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Journalist & Whistleblower Security

Updated: Jul 25, 2021

Journalist & Whistleblower Security

The idea for this article came after the reports for the assassination of Russian journalist “Arkady Babchenko” who turned out not to have been assassinated but part of a sting operation or a political stunt. Politics and motives aside, I think everyone can conclude these are very dangerous days for journalists, advocates of free speech or anyone else for that matter that voices an opinion.

Personal safety and security is something many take for granted especially in Europe and the US but these days there are extremists on all political sides, from all religious backgrounds, many of whom are over-medicated and all seeking attention. So, these days if you are voicing your opinions on any form of media, especially if you know your opinions may upset or offend others you need to think about your security as well as your family’s and colleagues.

Now when you’re considering your personal security you need to think of all threats and make plans to avoid or if necessary deal with any issues. One recent incident that has gotten a lot of international media attention is that of Tommy Robinson who was recently sentenced to 13 months in jail for live feeding a video on Facebook of members of a child grooming gang that were attending court for trail. What most people don’t realize is that Tommy Robinson was already on a suspended sentence for contempt of court for doing the same in the trail of another grooming gang.

Personally, I have zero tolerance for grooming gangs and pedophiles etc. and understand why people are extremely agitated with the situation in UK and why the Police, Social Services and Government in general have been too afraid to deal with the problems of immigrant gangs abusing venerable British children. But the law is the law and Tommy Robinson knowingly broke it, if he did so to prove a point and for the media attention then that’s his prerogative. In such situations you need to know your legal rights, boundaries and ensure you have a good attorney on retainer and ready to respond as soon as you are arrested.

Now, many in Europe and the US do not consider the threat from Police or Government Agencies but all it takes in most places these day is one of your critics to make an accusation against you and you can find the police knocking on your door. This is where you need to know your rights and have a good attorney’s phone number handy. I am not going to touch on document or computer security as the laws vary greatly from area to area, just ensure you know the laws and always cover your ass.

In many places around the world the police will actively target journalists, as it happened to a friend of mine in Somalia, Ahmed Caano-Geel, luckily, he got away with a few cuts and bruises. Last weekend we heard of the murder of a lady who was speaking out regarding the lack of Government support for police officers in Mexico. Her husband was a police officer that was recently killed, and she was making too much noise and speaking the truth. I doubt her murder will be solved if seriously looked into…

If you believe your home or office could be raided you need to take precautions and again know your legal rights, how to get hold of a decent attorney or alert others that you have a problem and might be arrested etc. You should take a look at the overall security for home and office even if you don’t have an active threat and consider a CCTV system externally and internally, preferably with the footage uploaded to the cloud with trusted 3rd party access. There are many cases of kidnappings and assassinations where criminals will disguise themselves as police, this is a very complicated situation, for more on this click here to read my article in the Abu Dhabi Police 999 magazine on “How to Spot a Fake Cop”.

For me the basis of all personal security is counter surveillance and being aware of your surroundings. Before the criminals will attempt an assassination or kidnapping they will put you under some form of surveillance be it physical or electronic. For more on counter surveillance click here to read my article in the Counter Terrorist Magazine on “Counter Surveillance Considerations”.

The favored places for targeted attacks are at the victim’s homes, work places or vehicles, so be extra vigilant approaching or leaving these locations. If you take regular routes to work, use the same coffee shops etc. ensure you are carrying out at the least some basic counter surveillance drills.

Below I have listed some examples of recent assassinations of journalists and will high-light some similarities and some possible precautions that the victims could have taken.

17 January 2017, Honduras: Igor Padilla a presenter with Canal HCH was shot in the city San Pedro Sula where he was filming. Apparently, he received a phone call and stepped out on the street to take it where he was ambushed by four men in police uniforms. He died of multiple gunshot wounds on the way to the hospital.

In such situations counter surveillance and being aware of what’s happening on the street is your best defense. Employing trained protective surveillance personnel is also an option but finding trained and trusted security personnel is always a big problem.

March 02, 2017, Mexico: Cecilio Pineda Birto a freelance journalist for several newspapers and social media crime reporter, was shot dead in Guerrero state. He was in a hammock waiting for his car to be washed when two men on a motorcycle shot him multiple times.

Here we have the car as the location, if you know someone’s car and locate it, they should be close… He was obviously relaxed, too relaxed…

April 23, 2017, Maldives: Yameen Rasheed a prominent blogger was stabbed to death in the stairwell of his apartment building, police later blamed religious extremists for the attack. He had received multiple threats to his life and had claimed to be frustrated by the lack of police action or concern.

He knew he was under threat, he should have at least taken precautions when entering and leaving his home and office. In many places weapons for self-defense are prohibited but having a basic plan and reaction in place for an attack is essential.

24 May 2017, Russia: Dimitri Popkov the editor of a local newspaper in the Krasnodarski province was shot five times in his backyard sauna. He had stated before his assassination that his newspaper’s investigations had become “an obstacle for local officials who are now threatening and intimidating journalists.”

He knew he was upsetting people but obviously thought his high-profile would protect him, it didn’t. As I said earlier, homes are favored locations for attacks, and I take it he was very relaxed in his sauna. Some CCTV and basic counter surveillance may have helped him live a little longer…

16 October 2017, Malta: Daphne Caruana Galizia a female independent investigative journalist was killed by an explosive device planted on her car. Two weeks before the incident she had reported to the police she had been threatened.

She knew she was under threat but took no serious precautions. You should always report threats to the police, but most police departments will not take the threats seriously without solid evidence. You must keep records of threats, if possible get video or photos of those you suspect of watching or following you, all this helps to build a case. She was targeted by professionals and without professional training or security she was wide open.

29 April 2017, Turkey: Saaed Karimian the founder of the Persian-language GEM TV channel, and his business partner were shot dead in Istanbul by masked gunmen who opened fire on their vehicle. The assassination vehicle and weapons were later found burnt.

For them to be ambushed they must have been watched, followed or had a fixed routine. This was a professional hit, so once the ambush was in motion they were dead men… Counter surveillance and awareness are the essentials that can save your life…

17 January 2018, Brazil: Jefferson Pureza Lopes was shot and killed in his home by two gunmen that forced their way in. He had been receiving threats and was a critic of local government officials.

He knew he was under threat and should have at leased upped the security in his home and had procedures in place on how to greet visitors and what to do in the event of an attempted break-in or attack.

March 21, 2018, Mexico: Leobardo Vázquez Atzin a local reporter in the Veracruz state was shot and killed at a restaurant he owned. He had anonymously started a Facebook page ” Enlace Informativo Regional” and had been critical of local officials; he had been receiving threats and also offers of bribes to stop writing about the officials but he kept writing.

They knew where he worked, so he was an easy target. He knew he was under threat so he should have taken precautions… If you are going to be critical of potentially dangerous people anonymously then ensure you are 100% anonymous…

15 May 2018, Mexico: Juan Carlos Huerta a TV host and Director of a radio station was shot and killed as he left his home in Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco state.

This was a targeted assassination, I expect the gunmen were waiting for him to leave home. Again, the home was the location of the attack. Maybe some CCTV covering the street and possible surveillance location could have identified out of place people, those hanging around for no reason before he left the house.

25 February 2018, Slovak Republic: Jan Kuciak and investigative reporter and his girlfriend were found shot dead in their home. Kuciak had been working on stories with reference to fraud by government officials and prominent businessmen.

Again, the home was the location of the attack… Basic plans and procedures should have been in place for such things as answering the door to strangers and alerting others that there was a potential problem.

From these mixed examples you can see some of the basic mistakes these people made, these are just a few of the attacks on journalists from 2017 to present… This is a short article and please bear in mind what I stated earlier, these days if you are voicing your opinions you must consider your personal security from all angles!!!

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