It is a rare occurrence to encounter a situation which requires the utilization of all the tools in the box to overcome major hurdles and ensure personal safety, but that is exactly what happened to CASS Global in South America a number of years ago.
The premise is simple. A Fortune 500 company of good standing was embezzled on a massive scale by the local nationals. The company selected the best man available to go down and clean up the mess, with the authority to do whatever could legally be done to fix the problem. Death threats and dire warnings were the reply from the criminal side of the house, most of whom were not identified as of yet.
CASS Global Security’s mission was to ensure his personal safety for the duration. It proved to be a very tall order.
Shortly after we checked in, securing the entire floor of the hotel in question, smoke billowed up from the nearby airport where a plane crashed, killing all. Shortly thereafter we endured the unpleasantness of an earthquake. It was, perhaps, an omen of things to come.
To this day, it was one of the most difficult missions we have ever been involved in, and was labyrinthine in complexity, risk, and scale. We confronted the threat of snipers, road blocks, corrupt police, et al against a backdrop of the innocent (who feared for their jobs) and the guilty (who had nothing to lose for the penalty of being caught was severe). Months of in country accounting proved to be a work of fiction, and none knew how far the rot had spread. Having said that, the company rep, a powerful leader, was not going to hunker down and spend 2 months living in his hotel room. For the benefit of the innocent and the shareholders, he must be seen to lead from the front, regardless of risk. Suffice to say we got very little sleep for an extended period of time.
At one point, during the height of the crisis which soon encompassed all the locations in the entire country, we were deploying multiple Lear jets, multiple teams with armored vehicles on the road, and training additional local nationals, all simultaneously. We endured carjacking, (a subordinate unit who did not receive protection) attempted carjacking’s, bogus Police who were not, attempted seductions by prostitutes, etc.
It was, in the end, a near run thing. We succeeded based on our bedrock principles of being proactive and maintaining the initiative. Assertive counter surveillance saved us from harm on at least one occasion when we were able to identify hostile surveillance placed on us. A quick nighttime raid by the country’s Special Operations Forces solved that problem.
We won the “hearts and minds” battle by developing low level intelligence networks, by encouraging community “buy in” on thorny issues needing resolution, and by actively engaging (and being SEEN to be actively engaging) on a number of initiatives which dramatically improved the conditions for the local nationals who represented the work force.
So great was the threat during the culminating event, resulting in a large percentage of management being fired/arrested that CASS Global was requested to arrange the covert extraction of key personnel for several days. This in turn entailed the covert manipulation of hotel rooms, the creation of non-existent flight plans, and the swapping of executive aircraft in the wee hours of the night.
The two coups we survived in the months that followed, along with the adoption of the US dollar as the national currency to curb hyper-inflation, seemed benign in comparison.
Had we been a standard security provider, relying on “suits with guns” we would have lost. Reactive was a guarantee of eventual failure in this application. Proactive was the appropriate mindset, and it was here that we realized that not only were we mitigating risk, but were actually adapting to it.
It confirmed our belief that security operations need to be proactive, fluid, and unorthodox in order to keep the opposition off balance.
We adhere to the same principles years later, because they still work.
By the way, we never, not once, ever had to use a weapon during the entire operation. It reinforces our standard line, told to new recruits at the training facility that, “If you have to rely on weapons to win the battle, you’ve already lost the war.”