An unobtrusive approach to protection

29th December 2019

We often hear a wide array of terminologies used to describe physical surveillance in security, such as hostile surveillance, counter-surveillance, antisurveillance, and protective surveillance to name but a few. In many articles and publications these descriptions are oftentimes explained as the same thing, or in some cases a completely different explanation is given, which can become quite confusing as well as misleading. We attempt to shed some light on the term “protective surveillance”, what it is, what it is meant to do, and why you may wish to use it.

What is protective surveillance?

There is no formal security industry-specific definition of protective surveillance, however most industry insiders and publications explain protective surveillance as an additional level of support given to a close protection team that is purposeful in proactively identifying hostiles and threats in order to detect and prevent an attack on a person under security protection. In some instances, the protective surveillance team may replace the traditional close protection team since it offers a more covert and less obtrusive ‘security shield’ that minimises awareness of the security operation being undertaken and that may itself attract unwanted and unnecessary attention.

The intention of protective surveillance is to create an unseen protective ‘bubble’ around the person under security protection that would enable early identification and detection of a threat and that would ensure the security protection team has enough time and enough resources to respond effectively to an attack. In this consideration a definition of protective surveillance can be termed as “the use of covert surveillance and close protection to identify and prevent a pre-empted attack on persons at risk of being harmed”.


What does a protective surveillance team do?

Put simply, a protective surveillance team undertakes counter surveillance to identify persons undertaking hostile surveillance on the person they are protecting (the principal). Counter surveillance can be explained as surveillance activities undertaken to identify and reduce the risk of surveillance being undertaken on what is being protected. Hostile surveillance can be explained as surveillance activities purposeful in identifying weaknesses that can then be exploited in order to allow an attack to occur, and to be successful. The protective surveillance team will act covertly so that they are not identified themselves but are able to ‘break cover’ and respond to an attack should the need arise, providing an added layer of security to the principal and their close protection team.

Protective surveillance teams have a number of aims during a task. They form a protective and discrete ‘bubble’ around the principle and close protection team. This ‘bubble’ is an outer layer of security that enables the team to; Identify overt and covert hostile surveillance, Identify threats and assess risk to the principal, protection team and others. The team may also provide information to the close protection team enabling them to Identify, clear and secure routes of travel i.e. planned routes, unplanned routes and evacuation routes.

In addition to this, they are also able to shape the protective ‘bubble’ to pre-empt and react to changes in the environment and to the threat. Finally the protective surveillance team are also able to respond to an attack. This may require the protective surveillance team to ‘break cover’, close the distance to the principal and take on the role of, or augment the protection team.

Whilst those who form the protective surveillance team have the training and skills of the close protection team, they must also be adept in counter surveillance and able to undertake these activities proficiently and in a manner that would quickly identify those undertaking hostile surveillance. The protective surveillance team must also be able to think and communicate quickly and proficiently to ensure that the principal is diverted out of harm’s way.

The protective surveillance team requires several skills above those of the close protection team. These skills include third party awareness, covert communications, covert manoeuvres, mobile navigation, advanced driving, dress and mannerisms, and countless other subsets that will enable them to act covertly without drawing attention to themselves and their principal.


Why protective surveillance?

Whilst close protection officers are often skilled in anti-surveillance, which can be described as the ability to identify whether surveillance activities are being undertaken, the role does not usually allow them to proactively seek surveillance activities from a distance since they must remain in close proximity to their principal.

This creates a significant void in the early identification and response to hostile or pre-attack surveillance that is often undertaken prior to an attack. Therefore, should the risk of attack be deemed high, such as abduction, kidnapping or assassination, it is then recommended that this added layer of security is employed.

There are plenty of publications describing how surveillance was undertaken prior to successful as well as attempted abductions, kidnappings and assassinations. Perhaps a recent and clear example of this is the abduction and murder of 17-year-old Anneli-Marie Ribe. This case provides a very clear picture of how her abductors used social media and hostile surveillance to identify the most opportune moment in which to carry out an abduction, and the reason for them doing so.

In a world where our lives are habitually documented and communicated through social media and other communication channels, significant security exposures are easily realised.

These security exposures create an ideal surveillance platform for those seeking to harm or expose someone of interest, such as high-net worth individuals, executives, and celebrities. This ease of access to personal information creates greater chances of success for hostile and pre-attack surveillance that now requires improved methods to protect and secure persons at risk of being attacked and harmed.

Whilst the close protection team will carry out anti-surveillance their attention can only be in their tasks at hand, which can be varied and many, their immediate surroundings, and on their principal that will enable them to react to an immediate threat. Hence the term ‘close protection’. This does not then allow the close protection team to carry out anti-surveillance across a wider area that may enable them to identify threat or to pre-empt an attack sooner, leading to an increased risk of harm to their principal. As discussed, another consideration for the use of a protective surveillance team is that the principal may require a more covert and less obtrusive security shield than that offered by the traditional close protection team. This is certainly a preferred option of those not wanting to draw attention to themselves. Protective surveillance as an unobtrusive approach to protection Protective surveillance provides an unobtrusive approach to protecting the principal by creating a protective ‘bubble’ to ensure that the areas around the principal are controlled. A protective surveillance team will remain unseen and often unknown to the principal who may require a less overt and noticeable security protection team but who seeks the confidence that someone is ‘watching over them’, or their loved ones, and who will be on hand should a situation arise.

Whilst there are limitations in this form of security protection since the team is not in close proximity to the principal, the protective surveillance team will respond accordingly to threat and draw nearer to the principal should the need arise. However, vulnerability remains by not having a trained professional beside the principal at all times.

Whatever you feel your protective security needs may be a risk assessment should be undertaken to establish the needs and to determine the level of protective security required, and in what form that may need to be. Before employing protective security, it is recommended that the risks are assessed, and the protective security services thoroughly conversed and agreed.


A version of this piece appeared in Family Office Magazine