Monday, May 21, 2012

Alarm Systems are they worth it?

I think alarm systems are usually well worth the investment.  The key is to buy one that you will actually use, and can easily afford.  For 90% of you, the basic alarm system you see on TV for $99 installed (and a monthly fee) is all you should need.  Bad guys are normally not as sophisticated as they are depicted in movies and TV shows; a simple alarm will often make them choose someone else, which is all you really want.  There was an old adage in the US Secret Service that we just had to make our principal the hardest guy to hit, so the bad guys will go somewhere else.

This is also true for car alarms as well as offices.  A simple, easy to use alarm system that you can teach your family and office staff is best.  I blame the alarm company salesmen for most of the unused alarms installed out there.  They try and sell you a system that will stop a governments, that is never needed, and two, I have never seen an alarm or lock that with my government training and resources could not bypass.

The solution is a simple alarm system with minimal ways to malfunction.  This means simple door contacts, window contacts, or a simple passive IR detector.  The more intricate you make the system, the more likely it is to malfunction and that you will stop using it.  To defeat a simple system takes almost as much effort as it does to defeat an expensive, complex system. 

When I see an alarm system fail to work, 99% of the time it is because it was turned off, because it was broken in some way, or was too difficult to use. A panic button is the only thing I would add to the system, if your alarm does not already have one (most do).

If you have the option, you want the alarm hard wired in place, but the new wireless systems are very capable.  If you are an apartment owner, the alarm may have to be a wireless system.

The next issue is the alarm itself. Some cities have a huge problem with needlessly loud or false alarms. They are very hard on the alarm installers, responders, homeowners, and neighbors.  This is also why there are such heavy fines for alarms going off, up to $500 after a certain number of times.  You really do not need to have a huge siren or blistering emergency sound going off. The bad guys can hear a simple alarm bell and often that is enough; they do not want to be there when police or security arrive, and they do not want neighbors taking note of them as they leave. 

The next issue is who the alarm notifies, and how.  Most alarms are monitored by the installing company with varying options.  Simply instruct the alarm company how you want people notified. In most cases it is cheaper to have them call you or a family member first, and then, depending on the nature of the alarm, either they or you may call the police.  Some simple alarms actually can be set to call  your cell before proceeding with any further notifications, avoiding the company's monthly monitoring fee of $20-40 entirely.  Personally I would use the monitoring company, and if you only paid $99 for the installation, then you probably will need to sign a contract for a year or more of monitoring. 

The office and car alarms should be treated the same way.  The use of CCTV is a big deal these days, but I would concentrate on the alarm for now; the cameras will be addressed in another post.

Remember, simple is good, because there is a better chance you will continue to use it, and there is very little to go wrong with the system.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mexico violence: Fear and intimidation, what can we learn

BBC News - Mexico violence: Fear and intimidation

The violence is still mainly drug dealer vs. drug dealer for this type of beheading action.  But they are making mistakes quite often, and killing people on the edges of the trade.  Being close to the drug trade used to be sexy, and a lot of kids wanted to be there.  But now it looks like that fringe is being targeted by the rival gangs.  For families this can be difficult.  In at least two instances on the McAllen side of the river, homes have been attacked as gangs look for family members involved in the trade, and then just took the people they thought would bring the guy out.  On the Mexico side, it is much worse - the gangs are using low level members who just drive where they're told and shoot everyone at the home, or in the car, or at the party.

This brings some tough decisions for many families: people associated with the drug trade are possible targets, and every time you are around them it puts you and your family danger.  

People are already learning which bars and restaurants are frequented by the drug trade folks, and make decisions based on this.  Unfortunately, if the family is not with them, they often still go to these establishments, since many of us like the thrill of flirting with danger.  In this case it can be a very bad move. These drug gangs have used hand grenades and automatic weapons so the attack from start to finish could be less that 30 seconds, with lots of indiscriminate damage.  

It will normally happen to fast too really react, but if you're in an establishment used by those in the drug trade, stay away from the front doors, situate yourself deeper into the room, and make sure you know a second way out.  For everyone the key is to get down and away. Tables are often the only thing to hide behind, and tipping them over helps.  The table top often will not stop the bullet, but may reduce the power of it, plus it takes you out of sight.  

This is hard to say, but staying away from establishments even family members that are associated with the drug trade is the safest move.  If you enter an establishment and feel something is not right, I would act on that feeling and find another place for dinner, or to have a drink. 

When driving or walking, if you hear gun fire move in the opposite direction and get something between you and any possible stray bullets flying around.  Most people tend to freeze in place when and incident starts, so take anyone around you with you, even just pulling their arm for a second will help break the freeze, and get them moving.  

I was involved in a drive by in LA a year of so ago while getting gas, bad planing on my part I knew this was a dangerous part of town.  The two SUVs involved started exchanging gun fire as they passed in front of the gas station. Two young boys walking by just stood there watching; I pulled both down just as the front window of the gas station disappeared behind us.  If you are the one thinking, you may be the only one - so you need to help those around you.

By the way, the targeted SUV rolled to a stop with all dead inside. The other SUV rolled through the gas station looking for people taking too much interest in the shooting.  I had moved us behind the vehicle as they rolled by, always putting the vehicle between us and the shooters.  

Keeping a calm head will help, but the biggest help is to not get into the situation in the first place. If I had planned better, I would not have needed to get gas in that dangerous area.  Keep thinking! That is your best defense. 



Tuesday, May 8, 2012

New Aviation Bomb Threats: Underwear Bomb and the Internal Body Bomb

The recent plot to bomb an airliner, foiled in Yemen, raises the issue of potentially deadly threats to aviation security. To be clear: the old metal detectors in use have absolutely no chance to find these devices. None. There's no metal in the device.

The TSA units have two types of body scanners: one is x-ray based, the other is a high frequency radio wave. Both penetrate clothing and the very outer layer of skin.  Of the two, the x-ray unit probably has the best chance to detect these underwear/body devices; it penetrates the body more deeply than the radio wave system does.  This type of x-ray is called a back scatter. It is not meant to penetrate through the body like a medical x-ray; it reflects off the surface of the body and primarily shows what in on or against the body, not necessarily what is in it.

Bottom line: even the x-ray backscatter designers say it had a 50/50 chance that it could detect the Christmas underwear bomber's device.  Probably a little less in my opinion, but still there is the possibility. Remember, there is no chance the metal detector would catch the device.  50% chance of being caught is not a good business percentage for business, let alone terrorists.

We need to talk a little bit about the difference between Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda and what I call Al Qaeda lite (or what is often called Al Qaeda AP, for Arab Peninsula).   The original Al Qaeda’s first fatwa called for no attack to go forward unless there was at least a 75% chance of success.  This was actually written in their manual.  So a 50% chance of a device being detected by TSA machines really gives the original Al Qaeda a problem.  Now, the Al Qaeda AP actually had a Imam at the helm (before we killed him and his son in a drone attack), who gave a much broader reach to his followers.  He called for everyone to work for the great jihad, and stipulated that if all you have is a gun, even a pellet gun, then use it, or if all you have is a tape recorder, then use that to tape a bomb or gun fire going off, and play it in a movie theater to cause a panic.  These Al Qaeda AP do not have the problem with the 50% chance of being found; this is where most of the lone bombers and attackers come from.  I do not think the original Al Qaeda has gone away, I think they are still planning and plotting. But what we are seeing is the AQ lite.

The AQ lite is trying things out by actually using them in attacks, like the Christmas bomber and the New York Times Square bomber.  They apparently are getting better, but are sending out devices that are not fully tested.  In some cases the AQ lite is just putting the method on web sites for others to try.

Now let’s go to the threat. PETN is a potent explosive used by militaries and construction crews to clear away areas before construction. PETN is still found in some blasting caps, but most military folks have seen it in the form of a det cord (see pic below).  Det cord is a explosive device in the form of a rope and normally is used to link explosive charges together.  It comes in different colors and grades. The military version looks very similar to a fuse, but has a white center.  That white powdery center is PETN.  Now a single line of det cord will not cut a 4x4 piece of wood in half, but will probably cut a 2x4.  SWAT teams have used it for fast entry through dry wall, taping it to the wall they are going through.  So while it is a powerful explosive, in small amounts it has limited effectiveness.

Now let’s look at the method of carrying the device, the way the Yemen bomber was going to use and the body bomber may use.  The human body is mostly water, which has the effect of taking a lot of the power out of an explosive device.  In fact, the one that actually went off in the Saudi Arabia attack on the Prince killed only the bomber, and wounded a bystander or two.  On a plane, this is probably all that would happen as well.  If detonated inside a body, with no outside surface contact, this will probably be what a body cavity bomb's effect would be as well.   Now, with enough explosive it could penetrate the plane's body, but normally would not.

It should also be stated that all explosives are poisons if swallowed, so if a person swallows or has a device implanted in themselves, if the explosive packaging is penetrated the bomber will get sick and probably die very quickly.  So like drug mules that swallow drugs, they have to be very careful moving around so as to not break open a package.

So bottom line, the threat is real, but the chances of success are limited, and good intelligence is the best way to find these guys or girls.  But they still could show up on a TSA agent’s radar by acting suspect.  In fact, as they go thru a body scanner, they may get really nervous since there is always that chance it will be detected.

I think we are fine, and I would fly with out worry, though I may move away from someone that started to smoke or stab himself with a syringe during flight.


Monday, May 7, 2012

The Box approach to Executive Security:

The Box approach to Executive Security:

In developing a security posture it is often very wise to develop something called a "box" approach to security development.  The US Secret Service and others have often used variations of this approach. If you look at your home as a box, that you can secure, and your office as another box you can secure, then your greatest vulnerability is between those two boxes.  Travel status of any type increases your vulnerability level, and that is why most attacks occur while a person is in that status.

Once you get into your vehicle, it can also be considered a box, since it can provide a degree of security as well.  Now your greatest vulnerability moves to the extremely critical times when you are between your office or home box, and the vehicle box.  This is a best reason to have your vehicle housed in a garage: you can get into it and obtain a level of security prior to exiting the garage.  Since this is a critical point it is a very good idea to have a view of the street or alley way where your garage opens up to.  This can be a window that looks over the area, a mirror, or even a CCTV camera that shows the area...anything that will let you know something is wrong before you open the garage door.

Think of the places someone could lay in wait for you as your first leave. Where are the critical points before you can get to a reasonably safe 20 miles per hour?  These are where most ambushes will occur. They have two things in their favor: one, they know you always pass that point, and two, your vehicle is easier to hit and/or stop while it is moving less than 20 mph.   If there are options, like using another way out of the alley or turning another way out of your drive, do so every once in a while, to keep the bad guys guessing.

Remember that the vast majority of the time you will have been under surveillance prior to an attack, so this is the time to notice the bad guys.  Your attackers may be using a vehicle that can be traced to them; during most attacks, they will use stolen vehicles.  Jotting down plates and descriptions is not only helpful, but it keeps you more aware of your surroundings.  Say them into your phone's voice recorder, or better still, call a phone number that has a voice recording capability, since your attacker may also obtain your phone as well.

Many offices do not have secure garage space for your vehicle, in fact are often dimly lit and are prime areas for attackers to wait.  When possible, park your car where lots of other people can see it, and may notice any bad guy around it, or watching it.  Once again, try to get a view of the car and its surroundings prior to leaving you office secure box.  Mirrors or CCTV cameras can be a big help in viewing the parking spot of your vehicle.  Before you leave, check your office building's security system, which should have cameras that view areas around the building.

Most importantly, never leave your office or home box without a way to return to it, if needed.  This means have your office keys in your hand, ready to use, as well as your car keys. You want to be able to move to a box quickly if you see anything suspicious. 

Use the box method for any movement you make consistently that a bad guy can observe and plan his attack.  In Madrid, Spain, a high ranking official had a habit of going to a small chapel in a building on his way home everyday.  The bad guys spent over a month setting up a bomb under the road, right where his driver stopped the vehicle in the same place every day.  If he had altered his parking spot by even a dozen feet every day, he would have survived.  So look at other boxes as well: schools where you drop of your children, gyms where you work out on a consistent basis.  These are many areas with some level of security that you need to assess.

Another time we will work on how to assess the security of your box, and even improve it if needed.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Surviving Drive By Shootings

Drive by shootings can happen anywhere, but being aware of your surroundings can aid you in surviving them.   Be aware of what is going on around you.  If you know someone is in a gang or is affiliated with the drug trade, standing next to them is not a good move.   Always look for cover: benches, cars, telephone poles, anything you can duck behind that can provide even minimal protection.  Remember to protect your core body parts, the ones most critical to your life; even getting parts of your body behind cover is very important to saving your life.

Cars slowing down without an obvious reason should be considered suspicious activity, as this could be the start of a drive by or even a kidnapping.  Windows rolling down as the car passes should merit your attention.  None of these mean a shooting is about to occur, but they should at least get your attention and you should be looking for the nearest cover.

I have been involved in a few drive by's...never the actual target, but way too close for comfort.  In one case I pulled two young men down behind my car as the shooting started.  Bullets can ricochet in  any direction; when President Ford was shot at in California, a bullet hit a sign pole and ricocheted  at a right angle and hit a bystander 60 feet away. You need to get down and away from the gun fire, in some cases if the target returns fire, even more bullets are going to be flying. 

In the Gaza strip I pulled back on a reporter who wanted to get a view of ongoing fire just as the doorway he was leaning on was annihilated in a hail of bullets.  You always want to move down and away from gun fire, and remember( as bad as it sounds) other people make great cover as you move away.  Don't put anyone in danger, but moving away from gun fire by ducking behind people already down on the ground is not cowardly.

Trying to get a description of the shooter, although laudable, is not a good idea. Your mind will probably not be functioning correctly to really get a good description, and if you did happen to glimpse the shooter, your mind already has what it needs. Just get down.

You can buy bullet resistant vests, if the threat is that high; they even sell bullet resistant back packs, similar to what students carry, that can be used to mitigate danger. In my view if the threat is that high, you probably should not be there in any event.  I do like the back pack system, since if you are moving down and away as you should be, it does protect key parts of the body.  But a few books in a back pack will do almost as well.

The main key is to be aware, even while talking with friends. Just keep your eyes moving and stay alert. If a car passes a few times, this in not normally a good thing and should have raised your suspicions, enough that I would be looking for the nearest cover, and begin to move in that direction.

Believe it or not it is very difficult to hit someone from a moving vehicle, and if you are moving as well, it will take a pretty lucky shot to get you.  Keep your eyes open, if something does not look right head for cover, and be ready to drop down and away from the danger.  If it turns out to be a kidnapping attempt, move, move fast away from the attackers, even ten to fifteen feet can make all the difference.  Every foot the attacker has to go delays them, and increases their risk of being recognized or even stopped.

Being aware gives you a few seconds on the bad guy, use them to your advantage.  Being embarrassed as you get up off the ground, is far better than being shot or kidnapped.  By reflex I drop down behind cover when hearing shots, I know how far bullets can travel, and cover is the only thing that stops them.

I hope this helps. Being aware is not being scared, it is being practical, and could save your life.


Five Arrested in plot to bomb Cleveland area bridge | Government Security News

Five Arrested in plot to bomb Cleveland area bridge | Government Security News

There are things to learn from this "Anarchist" bomb plot.  One is that we need to take a deep breath; most people that are part of the Occupy movement are not the terrorist type.  In fact I think most Occupiers would have booted these folks out.  But it also points to the fact the Occupiers should be the ones to report folks like these to the police; just kicking them out will not defuse the situation, and actually may provoke them into action.  Folks like these just hurt the cause that Occupy is trying to support.

I remember sitting on the set at CNN with the Former FBI Director Webster, the day after McVey's bombing of the Federal Building.  We both discussed the fact that McVey had been kicked out of a number of Militia Groups prior to his escalation plotting a bomb attack.  When approached by myself and others after the fact,  the groups all stated they never would have supported a bombing, most definitely not where innocent children could have been hurt.  But none had even thought of contacting the police, which is where the problem arises. 

Two, this is not the first time Anarchist types have become violent.  McVey was a type of anarchist, but even before him anarchists have bombed Wall Street, the Capital, Pentagon, and various corporate offices around the world.   In most cases we find a person with an existing criminal record joining a mildly militant offshoot, who convinces the group to move from talk to action.  The authorities have to be careful when infiltrating these groups, and not become the catalyst that moves the group from talkers to action takers.  This would be entrapment, which is probably what the arrested suspects will claim as a defense.

Three, most of the time the majority of the players like McVey will not have a criminal record, so will pass most background checks, like the folks joining the Pre-check Program the TSA is setting up.  As such, they pose a huge risk, and could easily become an insider threat problem.  This problem will be covered more in depth in future writings.

Four, Anarchists types (which many would consider the Occupiers to be a type of anarchist), are normally not considered a dangerous problem, and in fact some schools actively promote student activity in these movements.  As such many Occupiers may know of these little off shoot groups, but not say anything, mainly because they feel they would not act out in that way, so why would these folks.  This gives the group a hiding place to work on their plans, and escape back into in the future.

Five, unlike the Islamic based groups we are more familiar with, the Cleveland anarchists did not want to hurt innocents, so may make threat calls to evacuate buildings or in this case, were contemplating  putting safety cones on the bridge entrances, to reduce the chance of death, in the end they did not warn anyone, but killing does not further their cause, so may give warnings.  So now is the time to dust off those Bomb Threat Plans, and Bomb Threat Phone calls forms.

Six, there are lots of online places to learn how to make and used bombs.  Back in the 60's, 70's & 80's a book called the Anarchist Cookbook, was available at book stores, in fact the last one I found was misplaced in the actual cook book section of the store.  People need to be aware of folks that are visiting these sites, or buying books like these.  This maybe the only warning we will get.

So in closing, do not overreact to talk from folks in the Occupy movement, or similar groups, but keep an eye out for behavior that goes beyond the talk, and starts to take action on their talk.  Yes, the Feds are trying to infiltrate these groups, but can not get into all of them, and after this arrest it will get harder for the police to make inroads into the groups.  This leaves the groups themselves to police themselves, or people close to them like family members to keep an eye on suspect behavior.