190 – Attacks That Have Changed How We Work and Train

Part II

This episode is part two on the vehicle attacks that have changed how Executive Protection and Secure Transportation practitioners work and train.  In episode 189, we covered Hans Martin Schleyer and Aldo Moro. In this week’s episode, we discuss John Butler and Alfred Herrhausen. 

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The John Butler Scenario

On Sept. 28th, 1981, a Texaco Petroleum Manager in Colombia, Mr. John Butler, was returning from the Texaco offices to his residence in the northern part of Bogota. Butler was driving in a two-car motorcade. He was in the lead car, which was armored, and his bodyguards were in the follow-up car. At approximately 7:00 p.m., at the intersection of Avenue 125 with Highway 19, within 300 yards of his home, a powerful terrorist bomb exploded and immobilized the vehicle. 

The bomb, concealed under a vendor’s pushcart and was remotely controlled and activated through a telephone line. A wire coming from a light pole detonated the device. Two persons were seriously injured. Mr. Butler survived the incident. In the attempt, a young woman who was passing by was seriously injured. A guard was also injured. At approximately 9:00 p.m., an anonymous caller, who said that he was a member of a city commando unit of the ELN “Union Camilista,” telephoned El Tiempo and attributed the terrorist act to that movement. The anonymous caller said that the seditious act against the high executive was carried out “as a reprisal against Texaco’s presence in Colombia and financing of paramilitary groups in the Medio Magdalena region, as well as the exploitation of Colombian natural resources by that multinational company.

Looking closely at the attempt on Mr. Butler, we find that the terrorists set the bomb off prematurely. The definition of prematurely is .1 sec. to .2 secs. A vehicle traveling 30 mph is traveling at the rate of 45 feet per sec. In .1 sec, the car moves 4.5 feet. The bomb blast hit the front of Mr. Butler’s car. Had the bomb gone off .1 sec later, it would have hit the door. It is quite probable that Mr. Butler would have been seriously injured and more than likely killed if he had not been in an armored car.

The Alfred Herrhausen Scenario

Herrhausen, because he sat on the board of US companies, his assassination got the attention of CEOs. Moro and Schleyer’s assassinations were after negotiations had failed. With Herrhausen, there were no negotiations – the plan was to assassinate him.

He had a “Surveillance Detection Team,” but it was not very good and completely unorganized. The event brought to focus the need for a well-organized and trained surveillance detection program. No amount of shooting or driving training would have prevented this incident.

Alfred Herrhausen was the Chairman of the Deutsche Bank in Germany. He lived in Cologne – on Nov. 30th, 1989, he was driving to work in his chauffeur-driven armored vehicle. Herrhausen’s routine was to drive to work in a three-car convoy. He was riding in the second vehicle, an armored Mercedes. He was accompanied by four bodyguards, two in a lead car and two in a follow car – the four bodyguards were in non-armored Mercedes. Herrhausen knew he had a valid threat.

The lead car drove ahead to block an intersection. They were expecting a Moro – Schleyer type of ambush – the terrorist would attempt to block the principals’ vehicle – eliminate the protection team – and take the principal.

The bodyguards were prepared for that type of attack – well trained and with the correct equipment. They were not expecting an assassination. While the lead car is blocking the intersection, Herrhausen, in the armored Mercedes, is moving down a narrow road with the follow car. On the side of the road was a bicycle chained to a small pole. Attached to the bike was a bomb that consisted of about 44 pounds of explosives. The triggering device was a photoelectric cell with its beam going across the road. When the vehicle broke the light beam it would ignite the bomb. 

The photocell had two switches – one operated by a Red Army Faction (RAF) member standing nearby and the switch operated by the photoelectric switch. The purpose of the 2nd switch operated by the RAF member was to ensure that the bomb would be denoted as Herrhausen’s vehicle drove by and not by the lead car or any other vehicle that happened to drive by.

One switch closed as the vehicle broke the light beam. If the 2nd switch operated by the RAF was not closed, the bomb would not detonate. The terrorist had to wait for the lead car to go through the light beam, and once the lead car passed the light beam, the terrorist closed the first switch.

When Herrhausen’s car broke the light beam, it closed switch one and ignited the bomb. The terrorists placed the bomb so that it would hit Herrhausen’s door. The force of the explosion threw Mr. Herrhausen’s armored Mercedes-Benz automobile several yards into the air, obliterating its windows and blowing open the doors, hood, and trunk. Witnesses said the car burst into flames immediately. Herrhausen’s bodyguards went to attend to Herrhausen. He appeared to be OK. When the bomb exploded, a piece of metal hit Herrhausen in the femoral artery. He died from his wounds.

Herrhausen timeline: 

  • Sept. 30th – surveillance of the area started 
  • Mid-October – At the attack site, posed as construction workers – doing road work. 
  • End of October – Started laying out the wiring that went to the RAF member to detonate the bomb.
  • Nov. 2nd – cut a hole in the cement to hide the wiring. 
  • Nov 7th – put the bicycle on the pole and left it there for a few days – took the bicycle away for a few days and then put it back next to the pole. They did this up to the point that no one paid any attention to the bicycle. 
  • All this while a “Surveillance Detection team was in the area.”

Lessons Learned

The attack begins long before the first gunshot or the detonation of the bomb. In all four attacks, surveillance of the target and the route played a critical role in the attack planning process. The terrorists knew precisely where their victim was going to be. They predicted the time and location with incredible accuracy. Surveillance Detection is Critical. It is essential for security providers to learn how, when, and where an attacker is likely to conduct surveillance, as well as how to plan, manage and conduct effective surveillance detection operations. 

Surveillance detection needs to play a major role in training and planning.

In many situations, Herrhausen and Butler are classic examples. Surveillance detection is not just the best protection; Surveillance detection may be the only protection. 

Since the mid-sixties, when Carlos Marighella’s Mini-Manual for The Urban Guerilla was popular reading for leftist groups throughout Latin America and Europe, pre-attack surveillance is something that many groups have relied on heavily throughout the attack planning process. The Al-Qaeda training manual is basically The Mini-Manual in Arabic.

Google the title and get the manual online. Read it – it’s their game plan.

Having bodyguards with guns doesn’t solve the problem – it creates a different issue. Know what the problem is, and above all, don’t underestimate the intelligence of your enemy. Honor the threat.

All of the Attacks Were Well Planned

If you center all of your training on the reactive “once it happens” concept, you are at a disadvantage.

Understand your limitations. With Moro, Schleyer, and Herrhausen, the protection teams were law enforcement officers.

Law enforcement officers do not have the skill set needed to be protection agents. Protection officers need training in protection. If the threat is kidnapping, the attackers will be careful to direct their fire away from the intended victim and concentrate on the security personnel.

You need to have the right equipment – that means a vehicle that can do the job. 

Armored cars do not protect against most roadside bombs. Butler and Herrhausen’s only solution was surveillance detection.

Armored Vehicles:

  • Bullet-resistant glass means just that. It is bullet-resistant, not bulletproof.
  • An armored car must be capable of absorbing the initial burst of fire and still have the capability to drive out of the ambush.
  • History says that if the car is armored, the terrorists will concentrate their fire at the glass.
  • They will fire short bursts of rounds at a single location on the glass. When using armored vehicles understand their vulnerabilities.
  • Time and time again, we have seen that in a vehicle ambush, the worst possible scenario is for the vehicle to come to a stop in the kill zone.
  • Even in attacks against an armored vehicle, once the vehicle becomes immobilized, the attackers have control over the movement of the target. Training must include the “Science of the Kill Zone.” If the vehicle stops, you lose.

In the Herrhausen incident, the security was protecting against kidnapping and not the roadside bomb that ultimately killed him, same with Butler. While it is virtually impossible to plan for every possible attack scenario, security providers should make every effort to find out exactly what capabilities an attacker might have, as well as what sort of attack the principal might be vulnerable to, despite existing security measures. 

Expect the Unexpected – understand the threat.

Pre-Incident Indicators

Time and time again, terrorists inadvertently give signals they are organizing an attack against the victim. We call these signals pre-incident indicators. Detecting these pre-incident indicators requires alertness and must become an unconscious habit. Paranoia should never be encouraged. However, developing a good sense of what is normal and what is unusual in the environment (around the home, office, and route taken to and from the home and office) could be the most important security precaution that one can take. Noticing it is the first part, telling someone is the second, and then doing something about it is the third.

The system is an easy one:

  • Notice It
  • Tell Someone
  • Do Something

The Herrhausen incident is an excellent example of not noticing pre-incident indicators. It took 48 days to set up. The Butler incident also took a significant amount of time. Here are two men who obviously felt they had problems. They drive to work in an armored car, with bodyguards in a lead car and a follow car, and in the case of the Herrhausen incident for two weeks, there is a construction crew less than 500 yards from his house, and no one calls the city to ask if the road work is legitimate.

Although the technicality of the Herrhausen and Butler incident was impressive, the key to success was the meticulous planning and surveillance by the terrorists. The problem was simple—the protection team was looking for the standard vehicle ambush, similar to Hans Martin Schleyer and Aldo Moro, and they got a roadside bomb. 

The protection teams were well organized to protect against the classical vehicle ambush, and the terrorists knew that. The terrorists knew they were not looking for a bomb attack. Surveillance detection requires knowing what to look for

You can’t find something you’re not looking for. 


Join the ISDA

Do you have an interest in going much deeper into these topics? If so, I invite you to check out the International Security Driver Association’s website and consider joining the membership. Upon entering, you will access the encyclopedia of executive protection and secure transportation – The ISDA Knowledge Center.

For more information on all of the member benefits, head over to isdacenter.org.

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