Shoring Up Physical Security this Election Season

Concern about security in the upcoming 2020 Presidential election has been a hot topic since 2016, when allegations first began to surface that Russian interference may have compromised results. Despite investigations, Congressional hearings and lots of conversation, time has done little to quell fears that systems are still ripe for exploit. In fact, a recent survey of security professionals found more than 60 percent say it is likely that hacking of voting machines will affect the next U.S. election. And about the same percentage of professionals (63 percent) believe that Russian cyber initiatives will have a significant impact on the U.S. presidential election in 2020.

But while the topic of voting security is being debated, another equally important issue for security professionals to consider is physical security in and around political events, such as rallies and demonstrations.

Laith Alkhouri, co-founder and director at Flashpoint, a provider of business risk intelligence, said his team is advising business owners to consider the implications of both security and business continuity should a political event be planned near their facilities.

Alkhouri, who heads Flashpoint’s counterterrorism desk and directs the jihadist threat intelligence service, said he monitors online threats and other activity to identify the latest trends in the Deep Web used by terror groups and their supporters, where terrorist activity is often planned by malicious actors.

“There are multiple physical security considerations for places like stadiums and other places with large crowds. These apply to rallies too because when you have massive amounts of people, they are exposed to many threats,” said Alkhouri.

Building owners and business leaders will need to consider employee and resident safety if their buildings could be impacted by the crowds that gather at a rally or demonstration in the coming months. Communication will be a key to ensuring not only physical safety and awareness, but that everyone impacted is aware of what is happening and can plan accordingly. Tight coordination between security professionals, business and building owners and event coordinators will be crucial.

Higher-ups can be targets

Alkhouri also cautions that security directors at companies need to have executive safety plans in place this election season. Those seeking to make political statements or to cause chaos may target higher-level employees and executives due to the “wow” factor involved in potentially causing harm or damage.

“People higher up in corporations are considered targets,” said Alkhouri. “They are seen as part of the deep state, and part of corrupt elements by some. They need ample physical security personnel. And organizations need to consider not only the executives themselves, but how this trickles down to the security of clients and employees.”

Attendees must be the watchdogs

For those who plan to attend political events, awareness is key.

Todd Madison, a former U. S. Secret Service agent in charge of protecting 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, told Time magazine that people should assess online chatrooms and social media sites before going to events to see if potential attacks or disruption are being discussed. If it sounds like it is attracting a lot of negative attention, people may want to consider if it is safe to attend.

 “Security professionals view cyber threats as part of their ongoing security assessments before and during an event because they can change so quickly,” Madison said in the interview. “It’s about weighing the risks against the benefits and understanding ahead of time what you are getting yourself into.”

Alkhouri said arming citizens with the knowledge and power to report suspicious activity is step one.

“If we are to distill down to basics, there is always the directive of ‘See something, say something,’” he said. “This cannot be said too much. Not only in regard to suspicious packages, but for any red flags that individuals are observing. On social media accounts, for example. When they observe actors making threats and statement about attacking individuals, it is critical for people to report these statements.”

Drones could be a threat this season

One technology Alkhouri has his eyes on this season is drones, and ensuring weaponization of drones does not happen. He is concerned about the implications of drones and how they could wreak havoc on large crowds.

“There are malicious actors trying to impact the political process and drones are something I would highlight. There are videos online with drones that individuals have hooked up with firearms, for example,” he explained. “There are protocols for prohibition of drone use in certain areas, but law enforcement must have frequency jammers, and there isn’t a comprehensive program for that.”

Coordination, proactive training is essential

Alkhouri would like to see more coordination and intelligence sharing between the private and public sectors. The public sector does not have access to the kind of tools and intelligence currently being used by many private-sector intelligence companies and more synergy between the two will be needed to truly tap into threats being discussed this election season.

Internally, in individual businesses, like all security programs, proactive planning and exercises to run through what-if scenarios should be part of risk mitigation strategy now.

“Don’t be reactive to this, it should be part of protocol. Have quarterly training and ensure executives are on the same page.”

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Article Written by Joan Goodchild | View all articles by Joan Goodchild