles and counting on other advantages in their favor.

For this reason, Olivera notes that the most critical aspect for her was not the final assault, but the prolonged process of observing and analyzing the victim. During this time, she could not wear a disguise, as it would attract attention, and the vehicles she used had to be legal, which made them identifiable. Her greatest fear was to be observed and identified by someone unknown to her, whom she could not see or know of her existence. In fact, this is how she eventually ended up being arrested. As a result, it is clear that high-profile criminals fear counter-surveillance far more than they fear guns.

If there had been a structured counter-surveillance system in the previously mentioned cases, the experts in this technique would have identified the presence of the criminals in the same way as it was done later, and even more easily, since they would have had teams in the field. In this way, the attack would have been neutralized months before its execution, thus avoiding human losses.

The question we must ask ourselves is: what else must happen for us to leave behind dangerous fantasies about weapons and reaction, and orient our actions in executive protection towards methods of counter-surveillance and early warning, thus avoiding the loss of life of both protectees and their protectors?

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