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“Does an F1 Car = F1 Racer? OR Does a Bullet = Sniper?” NO – Expertise ain’t about technology July 19, 2012

Posted by Chris Mark in Uncategorized.
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I was reading a story today on Foxnews titled: “could guided bullets turn an average joe into a sniper?”  The article is written by a former ballerina turned “defense specialist” (I didn’t make that up).  I have written about this subject before in “The Carpenter Not The Hammer Builds the House”.  In short, her article suggests that new, more accurate bullets could turn an “average joe” into a sniper.  The referenced article on bullets demonstrates several major flaws in thinking about security or defense.  First, it quotes a “specialist” who has no specialized knowledge of the subject gained through actual experience.  I am not doubting that Ms. Barrie has read some great books and attended great lectures but the fact remains that without real world experience, it is difficult to understand how she is qualified to speak on the subject at hand.  We see this in many areas of security from information to physical and so on.  The second issue is one I see every day.  It is the mistaken belief that the technology makes the expert.  It discounts the knowledge, training and practice required to use the ‘tool’ with effect.  If I were to buy a Formula 1 racecar would I suddenly be considered a ‘racer’?  A more accurate rifle does not make a sniper…it simply makes a sniper more accurate.  Within information security we see the same flawed logic.  Companies believe that by purchasing the latest and greatest technology they can replace expertise gained through years of work ‘in the trenches’.  A leading application layer firewall is only as effective as the person deploying, configuring and managing the device.  The moral of the story?  Technology makes experts more effective they do not create or establish expertise. BTW: the picture is a Canadian Sea Marshal Tactical Team (CSMTT) sniper on a ship.

Random Thoughts On Piracy Summit (I have to talk about guns a little ;) May 1, 2012

Posted by Chris Mark in Industry News, Piracy & Maritime Security, Risk & Risk Management.
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In reflecting upon the Piracy Europe even in Hamburg that I attended last week, I was struck by a few things that were said and proposed.   The speakers were generally very good although the material is getting a bit old at this point.  With piracy at near 2007 levels, security vendors are scrambling to convince shipping companies that they are still needed.  Selling on Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) seems to be the new way of business development.

With regard to the security vendors, there appeared to be two distinct perspectives on how to stop pirates.  Neither seemed appropriate.  One company had a rep get up and show a picture of himself with a Barrett .50 cal SASR (special application scoped rifle) (shown in the pic above with the very skilled, handsome and smart USMC Sniper..yeah its me).  The intimation was that if you have larger guns, you have more ‘firepower’ and thus better security.  This is a very simplistic way of thinking about security and demonstrates one of the challenges of maritime security.  Security is not about technology…it is about people, strategies, and tactics.  Tools (such as weapons) are useful but only if employed correctly.  You can read the whitepaper “weapons and tactics in the prevention of piracy” here. This “goons with guns” approach was not well received and quite frankly, I felt it perpetuated what the attendees think of American security…knuckle-dragging, goons with guns. Blackwater is alive and well in the minds of most of those who attended the event. (more…)

Playing in Mogadishu – The Dangers of False Security and the Value of Situational Awareness February 23, 2012

Posted by Chris Mark in Risk & Risk Management, weapons and tactics.
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UPDATE: This is a great video that shows the difficulty in reacting with a concealed weapon.  Let me be clear, I am a proponent of the 2nd Amendment but I think that people place too much trust in their firearms without proper training.

Recently, I was discussing gun laws and other issues with some gentlemen with whom I used to work.  I live in a state (Utah) that has very liberal gun laws and a LOT of people who carry concealed firearms.  A short 4 hour class with no proficiency testing any adult that is a US Citizen without a felony can carry a concealed weapon in Utah.  This is a scary proposition to many (including me). The men were talking with full confidence about how they feel more safe with their guns.  They referenced a few situations in which some woman had been assaulted and stated with full confidence that if the women had been armed, the assault would not have occurred.  I explained to them that it is more important to have situational awareness than it is to have a weapon.   (more…)

Snipers on Ships….Good Idea…or Overkill? (Pun Intended) January 26, 2012

Posted by Chris Mark in Piracy & Maritime Security, weapons and tactics.
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I was reading a website today of what appears to be a new entrant into the maritime security world.  It is clear that they are trying to differentiate their services by offering ‘Maritime Marksmanship’ services.  According to the website, their former Royal Marine Snipers can add protection to 900 meters by adding precision, long range fire.  As a former US Marine Sniper I am very familiar with, and have great respect for the Royal Marines’ sniper course and while we like to argue and debate with each other over whose course is superior, the truth is that the discussion is academic.  Whether you believe it is the USMC or our UK brethren, the reality is that they are both arguably the most rigorous sniper courses in the world. We will continue to argue 😉  So back to my post.

While I don’t disagree that having trained snipers onboard provides a level of precision shooting, the question that must be asked is “how much is good enough?”  The truth is that not a single armed vessel has been successfully hijacked to date.  Many of the vessels are armed with M4s (or varients), AK 47s, G3s, FALs etc.  Is there truly at need at this juncture for a trained sniper on board?  A more fundamental question, I think, is whether you increase liability by placing a sniper onboard.  If a pirate is approach a vessel at high speed and shooting then there is a threat.  Using the force continuum it is expected that first evasive maneuvers are taken, followed by warning shots etc.  If they approach close enough then, possibly, you need to take more direct action and fire at the assailants.  International law is still somewhat unclear as to when you can and cannot use deadly force on a suspected pirate.  I question what would happen to the shooter if he shot a pirate out of a boat at 900m.  It would be extremely difficult to justify such a shooting as ‘defensive’.  (I suspect such a shot would be nearly impossible for any trained shooter…see next post as to why).

I believe at this point that having trained Commandos, US Marines (with appropriate background), or other well trained military members provides sufficient protection against pirate attacks.  Any Commando, US Marine, Ranger etc. with an M4, or similar weapon system can engage a target to 300 meters with relative ease.   Extending this range to a theoretical 900 meters does not, in my mind, reduce risk but may actually increase the risk should a suspected pirate be engaged at that distance.

For companies considering maritime security, it is suggested that the following be considered before considering the more esoteric aspects of armed services.

1) Are the company’s leaders experienced in maritime security and have they established and documented operating procedures consistent with the rules of force and international law?  You do NOT want a bunch of gunslinging cowboys on your ships.  Consider BlackWater as an example of what happens when undisciplined people with weapons are unleashed.

2) Are the armed guards appropriately vetted and trained?  As much as I love my USMC, the fact remains that in the USMC, we have a number of Marines that are cooks, mechanics, etc.  In the UK, all Marines are Commando trained.  The point being that just because someone has a particular title, does not mean they are right for the job.  Ensure that the company is selective and vets their personnel.  Additionally, ask about following on training.  Are the guards taught the rules of force?

3) Are the guards provided with appropriate kit and weapons?  I have heard horror stories of guards being deployed with Moisan Nagant rifles, and other ‘pre WWII’ weaponry.  While the debate over whether .50 sniper rifles provide good fodder for arguments, at a minimum the guards need to be armed with effective, modern weapons in working order.  M4s, G3, FAL, M14s, AK 74, AK 47 are probably all sufficient to rappel an attack by Somali pirates.  I personally do NOT believe that a shotgun is sufficient.  A shotgun is great for close quarters fighting but does not have the range or accuracy to defend against an attacker with an RPG or AK 47.

4) Does the company’s principals have experience with maritime traditions, rules, and communications?  It is imperative that the guards understand how to work on ships and how to interact with the ship’s officers and crew.  Ultimately, it is the ships captain that has responsibility for the vessel and her crew.  The guards need to understand how to integrate into the ship’s plans to ensure effective protection of the vessel.

Updated Whitepaper; Weapons & Tactics in the Prevention of Hijackings December 19, 2011

Posted by Chris Mark in Piracy & Maritime Security, Uncategorized.
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Originally I named this paper “Weapons and Tactics in the Prevention of Piracy” but in retrospect the title was incorrect.  Piracy is a multi-dimensional problem that could refer to a single act “The ship was pirated” or a larger geopolitical issue:  “Somalia leads the world in piracy”.  Weapons and tactics are simply tools that can be used to delay or prevent a single act.  For this reason, I renamed the paper.  You can download and read the paper here. 

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