Though many counter-drone technologies are illegal, Executive Protection firms can still protect their clients against a Drone Attack and stay one-step ahead of this cheap and available method of assassination. Here’s how.
First Drone Assassination Attempt on a Head of State
Several weeks ago, the world watched as Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro’s body shook from an explosion causing him, his wife, and high-ranking military officers onstage to look up towards the sky. Maduro’s protective detail immediately crowded around him with ballistic blankets while soldiers, previously standing in formation, scattered like a mob.
Venezuelan authorities claimed the explosions came from two drones carrying 2 pounds of C4 explosives along with the mission to assassinate President Maduro. Venezuelan authorities also claimed that their military’s counter-drone electronics saved the day, blowing one drone off-course while the other drone crashed into a nearby building.
Though conspiracy theories permeate, the incident is the first reported assassination attempt by a drone on a head of state. Every security expert we know was unsurprised; we all knew this day would come.
Counter-Drone Technology: What’s Available and What’s Legal?
Drones are cheap, available, and if rigged with explosives or firearms, deadly. Consequently, it’s more important than ever for security experts to understand counter-drone technology; moreover, the differences between what’s available versus what’s legal.
Joe Coomer, Vice President of Security for AMB Sports and Entertainment, recently addressed the legality of drones head on: “Our country probably sells some of the best products out there to mitigate drones and UAVs, and we cannot deploy them.” Electronic jamming devices, high-powered microwaves to burn drone circuits, and specially designed lasers – all of these drone countermeasures are illegal for the private sector.
In the United States, only the government is authorized to purchase the type of counter-drone jamming equipment Venezuelan’s military reportedly used to push the attacking drones off course. This leaves Executive Protection firms in the United States — many whom protect some of the world’s most prominent and at-risk individuals – at a tremendous disadvantage.
What can Executive Protection Firms Do?
1. Protective over Projective Broadly speaking, there are two roles for protectors: Projective and Protective. In Just 2 Seconds, the primary resource at the FBI’s Close Protection Course, the authors’ describe Projective as ‘projecting’ one’s energy outward away from the protectee and towards the threat – such as, charging, disrupting, and overpowering an attacker. Protective, on the other hand, applies to protectors closest to the protectee, taking a defensive role — such as, shielding, covering, and evacuating.
In Venezuela, the military’s counter-drone electronics were Projective, while the President’s bodyguards were Protective.
The purpose of executive protection is to protect the protectee. Period. Full stop. We are not soldiers on the attack; our goal is not to close with and destroy the enemy, including drones. If you feel your protectee is immediately at-risk from an unknown or unauthorized drone – one that’s flying towards your protectee – cover and evacuate your protectee, moving them to a more secure space.
2. Create a Drone Policy Due to a lack in legislative clarity and competing jurisdictions there is widespread confusion about combating the drone threat. We’ve asked different law enforcement agencies about jurisdiction and what’s legal versus what’s illegal, and we receive a different answer every time. These legal confusions are beyond our control. What we can control, however, is internal drone policies for our protectors.
We recommend every Executive Protection firm establish a drone policy as part of their SOP for the following reasons:
- Clarity. A drone policy provides protectors with a ROE, i.e. when and how protectors are authorized to engage drones. An established policy also provides protectors with a list of questions to ask event organizers (and themselves) when advancing a location and during the event itself.
- Consistency. A drone policy, outlining preparations and evacuation criteria, invites consistent actions from the firm’s protectors. In short, a drone policy gets everyone operating from the same page.
- Confidence. A drone policy inspires confidence from clients. When a client nervously asks their protector questions about the drone threat, the policy enables protectors to provide fast, smart, and consistent answers.
3. Use Available (and Legal) Technology Though jamming devices and microwave technology remain illegal in the private sector, legal counter-drone technologies do exist. Three examples include stress ball cannons, streamer canons and net guns.
When an unauthorized drone is more nuisance than threat and evacuating your protectee is not yet required, then these counter-drone responses can be a good option — if employed under legal circumstances. Yet, when an unknown drone is closing the distance towards your protectee, go Protective, and cover and evacuate your protectee to a more secure area (i.e. green room). Taking down a drone takes more time than evacuating your protectee – which takes seconds.
Consumer drones rigged with explosives and firearms are no longer a future concern; they are a clear and present danger for protected persons. Consequently, prioritizing Protective (over Projective) coverage, creating a clear and consistent policy for your protection teams, and utilizing all legal counter-drone technologies are actions executive protection firms must take to stay one step ahead of this cheap and available method of assassination.
James Hamilton is Vice President of Protection Strategies at Gavin de Becker & Associates. James also served 17 years as a Special Agent in the FBI, where he implemented the FBI’s active shooter training and guidance program, and was handpicked to create the Bureau’s close protection course. His courses are currently taught at the NSA, NYPD, and many other agencies.
Fritz Allen is Vice President of Physical Security Design at Gavin de Becker & Associates. During his 20-plus years at GDBA, Fritz has led protective assignments in more than 30 countries and designed early-warning security systems for residential and corporate sites, while playing key roles during hundreds of program design projects. Prior to joining GDBA, Fritz served in the United States Marine Corps.