The thing about CIA intelligence officers is that you must be tuned into your environment, aware of your surroundings, and able to spot when something looks wrong or out of place.
Ultimately, we are searching for counterintelligence threats because we don’t want to end up detained, charged with espionage and dumped in a foreign jail. That is a CIA officer’s worst nightmare—to be caught in the act and blown as an agent. Therefore, we have to be on our game every time we conduct an operation. We have to know:
- Is anyone following us?
- Listening too closely to our conversations?
- Standing too close?
- Are they using walkie-talkies in their cars?
- Do they have earpieces in their ears?
- Do they look out of place?
- Are they acting normally?
The other major thing we are looking for are people that could pose a security threat to us. As Americans living and working abroad, we are the natural target for people who hate the United States. We are the people that terrorists want to hijack, carjack, kidnap, or kill. Therefore, we have to pay extra attention to what’s going on around us. The same goes for men and women concerned about keeping themselves safe on the mean streets of America. Gone are the white picket fence days-of-old when we still had our innocence. September 11th stole our sense of well-being and since then, mass casualty attacks, school shootings, and assaults by crazies and lone wolfs in public places, have become the new normal. We have to adjust our ways of seeing the world and become our own personal security advisors.It’s not hard—especially for women who tend to be tuned in to their surroundings (the mama bear protective instinct).
This Feminine Collective series will give you the tools you need to keep you and your loved ones safe. But before we delve into the specifics of how to prepare for, and respond to various types of attacks, you have to learn how to be your own secret service agent. You must have the rudimentary knowledge to comb a location and identify potential security threats. Situational awareness is the key to safety. Without it, you are toast.
I regularly scan for threats when I’m in large, crowded, public places like malls, concert events, sitting in the lobby of a large hotel (more of an overseas concern), getting into and out of my car in parking lots and parking garages, walking on the streets of a city next to dumpsters, alleyways, etc. In those moments, my antenna is all the way up. I’m looking for anyone or anything that is out of place: an abandoned bag, a person skulking around looking shifty, a strange car parked close to mine with someone inside of it, individuals who appear confused or nervous or simply seem out of place for the area, etc. I’m not paranoid, but I’m searching for clues to be sure that someone is not in a position to harm me. A few of the things that have popped out at me when I’m “in the zone”:
- I see a lot of drug deals going down or about to go down. It’s not a direct threat to me, but I’d rather not stick around and place myself in a more vulnerable position.
- My husband and I were walking on Capitol Hill when we noticed that a car pulled up and was driving very slowly behind us. A guy got out of the car and start walking towards us. We both straightened our posture and picked up our pace. My husband, who has amazing street smarts, pulled up his jacket as if he was reaching for a gun (which he did not have). With confidence, my husband turned around to glare at the guy who seemed to be pursuing us. Thank God he wigged out, made a sudden U-turn and took off in the opposite direction.
- While driving close to home in 2002, I saw two men in a rental car taking covert photographs of a water treatment facility in Arlington, VA. (I called in their tag number and vehicle description to the FBI hotline.)
- While walking to my car in the parking garage of a prominent mall in northern Virginia, I heard some loud noises and what sounded like an assault taking place in the stairwell. I grabbed my phone ready to call 911—that’s when I turned the corner and saw a man and woman struggling—the woman was screaming for him to let her go. I yelled, “Are you OK????” I realized, at that moment, that it was an Arab couple so I instinctively yelled in Arabic, “What are you doing to her? Shame on you! Shame on you!!!” They stopped fighting, looked shocked and embarrassed, and then ran away.
- In a major department store, I walked right into the middle of a surveillance operation. I saw several men ducking behind shelves and wearing earpieces although I never saw the rabbit (the person they were surveilling). No one else in the store seemed to have a clue what was unfolding right in the middle of their little shopping trip.
Funny how paying a little bit of attention to your surroundings reveals details you’ve never noticed before. Turn up your security antenna, and you will be ahead of the game and more switched on than the majority of those around you. Then, if anything does go down, you’ll be ready.