Executive Protection: Assessing Threats in 20 Questions (or Less)

You think that threat assessment requires paying a lot of money to listen to lectures by MAs and PhDs. But really, all you really need to do is follow Mark Cuban's advice from How to Win at the Sport of Business. That is, “Read the Freakin manual.” And here's the manual...

I have listed (with my own explanations) the 20 definitive questions that we need to address in our conducting of a systematic threat assessment of an inappropriate pursuer. This list comes from “Threat Assessment and Management Strategies: Identifying the Howlers and Hunters" by Frederick Calhoun and Stephen Weston (Second Edition). I highly recommend reading this book in its entirety. It really is the manual for threat assessment managers.

What is the goal of threat management?

Threat management is all about managing problem situations to keep them from becoming criminal violence…The ultimate question the threat manager must answer is ‘Does the subject pose a risk to the target at this time?’

20 Questions for the Executive Protection Specialist

One can group the questions below into several categories. Think of them as layers of an onion. On layer (1) the outer layer, we have the relationship between the subject and the target (2) the next layer focuses on the subject's previous behaviors toward the target, and others (3) the final layer focuses on the subject’s current and past situations.

Set #1

  1. How did the subject choose to approach the target?
  2. What about the situation indicates the subject’s identity and physical proximity to the target; in other words, who and where is the subject?
  3. What about the situation indicates who or what the subject is targeting; in other words, who's is the target?
  4. What about the situation indicates the type of venue being targeted and what is it about the venue that gives insight into the subject’s intent, motive, and ability?
  5. What about the situation indicates whether or not the Intimacy Effect is in play; in other words, what is the nature of the relationship between the subject and the target?
  6. What about the situation related to the subject’s choice of context, including the circumstances and the content?
  7. Is the target currently accessible to the subject?

Significance of set #1 - These questions help the threat manager identify the target & subject, identifies the type of approach (from a distance or in person), what venue the the approach occurred in, whether the “Intimacy Effect” has an impact, and most importantly – whether the target is in immediate danger.

Intimacy Effect: “the greater degree of intimacy between the subject and the target, the more likely threats of physical harm will be carried out.”


Set #2

  1. Does the subject have the ability and motivation to take advantage of any current accessibility to the target?
  2. Is there a known history of previous contacts with the target, or other targets by this subject?
  3. Does the subject have a history of violent or threatening behaviors, including any criminal behavior?
  4.  What is the subject’s knowledge about the target’s current situation?
  5. Is the subject seeking knowledge about the target and the target’s current situation?

Significance of Set #2 - These direct the threat manager’s attention to the subject’s location, ability to inflict harm, past behaviors, and past involvement with the target. The subject’s past behaviors provide the greatest insight, into their future behavior. It is also important to note that the subject’s seeking of information about the target would indicate that they are on the “path to intended violence.” This is the equivalent of a criminal conducting pre-attack surveillance, in the initial phases of the attack-cycle.

Path to Intended Violence: the continuum that an attacker must follow in order to carry out premeditated violence.

(Start) Grievance – Ideation – Research and Planning – Preparation – Breach – Attack (End)


Set #3

  1. Does the subject’s behavior indicate mental health issues, including suicidality?
  2. Does the subject possess, have access to, or give evidence of a fascination with weaponry of any type?
  3. Is the subject currently seeking to obtain a weapon?
  4. What is the status of the subject’s inhibitors, including any recent losses?
  5. Has the subject exhibited controlling, isolating, or jealous behaviors toward the target?
  6.  Does the subject have a history of, or is currently, abusing alcohol, drugs, or prescription medicines?
  7. Does the subject have ant relevant medial issues?
  8. Has the subject engaged in any final act behaviors?

Significance of Set #3 - The final set forces the threat manager to consider the subject’s mental health, access/familiarity with weapons (firearms typically), what inhibitors are in place to prevent the subject from acting violently, and whether the subject has engaged in final act behaviors.

Threat Assessment Terms

Inhibitors: That which the subject holds in such a high regard, that it would prevent them from acting inappropriately or violently. Example: loss of a job, loss of a relationship, loss of status in a social setting, etc.

Final Act Behaviors: a behavior that indicates that the subject does not intend to live much longer. Example: creating a will, creating audio/video recordings explaining their actions, selling possessions, etc.

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Stay safe,


About the EP Nexus Blog

The EP Nexus executive protection blog, is a comprehensive resource for security professionals involved in executive protection, protective intelligence, threat assessment, and related fields.

Launched in March of 2016 as a resource for executive protection professionals, command center gurus, and close protection know-it-alls, EP Nexus is quickly becoming a resource for those seeking to quench their thirst for executive protection reading.

The most popular section of the blog is Executive Protection HacksEP Hacks is a series in which we address complex topics (one topic per issue) in a convenient collection of tools & writings. I am actively collaborating with industry leaders to produce future issues. If you're interested in taking an active approach in moving your industry into the future, contact me below.

Outside of EP Hacks, I explore the following topics in writings, tutorials, and webinars: online tools for executive protection professionals, open source intelligence investigations (OSINT), threat assessment, protective intelligence, travel security, and more.

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