International developments, national events, state politics, local activism, community leadership – how might these impact business operations? What effect do they have on safety and security? Real-time awareness of what is unfolding at all levels is an essential component to accurately assessing the state of security in a region and being able to effectively manage and work within it. This is the role of security intelligence.
What Does it Take to Operate Securely in Today’s World?
Security situations can change rapidly, therefore consistent and repeated assessment is essential to maintaining the heightened state of awareness necessary to operate securely in today’s fluid environment. As world events unfold and geopolitical shifts occur, security becomes an increasingly integral part of successful operations, on both broader and more local scales. Security threats may include anything from terrorist incidents, sabotage, protesting and activism, to vandalism, community hostility, kidnappings, and threats against individuals. Regardless of the threat, however, the interdependence of security, situational awareness, personal safety, and ultimately project success is a fundamental relationship to examine.
Examples of awareness pieces that could play potentially important roles in a security assessment:
1) Discussion about international security would not be complete without referencing the international fight against terrorism, which continues to have far reaching impacts. Some areas of the world no doubt bear a significant effect of terrorist activity. The volatility of various African countries, for example, and the increasing vulnerability of Western interests as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) works to expand its operations could be a significant awareness piece to aid informed decision making when assessing security. The recent high profile attack and hostage taking at the Splendid Hotel in Burkina Faso is only one of many examples demonstrating the vulnerability of Western targets lacking adequate security.
2) In a human rights capacity, there has been a shift over the last 20 years in favor of local populations, partly due to the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169 on the Rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. This convention requires governments to ensure that indigenous groups are consulted about projects or laws that may impact their communities. There is considerable debate regarding whether this convention gives local populations the right of veto when it comes to projects moving forward.
3) Nationally, events such as presidential elections, campaigning, and political scandals can affect the volatility of a nation’s population and their propensity to protest. Dissatisfied populations now have a stronger voice than ever before in an increasingly interconnected world, one that is heavily reliant on internet, TV, and social media. For instance, the current scandal in Brazil and the Congress’ vote to impeach President Dilma Rousseff has sparked extensive protests against corruption and the current government, as well as extensive mainstream and social media attention.
4) Likewise, neighboring states and provinces may have a profound impact on local security. In Mexico, for example, drug transportation and shipment routes cross multiple states and may intersect at various points. In addition, states and drug shipment routes are controlled by multiple, potentially rival, crime groups. Just as geographical boundaries do not hinder the flow of legal or illegal commodities, nor do they prevent such security threats as violence, turf wars, or rivalries from seeping into neighboring states.
Similarly, protest activities against a mining or energy project in bordering states may call like minded people to action, especially given the reach of certain national activist groups. Local communities may be looking at other similar projects with interest, noting any social engagement and specific impacts that have occurred in other areas.
5) Locally, developing a familiarity of key community and influential figures, as well as understanding important causes, concerns, and existing relationships can not only create a heightened state of awareness, but can also help to establish significant inroads to acceptance with the indigenous communities, lack of which can raise potentially significant security concerns.
Local inhabitants are increasingly aware of the impact that natural resource exploitation, in particular, has on their environment, as well as the financial gain that is often at stake. Potential issues include concerns over poverty, environmental damage and human rights violations, as well as disputes over land purchases, population displacement, compensation payments, water usage and pollution, and waste water. Disputes often give rise to opposition, including local activism and protests. Moreover, potential profits gained by local communities can attract competition – not only from local inhabitants but also between rival crime groups. One need only look as far as the ongoing turf wars in Mexico to see these threats unfold. Each of these situations can pose significant security issues.
The Shift Towards Local Consultation
Engaging and developing relationships, trust, and cultural sensitivity with the local community can be one of the most valuable assets for keeping on top of relevant security issues. Locals are often the most knowledgeable regarding potential volatilities and impending disputes in their area, in addition to being well placed to control uprisings and gather support when needed. Security Intelligence can play a role in helping to establish these relationships. Therefore, in addition to the costs and risks involved in establishing international projects and relationships with local communities, one must consider the benefits that can result from these partnerships, not least of which is strengthening the state of security to the benefit of all stakeholders: the indigenous community, company personnel and the project’s success.
The Importance of Security and Heightened Situational Awareness Cannot be Understated
Establishing vital relationships with the local population and harnessing “local knowledge” is essential. Integrating this insight with an understanding of the broader state, national, and international contexts can create a powerful security intelligence picture for situational awareness purposes and bring substantial advantages to a project’s security and success. Investing in security intelligence isn’t about determining which regions are safe and which are not. It is about creating a heightened state of awareness in order to proactively and effectively identify and manage risks, while building a strategy tailored to each unique case that will also work alongside the local community.