Guest Post by John Demand: “You look for the bomb…we look for the bomber”

During a counter terrorism training program I attended in Israel in 2006, a quote of the Israel’s when talking about the difference in their strategy as compared to that of America “You look for the bomb…we look for the bomber” struck me like a ton of bricks. As I pondered this statement it became very clear that our efforts in fighting terrorist activity and even extending to criminal activity is that we look for objects rather than for behaviors.

As has been discovered since the terrorist attack on September 11th 2001, the methodologies of terrorists continually change. Sure we see patterns of activity, such as the use of bombs, but concealment and components dramatically change. Who would have thought that a bomber would place the bomb in a shoe or in underwear? Who knew that liquid forms of bomb making materials would be a threat? Who knew that printer cartridges would be used as a concealment device?
To each of these changes, we respond by trying to detect them by adding new search and restrictive procedures, such as removing shoes or not carrying more than 3 oz. of liquids in U.S. airports. Our strategy is to hope that we can spot terrorists activity by looking at objects rather than the closely observing behaviors of the people who commit these acts.

In the Sandyhook tragedy, again we have focused our attention on an object, namely gun control. The saying: “Guns don’t kill…people do.” has been ascribed as a right wing statement, but the implications of the statement depict the same concept of looking at an object rather than the behaviors of the people who commit the act.

One of the greatest acts of detection and prevention of a terrorist attack was not focused on things, but the behaviors of an individual. On December 14, 1999, Agent Diana Dean stopped an individual claiming to be Bennie Noris, at Port Los Angeles, Washington who claimed to be a Canadian citizen coming to the United States. Agent Dean carefully observed the individual’s behavior, which she described as acting “hinky”. Based on her instincts while observing behavioral cues, the individual was investigated further and found to be Ahmed Ressam. Ressam was transporting bomb making materials and planned to attack the Los Angeles International Airport. He later became known as the Millennium bomber. His plan could have paled even 911 had he been successful, but thanks to the observational skills and instinct of a sharp customs agent this act was prevented.

I too, had an incident when working as a security director for a major corporation where observing behaviors paid off. The company I was working for had an extremely high turn over rate. At least weekly I would be called to sit in on terminations of employees that management thought…”might go postal”. During the hundreds of meetings I continually watched the behaviors of the individual’s as they lost their jobs. There were often two behaviors I observed. The individual would either be mad at the company: “I worked my ass off for you…how can you fire me?” or “What am I going to do? I can’t support my family.” The behaviors were consistently that of anger, fear or sadness.

During one meeting, I was called to a conference room where a termination was to take place. An account manager and a human resource representative arrived, but the employee did not show. After waiting 10 minutes, I suggested to the manager that we go to the employee’s work station. When the manager approached the individual he asked him to come to his office. The employee said: “Why? I’m doing my job.” When I walked up behind the manager the employee said: I didn’t know you would have someone else. He then walked into the manager’s office. By this time the Human Recourse representative was in the managers office. She told the employee he was being terminated because his work performance was poor and he was insubordinate. She then asked me to walk him out of the building. As I escorted the employee from the 12th floor of the building to the parking lot, he said very little. As I watched his behavior I noticed something was very wrong. It was nothing he said, he made no threats, but there was something extremely suspicious about the way he was reacting.

After watching the terminated employee leave the parking lot in his vehicle, I returned to the Human Resources Department and told them: “This guy is going to
kill someone.” At the time I did not know what it was that tipped me off, but I was sure he was coming back to do harm. I immediately began an investigation into him. When searching his work area I found 30 firearms owner applications in his filing cabinet. One of the applications was filled in and signed by another employee of the company. I called that employee to my office and questioned him about the application and his relationship. The employee revealed my suspicion was right on target. He said the terminated employee believed that management was against all employees and he was trying to get other employees to arm themselves and take action. He further stated that his former co-worker owned guns and was going to come back and kill his manager and HR representatives.

Based on this additional information I arranged an off site meeting with law enforcement, a psychologist, and the individual’s father. The situation was successfully mitigated when the individual agreed to go into a treatment facility and get the help he needed thereby preventing what could have been another tragic act of workplace violence.

It drove me crazy as to what the tip off was that led me to believe the terminated employee was going to commit an act of violence. After two years of studying behavioral cues, I realized that it was the expression of contempt and contemptuous behavior this individual displayed. Having watched hundreds of terminations when I saw a behavior that was different; i.e. contempt, it stuck out like a sore thumb.

This drives me to an important point. As law enforcement or security professionals we look for criminality. It is extremely important that we look for and observe normal behavior. Why? Because when we see and understand what normal behavior looks like it is easier to distinguish it from aberrant or abnormal behavior.

Do to the nature of work, law enforcement and security personnel are often forced to see only the negative which generally results in abnormal behavior. You don’t get called to: “Johnny just got accepted to a major university” you get called to “Johnny is on crack” or You don’t get called to “Mary and Bob’s 25th wedding anniversary, you get called to: “John just hit Mary on the head with his golf club.” A constant diet of negative behavior, after the fact does not provide good contrast to what is normal behavior. How can we then spot behaviors where we can prevent or rapidly intervene when acts are happening or about to happen?

How does one gain this knowledge? In the prophetic words of Yogi Berra: “We can observe a lot by watching”. If we begin to pay attention, study and focus on normal behaviors around us observing facial expressions and body language it will help identify behaviors that are aberrant or abnormal. So where and how can you do this?

Do you ever find yourself in a line while shopping with nothing to do? Begin watching the expressions of the cashier and people as they interact. Do you ever go to a shopping mall and are bored to tears while a spouse or friend shops or waiting for food in a restaurant? Here is another place where you will see people acting in normal settings. One of my favorite training grounds is the airport. Here instead of getting upset about a flight delay, I find a comfortable chair and watch the people as they interact.

So what do you see and what should you be looking for? Try to watch and even eavesdrop on what is going on during interpersonal encounters. For example, watch the interaction between a grocery store clerk and a customer who is disgruntled that the item does not have a UPC code and has to wait. Particularly watch the facial expressions during the exchange. Can you spot any of the six basic emotions: Fear, anger, sadness, happiness, disgust, or contempt?

In conclusion, to be more effective in our efforts to prevent acts of terrorism, violence or criminality we need to develop a strategy that includes a concerted effort to look at behaviors. This can provide significant cues for further investigation or immediate action rather than to continue our focus on objects. Ask yourself this question: Do you believe that gun control will really have any effect on preventing a terrorist act or an active killer? Are we so naïve to believe that enacting new gun laws and restrictions are going to deter someone who has the intent to commit a capital offense? Or might we be better served watching and studying the behaviors of the people in our communities and listening to our instincts when we observe behavior that is suspicious out of the ordinary?

In the aftermath of tragic events we so often find that there were aberrant behaviors of the perpetrator leading up to the incident. Of course it is easy to Monday morning quarterback such events, but by observing behavior we stand a far better chance of deterring or being able to react in time to protect ourselves and others.

For example, If during a street stop an individual drops his chin and right shoulder while blading his body it is time to be prepared. These are good behavioral indications this individual is about to strike. If rapidly observed an immediate defensive action can be taken. In the case of observing an individual displaying aberrant facial expressions or body language during an encounter we can investigate further as to what the individual might be up to next. Can your assessment be wrong? The answer is yes. However, investigating an abnormal behavior in a dignified manner may lead to the prevention of a terrorist act or crime.

Assessing behaviors is non-prejudicial because it does not matter if it is a soccer mom or a middle-eastern male. Behavior is behavior! We would be better served looking for and identifying the behaviors of the terrorist or criminal, rather than focusing on objects such as bombs and guns, then taking appropriate action or investigating the situation until it is resolved and your instincts are satisfied. You often perceive more than your conscious brain can reason or you can articulate. Never disregard or ignore the physiological effects or signals often referred to as “gut instinct”.

Be sure to check out John Demands web-site Observation On Demand and his RAPID THREAT RECOGNITION PROGRAM