Time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted.
The General Public usually think of close protection operatives (CPOs) or bodyguards as ‘bullet catchers’, ‘knuckle draggers’, or ‘brutes in suits’, and would not consider a CPO’s remit to include conducting reconnaissance or intelligence gathering. However, reconnaissance is vital to ensuring an assignment runs smoothly and seamlessly. Just like the General Public, Principals will usually have no idea what their security team does behind the scenes. Reconnaissance is another activity vital to ensuring that the Principal can go about their daily routine safely and securely unhindered.
The Cambridge dictionary defines reconnaissance as “the process of getting information about enemy forces or positions by sending out small groups of soldiers or by using aircraft, etc.”.
Military manoeuvres are the typical context for reconnaissance. However, close protection has borrowed the term. Industry specialists recognise reconnaissance as one of the foundations of a successful close protection assignment.
Look back through the history of any prominent assassination or attack on a leading figure, and you will see failings in reconnaissance. Successful gathering of information would have most certainly assisted in thwarting such attacks.
When an assignment is complete and has run smoothly without incident, CPOs quietly disperse until the next task. Generally, there is no gratitude or recognition for a job well done. However, an assignment that fails will follow an operative around for the rest of their career.
Close protection reconnaissance is not just looking for enemy forces. It is more in-depth information gathering for planning and intelligence.
Close protection reconnaissance covers activities including:
Close protection reconnaissance should assess different terrains and types of locations. Observation may occur weeks in advance of an event or be necessary at very short notice. A changing threat level may even demand a dynamic reconnaissance (recce) on the move.
Ideally, the security advance party (SAP) carries out the recce on an assignment. But, this is subject to the budget and the team size. It may be that an operative working alone is the SAP! This lone CPO or individual bodyguard (IBG) may have to carry out reconnaissance with minimal time and resources.
Attention to detail is imperative in gathering all accurate information during any recce mission. The information collected from reconnaissance will make the difference between a successful assignment and a failed assignment.
The SAP aims to minimise any threats towards the Principal. The aims are to consider every eventuality and put a reactionary plan in place.
Where possible the SAP will reconnoitre every location a Principal could visit. Sometimes these surveys can occur weeks or months in advance. During the recce, the SAP will gather and confirm the information on routes, ERV’s and venues.
The route from each location is selected. The SAP will take the route by the same or similar means at the same time of day as the Principal. For example, if the Principal is to be driven then the SAP will use a car, if the Principal is to walk, then the SAP will walk on the same day of the week and time. The aim is to ascertain timings and exact descriptions of landmarks, traffic conditions, chokepoints or bottlenecks, communication blackspots and other areas to be avoided.
A secondary route and sometimes a third route will be identified in case the primary or secondary route is compromised. Alternatives are essential in case there is a traffic jam, road closure or something more sinister such as an attempted attack on the Principal or hostile road block.
ERVs (emergency rendezvous) such as safe havens, Police stations, hospitals and embassies (principal nationality) will also be checked out and listed, again with accurate travel times, exact locations and points of contact (POC).
Information collection continues at the proposed place that the Principal will attend. The SAP liaises with venue managers or venue security to acquire accurate information regarding:
By learning if any other Principals will be in attendance, the SAP can ascertain whether to consider any other risks. The SAP’s Principal may be at enhanced risk because another Principal may bring a different threat or level of danger with them.
The SAP documents details using photographs or drawings of exact locations and directions that the Principal will be taking once inside the venue.
It is also prudent to check that venue timings and information is the same as the Principal’s to avoid confusion and embarrassment towards the Principal. There is nothing worse than arriving at a venue with the Principal when the site is not ready to receive them because the timings went unchecked.
Ideally, the SAP will run the recce a second time just before the arrival time of the Principal. This second survey confirms that the chosen route and venue are clear and secure before the Principal arrives. Usually, the SAP will hold at the site until the Principal and the security team come before moving on to the next location to repeat the whole reconnaissance process. This process is called “leapfrogging”. Alternatively, the SAP hold at the venue, bolstering security until just before the Principal departs.
Reconnaissance can be overt or covert, technical or physical.
Overt reconnaissance would be the SAP members openly taking pictures, drawing maps, taking notes, and asking questions at a venue or location. Generally, this means that Principals and their security details are expected. Depending on the mission objectives, overt reconnaissance may be more or less low profile.
CPOs carry out covert reconnaissance when limited exposure or information of a Principal’s arrival is to be announced. Covert observation can harm the amount and quality of knowledge gained. However, it is the approach to take if the SAP suspect they are being surveilled. In this case, the SAP will use equipment such as covert cameras and dummy locations.
The lone close protection operative is generally fighting time. A lone CPO needs to be resourceful in how to obtain all the information required.
Personal surveillance may not be possible. So, the CPO must resort to other means of checking routes and timings, such as satellite navigation and route mapping apps. Such technology can be quick, but it is not always accurate, and this should be taken into consideration when planning routes online.
The same caveat applies to venues. Online maps and apps may be available but using the venue POC is often much better. Any reconnaissance is better than trying to go in blind. However, the most effective way to carry out a recce is to physically go through the exact motion of walking or driving the route to gather the most accurate up-to-date information. Don’t let technology lull you into a false sense of security!
Westminster Security provides professional close protection security services in London, the UK and worldwide.