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Protective Intelligence

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Getting Proactive with Protective Intelligence

The deadly riots at the U.S. Capitol on 6 January 2021 reinforced the concept that chief security officers’ modern day physical security programs must prioritize protective intelligence to proactively identify, assess, and mitigate harmful threats. As the FBI and law enforcement officials comb through hundreds of thousands of digital media tips to unmask those who breached the Capitol, security professionals are pondering how to better leverage technology for awareness and threat assessments.

This is not just a passing need; 87 percent of security, legal, and compliance executives agree that investment in technology to advance physical security effectiveness and mitigate violent threats is necessary for the future of their company, according to a recent study from the Ontic Center for Protective Intelligence. Whether because of incentives or altruism, corporations must think differently about safety, and CSOs will need to bring new methods of protection to the table. 2021 marks an inflection point for organizations, and the threats we face will be dynamic, emerging, and global.

Protective Intelligence Requires Continuous Monitoring

Protective intelligence is an investigative and analytical process used to proactively identify, assess, and mitigate threats to protectees. For protective intelligence programs to be effective, CSOs must implement a level of always-on monitoring while observing any behavioral anomalies that may present themselves.

On its own, continuous monitoring does not provide a comprehensive, enterprise-wide risk management approach. Rather, it is a key component in the risk management process that effectively transforms an otherwise static assessment protocol into something more dynamic.


By providing essential, real-time intelligence to key decision makers in a corporation, enterprises can better track and monitor threats on an ongoing basis and have a more holistic view of the state of their business. With the current environment constantly changing and threats evolving, stakeholders can use this intelligence to address vulnerabilities and take appropriate action to mitigate threats to their organization.

Once a problem is identified, physical security teams must decide whether to investigate and continually monitor the threat or, if the problem instead presents an immediate risk, take rapid steps to alleviate the issue. This often critical decision is made exponentially easier with the appropriate technology in place to present all pertinent information to the decision maker.

The U.S. Secret Service uses protective intelligence daily to vet a range of threats, including those against public officials. In addition, multinational corporations utilize protective intelligence to analyze threats against their executives and corporations. It’s not unusual for companies to have hundreds of persons of interest in their files, containing angry customers, insider threats, and individuals fixated on their executives for a range of reasons.

Video Surveillance Isn’t Enough

Video surveillance is often the first technology on the list when it comes to protecting physical assets, but legacy security systems and video surveillance no longer meet the mark.

The value of video cameras varies based on the stakeholder and its evaluation criteria. For example, a retailer may use cameras for investigations, evidentiary value, and loss prevention, in which case a camera is enough. However, video cameras are intrinsically a reactive approach to security—helping identify perpetrators after the theft, sabotage or damage is done—and they should not be an organization’s only layer of protection.

While security teams may be able to stop someone caught on camera in mid-act, the goalpost has moved to stopping perpetrators before they even show up, which cameras alone cannot do. Security leaders need to assess whether video cameras are meeting the organization’s security and consider that the changing risk environment requires their teams to look over the horizon—with protective intelligence being the key.

Encourage Intelligence Sharing Across the Protection Community

By filling in the intelligence gaps historically created by information silos, CSOs can make more informed behavior-based assessments of threats to their organization. Intelligence and analysis are keys to making a truly objective threat assessment, especially as security teams navigate our new normal.

Furthermore, having a proactive intelligence-driven program in place encourages intelligence-sharing within the protection community, as few agencies are inclined to broadcast threats, even after a suspect’s conviction. Think of it as a private–public partnership.  A perfect example of this is the tremendous job done by the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), housed inside the Diplomatic Security Service at the U.S. State Department. Here, threats and intelligence are routinely shared across agencies and various private sectors.


If a malicious actor were to threaten a specific corporation’s C-suite, it is likely that they have also threatened other executives involved in similar activities. These initial threats and any subsequent ones received should be circulated to the protection community for visibility and to increase situational awareness.

Correcting misconceptions about what protects assets with early preventative measures is more effective than reactionary measures. As threats become more complex, it is imperative that companies have a comprehensive protective intelligence program in place.

Fred Burton is one of the world’s foremost authorities on protective intelligence, security, and counterterrorism. As executive director of the Ontic Center for Protective Intelligence, he spearheads strategic consulting to physical security leaders at major corporations, advising how to optimize their security programs, streamline protective intelligence initiatives, and keep their people safe. Burton previously served as Chief Security Officer at Stratfor, was a former police officer, special agent with the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), and New York Times best-selling author.