If you read the news these days you should be cautious when it seems an enemy is ‘ten feet tall’. You know the type articles. Scary headlines talk about terrorists everywhere. They conjure up secret murderers among an ethnic or social group who have secret, titanic abilities to defeat even our most sophisticated countermeasures. Clearance holders need be particularly wary of such proclamations, because it can lead to bad corporate policy and cost shovels of money.

Britain was alone. With the conquest of Western Europe by Nazi Germany, only the redoubtable British under Winston Churchill remained to fight Hitler. Fear, however, gripped many on that embattled island. No less a figure than Sir Nevile Bland, the escaped British Ambassador from the overrun Netherlands, waved his arms in warning. His report, “The Fifth Column Menace,” squawked that German parachutists, assisted by secret German spies in country, brought the Netherlands down. Soon reports of spies were everywhere. Spies were ‘discovered’ among every ‘foreign sounding’ nurse, maid, and bartender. German terrorists were believed to be landing over hill and dale by parachute. The security services were overwhelmed by a horror- ridden citizenry armed with pitchforks who saw enemies quite literally everywhere. Real Nazis got wind of this and joined in the mayhem. German bombers would fly over the UK at night dropping empty parachutes, to be ‘discovered’ by farmers who would have ‘proof’ that spies were arriving ‘even here’!  Once the Germans even included a ‘lost map’ with one of their dropped parachutes. This ingenious ploy sent not only the police and secret services running, but caused a military redeployment as well. In the end, it took serious common policy, common responses, and common sense to bring a pause to such mad running around.

What if you are the one responsible for creating the proper responses to various threats. How do you establish if they’re real, or not? I recall being asked to counsel a security manager of a major government facility on how to respond to a hair-raising proposal. A contractor who sold security measures was sitting in the security officer’s foyer. He looked sinister. Too polished,  perhaps. At any rate his message was daunting: “You need to defend yourself against terrorists,” he began, “and we can provide professional services to that end.” He then began to regale the manager with horror stories that made even me wonder: Where was he getting these ‘facts’? Were they even facts? Were they facts, but not appropriate to the area under consideration?

A host of questions rolled through my mind as I listened to his narrative of doom. What he proposed was no less than a moat like structure around the facility, complete with guard towers, electronic warning devices, perhaps even dogs manned by teams of trained experts. Oh, and if we ‘acted now’ he’d be sure we got a good deal.

He was escorted out. His litany of threats were real enough. Just enough that you might remember them from incidents vaguely recalled from ‘somewhere’ in memories past. Only, they didn’t apply to our location, didn’t have any known perpetrators such as he mentioned, and didn’t even have a single official agency concerned about them…at least not on this continent. Luckily, we knew this and could advise appropriately because we had a current threat assessment from a validated government agency. This assessment advised on just what to be concerned about. Further, we had an active relationship not only with the local police and fire departments, but also with any number of first responders such as bomb squads. And yes, we had ready access to investigative agencies such as the FBI to clarify, or even update information which was ours for the asking.

Don’t Let Fear Drive Policy

Too often, we let our prejudices and fears drive policy. Some ‘protection services’ know this and tap into it. They create a ‘threat’ to match our fear. Then we have the grounds for ‘circular reporting’. This is when something vaguely remembered is heard by someone else, who reports it. Presto! Two ‘reports’!  Be wary of the guys in ‘black turtle necks and sport coats’ reporting dark conspiracies. They are after your money, because they’ve already bought into your fears.

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John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.