Protective Intelligence Trends as We Enter 2019

2018 undoubtedly has been an interesting year as it relates to protective intelligence initiatives and the challenges that our colleagues across the asset protection industry face. If we were to adequately address all of the important issues from 2018, this brief would be nearly 35,000 words – thankfully, we’re limiting this to a high-level overview.

First off, there have been a significant number of shooting incidents in the US, particularly as it relates to school campuses & workplaces – one university study asserts that 2018 was the worst year on record for gun violence in schools. Second, the discourse on data privacy has further developed and has been memorialized in international regulations (such as GDPR) and similar policies at the local/state level in the US. Third, we have seen a positive spike in the growth of online communities that support online investigators, whom our protective intelligence programs often rely on most. We conclude this post with an abbreviated list of research/reports that were published in 2018 relating to protective intelligence. We welcome your input, feedback, and questions.


Mass Shootings & Related Violence in 2018

In 2018, we saw continued evidence of how vulnerable our organizations truly are to the threat of violence (specifically shootings). Currently, various news sources estimate that the number of deaths in 2018 from “mass shootings” (3 or more deaths) is between 80 and 209. Regardless of where the true number falls in this range, we can say with certainty that these numbers are similar to those of 2017 (approximately 112 deaths) and all of us in the asset protection industry have an opportunity to improve the practices of our security programs.

As we have previously stated, we encourage our readers to engage the security leaders in their organizations to review past incidents of violence, so that they can take an objective look at their own policies & procedures to see how a similar scenario may have played out in their organization and what countermeasures can be implemented to mitigate (and hopefully prevent) such an incident. For that reason, we have listed the 5 worst mass shootings of 2018 below, as potential material for case studies or exercises for your security team.


Worst Mass Shooting Incidents of 2018

(2 occurred at high schools)

  • February 14, 2018: Nikolas Cruz (age 20) allegedly killed 17 and wounded 17 students & faculty with firearms at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (Parkland, FL). This is cited as the deadliest high school shooting in US history.

  • November 7, 2018: David Ian Long (age 28) allegedly killed 13 (includes the shooter who shot himself) and wounded 10 occupants with a firearm at Borderline Bar and Grill (Thousand Oaks, CA).

  • October 27, 2018: Robert D. Bowers (age 46) allegedly killed 11 and wounded 7 Jewish worshipers with multiple firearms at the Tree of Life Congregation (Pittsburgh, PA)

  • May 18, 2018: Dimitrios Pagourtzis (age 17) allegedly killed 10 and wounded 13 students & faculty with firearms at Santa Fe High School (Santa Fe, TX).

  • September 12, 2018: Javier Casarez (age 54) allegedly killed 6 people (including himself) with a firearm at multiple locations over a 40-minute period (Bakersfield, CA). *Domestic violence relate


Protecting Educational Institutions from Violence

2018 has been an especially concerning year for school safety. Academic research indicates that 2018 brought with it the greatest number of gun-related violent incidents at schools and to compound matters, two of the worst shootings in 2018 (by number of deaths) occurred at high schools and were perpetrated by students.

Although the above information is heart breaking, it did influence government agencies to come together to find solutions to these violent incidents occurring at schools. Following the Parkland shooting in February 2018, the Federal Commission on School Safety was brought together to provide "actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school" and was led by Betsy DeVos, the US Secretary of Education. The commission’s 180-page report outlining their recommendations was recently released and although the document is too dense to address in this post, we recommend that our readers examine it, along with public critiques of the commission's recommendations, because this is a discourse that can save lives.


The Worst Year on Record for Gun Violence in Schools

The US Naval Postgraduate School's Center for Defense and Security (Monterey, CA) has concluded by their research, that 2018 had the greatest frequency of US school shootings since 1970 when researchers began collecting data on the topic. In their report published in September 2018 by David Riedman & Desmond O'Neill, the authors concluded that based on their data spanning from January 2018 to September 2018, that 2018 had brought the greatest number of US school shootings recorded to-date.

In short, the researchers used the following as a basis for defining a school shooting: "each and every instance in which a gun is brandished, fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason, regardless of the number of victims (including zero), time, day of the week, or reason (e.g., planned attack, accidental, domestic violence, gang-related)."

*For those readers interested, they may scrutinize the methodology and data of the report here: Learn More.


Historical Graph of K-12 School Shooting Incidents (1970 – 2018)

Scshool shootings & Violence

Source: K-12 School Shooting Database: Research Methodology by David Riedman and Desmond O'Neill, September 2018, Naval Postgraduate School: Center for Homeland Defense and Security - https://www.chds.us/ssdb/resources/uploads/2018/10/Intro-and-Methodology-K-12-SSDB.pdf


Growing Data Privacy Concerns

This year had interesting implications for data privacy. First, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect, impacting companies world-wide. Second, the largest social media platforms’ (and their executives) policies & practices were scrutinized much more than in previous years, regarding their use and misuse of user data. As a result of the growing trend in data privacy, many of the social media platforms revised their practices – some of those impacting the way investigators gather information for their protective intelligence investigations.

GDPR went into effect on May 25, 2018 with the purpose of affording protections to the personal data of those residing in the European Union (EU). The regulation required a range of action items by all companies across the world whom conduct business or otherwise come in contact with the personal data of EU residents. For those that want to learn more, we recommend this resource provided by the UK's Information Commissioner's Office, to better understand the implications of the GDPR.

Although there are endless examples of all of the largest social media platforms (allegedly) misusing user data, this is best illustrated by the largest social media company in the world (by monthly active users), Facebook. Here is a significantly abbreviated timeline of recent data privacy controversies relating to Facebook:

  • March 2018: Reports begin to surface about how Cambridge Analytica misused the data of millions (upwards of 100 million) of Facebook users, in order to target users with ads and influence elections. Then in late March, journalists began to publish stories about Facebook's collection of SMS and call data of Android users.

  • April 2018: WhatsApp cofounder Jan Koum leaves Facebook, reportedly because of Facebook’s (mis)use of personal data and insistence on weakening encryption.

  • June 2018: The New York Times reports on Facebook's deals with smartphone manufactures to grant Facebook access to individual smartphone user data.

  • September 2018: In an interview with Forbes, WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton (who left Facebook because of his disagreements with the executive staff relating to data privacy) says the following: "At the end of the day, I sold my company...I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day.”

  • September 2018: Gizmodo published information about how Facebook used phone numbers provided by users for two-factor authentication, to target those users with ads.


So What? Data privacy regulations and the scrutinizing of how the social media giants use or misuse the data of users is highly relevant to those of us conducting protective intelligence investigations. Over time, these controversies begin to interrupt or otherwise prevent security professionals from using proven techniques we have grown familiar with for investigating and collecting information on persons of interest that pose real threats to the people and assets we are charged to protect.


Growing OSINT Communities Online

Although the vast numbers of OSINT professionals (investigators, journalists, intelligence professionals, etc.) supporting each other online is not new, we wanted to bring attention to the fact that there are a growing number of outlets for protective intelligence professionals like ourselves to continue learning as we share our proven insights with one another.

Since 2016, Michael Bazzell has been sharing excellent information via his “The Complete Privacy & Security Podcast” and he continues to produce more content. Plus, in the past year two new OSINT related podcasts supported by experts in their fields have been created: “OSINTCurious Webcast” and “The OSINT Podcast”. We encourage our readers to keep an eye on these growing resources for investigative professionals, as tools and tactics are ever changing.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to adopt a negative outlook when we encounter so much information about shootings, encroachments on data privacy, and everything in between. But there is a silver lining here because these instances tend to bring with them opposite reactions: in the case of school shootings, an important dialogue is kindled and government action is undertaken; in the case of data privacy concerns, government action is taken and private organizations lead the charge by taking drastic steps to protect your data. In either case, the collective action of security leaders (and leaders to be) acting individually within their organizations can have a greater positive impact than any piece of legislation, and it is our responsibility to seek constant improvement of our security programs.

Additions for Your 2019 Reading List

We will leave you with several recently published and highly relevant reports (from the FBI, DHS, and DOE) which we found to be especially relevant for protective intelligence professionals. We hope you and your organizations can benefit from these works, as we have.

Protective Intelligence: Required Readings Published in 2018


Author Credit: This article was written by the Protective Intelligence contributor, Travis Lishok.

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