Jet Tracking Problem and Surveillance Detection Solution

In years past, it has been widely believed that travel by private jet could be accomplished with a degree of confidentiality by protecting the public availability of the jets’ tail numbers from real-time tracking. In June of 2020, a young student at the University of Central Florida created a Twitter bot using Raspberry Pi and an algorithm to process jet tracking data left publicly accessible by the US Federal Aviation Administration. In early 2022 the possibility of bypassing the confidentiality of private jet travel was made public by news coverage of exchanges between Elon Musk and the student.

Tracking By Others

While the capability to this has been present for some time, the larger issue is that the news coverage provided a “blueprint for success” to any opponent (activist, activist group, stalker, etc.) with modest technical know-how to identify where the jets are going to and from, in the most public way possible. In fact, the website provides a near-perfect instruction set for how to build a jet travel tracking bot. Moreover, the collection of this data over time allows an opponent to analyze jet traffic and determine patterns of movement, providing insight into what trips private jet passengers are making, conferences they may attend, and who may be in attendance.

For the sake of example, the pattern of a particular corporation’s jet movements prior to a board of directors meeting would become fairly apparent after looking at 6-9 months worth of data and observing the short trips to pick them up from their home, bring them to corporate headquarters, and then return them home a day or two later. The term for a movement or behavior pattern that allows an opponent to reasonably predict what will happen next is “telegraphing”; most of these patterns are somewhat inescapable; the upside is that a protector can plan around those pre-identified patterns or known vulnerabilities, and can take mitigation steps through the application of surveillance detection principles and surveillance detection-trained logistics support.

“We only have to be lucky once – you have to be lucky always” 

Irish Republican Army, October 1984

The above quote illustrates the eternal challenge of providing executive protection, particularly against energized activist opponent groups in this quasi-post-CoVid environment. Opponent groups in 2022 have learned to maintain the confidentiality of their specific preparation actions prior to moving against leaders at major corporations and world leaders. In simple terms, there will not be a specific warning of an action against those figures except for the very final positioning movements by the actor(s) carrying out the action. With that in mind, the most viable strategy, in fact, the only viable strategy when the reality of corporate resource constraints is factored in, is an approach known as surveillance detection. That is the process of identifying periods of vulnerability and telegraphing behaviors, then leveraging that knowledge to build increased caution and readiness around those periods.

Actionable Steps

The vulnerability associated with driving (moreover, the period of loading and unloading passengers) is as old as the car itself; in fact, World War One was started due to the identified vulnerability of Archduke Ferndinand traveling along a predictable route at a predictable time with a chauffeur, not a driver trained in surveillance detection principles or security driving techniques and procedures. The trained EP driver understands and appreciates that the vulnerability and risk of time spent going into the FBO, remaining on-site to load and unload, and driving service roads immediately out of the FBO. An EP driver is trained in specific techniques to identify potential opponents by watching people transition in and out of the FBO, apply heightened wariness while driving the predictability stretch of road from the FBO, and will apply trained driver responses to the opponent actions while on the move. In contrast, untrained drivers historically will either completely freeze and fail to mitigate the issue or respond erratically to compound the problem.

Vulnerabilities exist at static locations as well. The job of a surveillance detection trained EP agent is to conduct advances ahead of protectee movements to identify areas of vulnerability and apply the framework of known telegraphed patterns to the movement itinerary. Similar to the work of the EP driver, the EP agent will plan periods of heightened vigilance around their itinerary analysis informed by the advance work. And again, similar to the EP driver, the EP agent will need particular vigilance around transitional periods, the loading and unloading of protectees from vehicles, and entering or exiting buildings.

For Reference – Examples of Telegraphed Vulnerabilities

  • Vehicle movement in and out of headquarters garages; particularly waiting for gate movement
  • Loading and unloading passengers at all FBOs
  • Executive jet trips to secondary homes
  • Quarterly board of directors’ jet trips

Edward’s Contact Information

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