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A calculated assassination: how a German executive and his protection team were outwitted by terrorists and how further such attempts can be thwarted.

How a German executive and his protection team were outwitted by terrorists and how further such attempts can be thwarted.

On November 30, 1989, an event took place that will forever change the way we think about personal security. The incident will become a learning tool for all involved in executive protection.

On that day Alfred Heffhausen, chairman of the Deutsche Bank, was riding to work in his chauffeur-driven armored vehicle. Herrhausen's normal routine was to travel to work in a three-car convoy, and he was riding in the second car. He was accompanied by four bodyguards, two in a lead car and two in a follow-up car.

When Herrhausen had gone approximately 500 yards from his home, his car was destroyed by a remote-controlled car bomb. The full blast of the bomb hit the rear door of his vehicle.

The bomb was detonated when Herrhausen's car broke a light beam generated by a photoelectric cell. Interruption of the beam caused a flow of electricity that detonated the bomb. The bomb consisted of about 44 pounds of TNT and was packaged to look like a schoolchild's knapsack. The knapsack was affixed to the luggage rack of a child's bicycle that was left alongside the road.

The type of bomb that killed Herrhausen was a roadside bomb, a bomb placed along the road and detonated as a vehicle drives by. Although that type of trigger device (a photoelectric cell) had not been used before in a vehicle ambush, it had been used in other ways as an assassin's tool. Until this incident, however, most roadside bomb attacks had not been successful. To understand why, we need to look at attacks similar to the one that befell Herrhausen.

Case 1: The Texaco manager. On September 28, 1988, about 7:00 pm, the manager of Texaco Petroleum in Colombia, John Butler, was attacked in a similar fashion as he drove from his office to his home 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. Within 300 yards of his home, his car was hit by a powerful bomb that immobilized his vehicle. (See Exhibit 1.) The bomb, concealed under a vendor's push cart, was remote-controlled and activated through a telephone line. A wire coming from a light pole detonated the device.

The terrorist was attempting to detonate the bomb at the precise moment Butler's car drove by the cart. Fortunately, the bomb was detonated prematurely. The full force of the blast hit the front of Butler's car. Although the car was damaged extensively, Butler survived.

The attack on Butler appears to be similar to that on Herrhausen, but actually the two incidents differ tremendously. The blast that hit the Herrhausen car was detonated by the car's breaking a light beam. The bomb that hit Butler's vehicle was detonated manually and set off prematurely. Although the bomb was detonated prematurely, there is no doubt Butler would have been at least seriously injured and probably killed if he had not been in an armored car.

Case 2: The Colombian minister of defense. The terrorists tried again in Bogota. This time they tried to assassinate Guerrero Paz, the Colombian minister of defense. On November 23, 1989, Paz left the Defense Ministry in a large protective convoy. As the convoy drove by a lamppost, a terrorist detonated a 20-pound charge. Again the terrorist activated the bomb prematurely. It was set off so early it did not even damage the car, and the defense minister escaped uninjured. The driver immediately drove the armor-plated Lancia automobile back to the Ministry of Defense.

In both cases, the accuracy of the bomb depended on a person's detonating the bomb at precisely the right time. Until the Herrhausen incident, most roadside bombs were inaccurate. The inaccuracy can be explained with some simple mathematics. For a roadside bomb to be successful, the full energy of the bomb needs to be focused directly on the intended victim; it must hit the door where the intended victim is sitting. (See Exhibit 2.)

For example: If the victim is in the back seat opposite the driver, the full energy of the bomb needs to hit directly at the back door. The bomb that hit Herrhausen's car was so accurate- that it killed Herrhausen, who was sitting in the back seat, and only injured the driver. The terrorist whose job it is to detonate the bomb needs to press the button at the precise moment the car door is adjacent to the bomb.

That is not an easy task. A car traveling 30 mph moves about 45 feet per second. In a tenth of a second, the car moves 4.5 feet. The average car door is, 4.5 feet long. Thus the terrorist must be accurate to within a tenth of a second for the bomb to be effective.

These calculations vary with the length and speed of the car. Exhibit 3 indicates how difficult it is for a terrorist to detonate a bomb at the correct moment. The horizontal axis represents the speed of a car. The box at the bottom of the graph contains different lengths of vehicles. (They are odd lengths because they represent actual lengths of cars.) The vertical axis represents time in seconds.

As the graph shows, a 15-foot car traveling 10 mph takes a little less than one second to drive by the bomb. Although timing the explosion to within a second is still difficult, the terrorist has a much better chance of being accurate. A car traveling 30 mph takes less than a quarter of a second to drive by the bomb. At that rate, it is difficult for the bomber to be accurate.

Therefore, the speed of the car is important. The faster the vehicle is driven, the less likely it is that the vehicle will get hit by the bomb. However, as the chart shows, there is a speed at which going any faster does not make an appreciable difference in the period of exposure to the bomb.

Where the bomb hits the vehicle is also important. If the vehicle is hit any place other than where the executive is sitting, his or her chance of surviving is good. Since the energy of the bomb is so focused, a misjudgment of a tenth of a second means the difference between success and failure.

As Exhibit 4 shows, every tenth of a second a car going 30 mph moves 4.5 feet. In Butler's case, if the bomb had been detonated a tenth of a second too early, the blast would have occurred 4.5 feet in front of his vehicle. If the bomb had been detonated three tenths of a second too early, the blast would have occurred about 14 feet in front of the intended victim, as was the case for the Colombian minister. In that attempt, the terrorists missed the car completely.

However, it would be naive to think terrorists could not solve the problem of inaccuracy. The system used to detonate the device in the Herrhausen incident was the answer.

Since it appears humanly impossible to detonate the bomb at the right moment, the answer was to eliminate the human factor. The Herrhausen bomb was set off when Herrhausen's vehicle broke a light beam set across the road. The terrorists' ingenuity did not end with using a photoelectric cell to detonate the bomb. They also had to be sure the bomb was detonated at the location that would cause the most destruction-that is, precisely at the door where the victim was sitting.

Since they knew the bomb would explode when the nose of the car broke the light beam, it was a simple matter of placing the bicycle carrying the bomb the same distance from the light beam as the door of the car would be from the light beam.

The ingenuity continues; they had an additional problem to solve. Because Herrhausen was using a three-car motorcade, the terrorists had to make sure the first car did not set off the bomb when it broke the light beam. Therefore, two switches had to be closed for the bomb to be detonated. One switch was closed as the vehicle broke the light beam, and the other was closed by a terrorist. They had to plug the human factor back into the equation.

The terrorist operating the switch had a much easier job than the terrorists in the other incidents described. He or she had to wait for the lead car to go through the light beam, then close the first switch. When Herrhausen's car broke the light beam, it closed the second switch and detonated the bomb.

The switch operated by the terrorist was not closed until the lead car drove through the light beam. That assignment still required good timing. If the cars were moving at 30 mph (about 45 feet per second) and were were separated by 45 feet, the terrorist had less than one second to arm the bomb.

THE HERRHAUSEN INCIDENT SEEMS to be an example of protecting for A when the problem is B. He and his staff appeared to be ready for a classic vehicle ambush, but they got a roadside bomb.

What can be done to protect against a device as sophisticated as the one used in the Herrhausen attack? The key lies in the word sophisticated. Something that complicated takes time to set up. Four weeks before the assassination, a neighbor raking leaves had actually handled the arming cable, yet had no idea what it was and forgot about it. The more sophisticated terrorists get, the more preparation they require.

In a vehicle ambush, the terrorist needs to plan and organize the attack. Such planning and organization require intensive surveillance on the intended victim. That surveillance is the key to the terrorists' success, and detecting surveillance is the best way to foil their attack. Although the technical skill in the Herrhausen incident was impressive, the real key to the terrorists' success was meticulous planning and surveillance.

Detecting terrorists' preparation requires the protection team to become intimately familiar with the environment near the executive's home and office. The team must notice and act on anything that is the slightest bit unusual. The protection team must be as meticulous and organized in its effort to detect the ambush as the terrorists are in setting it up.

The original idea behind using an armored car and bodyguards was to harden the principal to the point where the terrorist would think twice about selecting him or her as a target. That idea works if the the threat is kidnapping, but if the threat is assassination, then armored cars and bodyguards are only part of the security package.

To complete the security package, the protection team needs to understand the basics of countersurveillance. In a protection detail, countersurveillance means more than simply watching to see if the convoy is being followed. Everyone involved with the protection of the executive needs to be on the alert constantly for signs of an ambush.

Looking for terrorist surveillance should not be left to chance. Members of the protection team must be able to describe and record accurately anything unusual they see. They therefore need to increase their powers of observation. In Herrhausen's case, the terrorists were obvious enough when setting up the ambush that it aroused the suspicion of a neighbor.

What can be done to decrease the possibility of being a victim of a roadside bomb? For this type of attack to be successful, terrorists must have certain environmental factors in their favor. The ambush must be laid on a road the target can be expected to use; assuming that normal precautions are taken and routes are varied regularly, the ambush must be laid close to the target's home or probable destination (usually the place of work).

Also, the bomb must be detonated as close to the car as possible. Ron Massa of Lorron Corporation in Burlington, MA, has done a great deal of research on roadside bombs. Massa has developed a computer program that can determine the effects of such a bomb on a car. According to Massa, the difference between success and failure can be as little as four feet from the blast.

Thus a two-lane road is-from the terrorists' point of view-better than a four-lane road because it forces the driver to stay close to the curb. Prominent people commonly live in areas of two-lane roads and work in areas of four-lane roads. An ambush is therefore more likely to be laid on a narrow road near the target's home than near his or her place of work, as the likelihood of finding narrow roads near work is low.

The location of the Herrhausen assassination had all those ingredients. The terrorists chose a site only 500 yards from his home. It was a narrow, two-lane road bordered by woods.

The protection team should examine the area around the executive's home and develop a danger zone log. Carefully examining all possible routes is essential and points out the many routes available once the car or convoy leaves the area of the home and the office. Unfortunately, near the home and office the route options are fewer.

Key defensive measures to take are the following:

* In a high-risk environment, the developing alternate routes that begin as close as possible to the executive's home.

* If routes into and out of the work and home areas are limited, the team must perform meticulous reconnaissance of all two-lane roads that, for whatever reason, the executive must unavoidably travel along.

* All terrorist attacks are preceded by surveillance. These surveillances are not so sophisticated that the average person with some reasonable training could not spot them.

In all the cases mentioned, little thought was given to changing the routes. Route planning needs to be an intricate part of the security plan. The higher the risk, the more important it becomes.

Even if the potential target is transported in a two- or three-car, armored convoy with bodyguards, the protection team cannot become complacent. The problem of transporting the executive from point A to point B has not been solved-it has simply been changed.

If security is raised to the level afforded Herrhausen, the possibility of an attempted kidnapping is virtually ruled out. Thus, if a vehicle ambush takes place, it is more likely to be an assassination attempt, and lately that type of attack has used a roadside bomb.

About the Author . . . Anthony J. Scotti is president of the Scotti School of Defensive Driving in Medford, MA. He is a member of ASIS.
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Title Annotation:Alfred Herrhausen
Author:Scotti, Anthony J.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Nov 1, 1990
Words:2456
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