Personnel Security

Personnel security a key element in food defense

by R.A. Norton

Corporate success is highly dependent on acquiring and maintaining a quality workforce, from line employee to senior executives. Food corporations, like all other types of profit-driven businesses, must maintain the highest quality of C- level executives possible, executive who are skilled at addressing the bottom line and both retaining and enhancing brand quality.

The loss of a single senior executive can have devastating effects on corporate profitability and stability. The negative effects of losing the entire C Suite is almost too horrible to imagine, but imagine we must, since senior executives are now in the cross hairs of adversaries. Senior executives serve, in the eyes of these adversaries (both foreign and domestic), as symbolic representatives of the United States as well as of the critical infrastructures in which they work. In their minds attacking a business executive is the moral equivalent of attacking the nation.

Inspire Magazine is Al Qaeda’s (AQAP) propaganda online magazine. A recent edition encouraged supporters to seek out U.S. business leaders and kill them, in their homes. This call to action is a significant ramp up, particularly in the United States, although similar strategies have been pursued for some time by violent Palestinian groups that are using low-tech stabbings as a means to kill Israelis, and by ISIS, which has called for U.S. military personnel to be targeted in much the same way.

The motivation behind this new campaign of targeting business executives is the desire to sow the seeds of terror through propaganda. The logic is that propaganda helps win wars, which is true—but only if the targeted nation or individuals allows the propaganda to have the desired effect. The threats made by Al Qaeda are not idle, but part of a much larger strategy that has not yet been played out, either here or in the Middle East.

The ISIS approach to date has been to start with a similar call to action aimed at military leaders, and in particular pilots, whose units have been involved in battles with ISIS. This was rapidly followed up by a release of personal data, including addresses of targeted military personnel. ISIS’ hope is that sleeper cells in the U.S. and in allied nations will use this information to launch low-tech attacks on military personnel using simple weapons such as knives and firearms.

A similar strategy by Al Qaeda is to be expected relatively soon, meaning that exposure of personally identifiable information on business executives will likely be forthcoming. Although such data exposures are not new, the motivation to kill business executives is a dramatic change.

Senior-level and middle management personnel should take the threat seriously and act accordingly to maintain personal safety, as well as the safety of family members. Where appropriate and permitted by concealed carry laws, possession of firearms can significantly enhance personal and family safety, when accompanied by regular firearms training and practice.

Personnel should also be familiar with and regularly practice strategies and tactics designed to prevent abduction and know how to respond should such an attempt be made. Tactical driving training is also an essential part of executive security protection. A multi-ton vehicle can be a powerful weapon of deterrence if used properly in response to the actions of someone wishing to do harm.

The easiest first step in any personal security plan is for all personnel to review and vary travel routes to and from work to avoid detectable patterns, which can be exploited by adversaries. Personal protective gear and the use of professional executive security personnel are also advised, particularly in areas where local violence has occurred or is likely.

The most important elements to stress here are to PLAN, PRACTICE, DO. Personnel should PLAN ahead of time for all types of violent confrontations, which hopefully will never happen. Since hope is not a strategy, personnel must therefore PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE to the point of attaining muscle memory, and then continue to PRACTICE, so that proficiency is continually enhanced. Combat training (that’s what it is) is a physical activity that can be adjusted in its strenuousness according to the physical abilities of the individual and the nature and likelihood of the threat. It is also an excellent way to maintain good health.

Should a violent act actually occur, it is imperative to DO what you have been trained to do. Act aggressively and calmly, neutralizing the threat as quickly as possible and in a manner commensurate with the nature of the threat. As Gen. George Patton said, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

In the event of an aggressive attack by adversaries on you, loved ones or colleagues, there is no time to hesitate out of a concern for personal liability. Recognize that threats can come from any direction and at any time, and act accordingly.

The threat environment is 360-degree and 24/7, whether at work or home. Knowing how and when to respond to the full spectrum of threats is part of the training and essential ensuring your safety and that of your family and fellow workers.


Robert A. Norton, Ph.D., is a professor at Auburn University and a member of the Auburn University Food System Institute’s core faculty. A long-time consultant to federal and state law enforcement agencies, the Department of Defense and industry, he specializes in intelligence analysis, weapons of mass destruction defense and national security. For more information on the topic or for more detailed discussions about specific security related needs, he can be reached at nortora@auburn.edu or by phone at 334.844.7562.