Magazine article Security Management

Countersurveillance Foils Attacks: Using Countersurveillance Techniques, Security Managers Can Anticipate Terrorist Attacks

Magazine article Security Management

Countersurveillance Foils Attacks: Using Countersurveillance Techniques, Security Managers Can Anticipate Terrorist Attacks

Article excerpt

WHEN TERRORISTS set off the bomb that killed 20 people and injured 372 at a U.S. military housing complex in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, in June 1996, it was not the first, second, or even third time the attackers had visited the site. Instead, authorities believe terrorists cased the site no less than 40 times during the 18 months leading up to the attack.

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That type of repeated surveillance of a future target is standard operating procedure for terrorists. In its own training manual, al Qaeda instructs members to carefully photograph and diagram potential targets before selecting one.

Security experts have figured out how to turn this standard operating procedure to their own benefit: They use it to detect and thwart an attack before it gets beyond the planning stages. The key is good countersurveillance.

Fred Burton, a former counterterrorism agent with the U.S. State Department and now vice president for counterterrorism and corporate security at Stratfor in Austin, Texas, says countersurveillance works, and "it works very well."

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"In fact, I would say that countersurveillance is the only proactive security measure where you can actually identify hostile surveillance prior to a plot going into the attack cycle," Burton says.

Private sector surveillance detection and countersurveillance, however, remains "in the infancy stage," says Patrick Murphy, director of loss prevention at Marriott International, Inc. "The knowledge is out there, it just hasn't gotten to everyone yet."

Countersurveillance is about collecting data and analyzing it for patterns. The first step is to make sure that employees are trained in what types of suspicious activities to look for. The next two steps--data input and analysis--can be facilitated with software. One private firm, Abraxas Corp. of McLean, Virginia, has developed software designed for this type of application, which it sells as part of a package. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has taken notice.

The service-software package, called TrapWire, is built around a simple, Web-based interface, which is used for entry of information about suspicious individuals and vehicles. The software analyzes this information, looking for patterns of suspected surveillance. …

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