Within the security community in Tunisia, there is a clear consensus that petty, street, and so called low-level crimes are on the rise. The theories as to why this is the case vary but one thing is clear; the recent prison breaks are not going to help the situation.
Prison Escapes Update
Date: January, 2011
Intel: Some 11,000 inmates escaped from Tunisian prisons shortly after Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled into exile. Of those, several thousand have been caught and nearly 2,000 turned themselves in after the Justice Ministry warned the escape could worsen their cases, TAP reported.
Source: The Canadian Press
Date: April 29, 2011
Intel: More than 800 inmates escaped on Friday from two Tunisian prisons after fires were set in cells, the official news agency said.
Intel: More than 100 inmates escaped on Thursday from a Tunisian prison located in
Source: Local Tunisian
There is no doubt that we need to be extra careful in terms of situational awareness especially in the La Marsa and Carthage area. The question is: How can we increase our security vigilance while trying to live a ‘normal’ life? We all want to enjoy the beautiful Tunisian weather and all the great things that Tunisia has to offer, but we can not ignore that the security situation is questionable at best.
Although common sense and a positive mental attitude help, we need to take extra precautions in our day-to-day activities.
Tunisian check points are so common place that we automatically comply with them without question. This attitude is not risky when it comes to uniformed law enforcement, but it is not the best approach when dealing with ‘plain clothes civilians’ who may set up unauthorized road blocks for malevolent purposes.
As you make your way around town keep in mind that “Tunisian city police (gray blue uniforms) and Garde Nationale (green and khaki uniforms) are the only two institutions that have the legal right to carry out the inspection of documents on vehicles.” Know your rights and always have your vehicle documents in order. This will in turn give you more confidence and peace of mind in your day to day driving activities.
Use common sense and listen to your intuition, if something tells you there’s something wrong with the check point listen to yourself; better to be fined than to be in a very unsafe situation.
Putting the pieces together…
So far a trend is starting to emerge. We need to understand the implications of these ‘accidental prison breaks’ and their implications on the larger security situation in Tunisia. Let us not forget that we are still in a sensitive situation as this country gets ready for their first real elections since 1956 and understand that these ‘accidents’ may point to a greater problem…
“In politics,nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”-Franklin D. Roosevelt
I hope everyone enjoyed their Spring Break and were able to recharge their batteries.
They say “April showers bring may flowers” and we certainly have received our fair share of rain here in Tunisia so let’s hope this saying proves true.
Below are some informative updates regarding the security situation in Tunisia.
Impact: French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe offered 350 million euros ($508 million) in aid to Tunisia Wednesday as he sought to rebuild ties strained by French missteps during the country’s popular uprising. “France deeply hopes to see this movement succeed” and stands “beside Tunisia on every level, political and economic,” he said.
Info: Libya: Rebels Seize Border Post Near Tunisia
Source: The Telegraph 27/4/11
Impact: Anti-government revolutionaries have seized a post along Libya’s Tunisian border and routed more than 100 troops loyal to Col Muammar Gaddafi, according to a rebel leader.
Concern: Rebels flew their flag above the Wazin post and briefly pursued fleeing loyalist forces into Tunisia before most headed towards the mountainous district of Ghzeya, witnesses said.
Info: British photographer and his US colleague Chris Hondros killed in Misurata
Source: The Telegraph -21/4/11
Details: Oscar-nominated British photographer Tim Hetherington and his US colleague Chris Hondros have been killed while covering the fighting in the Libyan city of Misurata, the Foreign Office has confirmed.
May they rest in peace…
Reading between the lines…
Interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi made several interesting statements during a press conference on April 27th.
- He voiced concern about the “striking infringements that are taking place in the country, through the repeated sit-ins and demonstrations, which he said was likely to hinder foreign investment. In this respect, he mentioned the obstacles to the progress of enterprises and institutions, blocking of roads and railway lines, and the phenomenon of illegal immigration.”
- He announced that Tunisia had been invited by the Group of 8 (G8) most industrialized countries to attend its next summit in France, adding that “this is a cause of pride for all Tunisians” and a testimony of the international consideration that Tunisia is enjoying.
- He reasserted the Interim Government’s pledge to respect the date of July 24, 2011 for the holding of those elections, which, he argued, is reasonable, insisting that “if there are some sides who want to postpone holding of that event, the Government will not shoulder any responsibility in that case.”
- He stated that “the revolution is not democracy by itself, but the gateway for democracy”, further elaborating that the revolution could lead to disorder and confrontation, in the same way as it leads to the healthy democratic transition; so that Tunisia be a model worth following.
This concludes this week’s update, let’s stay in touch and share information because…
We are all in this together.
Survived the Winter…
Today marks exactly 3 months since January 15th, a day which was very challenging for everyone living in Tunisia. January 15th, was marked by chaos, confusion, and a general sense of panic. Today, with the beautiful weather and blue skies we can definitely say that things are better.
Spring is in the air, and there is no doubt that we need a break. We can all use a break, whether we choose to travel or simply take some time off from work; its time to refresh and recharge our batteries. Now, is the perfect time for us to take a break and change our routines. Security experts agree that staying unpredictable is one of the most effective ways to avoid becoming a victim of a crime. “Switch it up, walk a different way. Walk around the building another side. Instead of going the same direction to your car, maybe take a different direction,” said Brandon Buffington of Custom Security.
We survived this challenging and eventful Winter, and now we owe it to ourselves to refresh our outlook and reflect. For those traveling abroad make sure you conduct some research on the country you will be visiting before you get there. The Canadian government offers a great website where you can view the travel reports & warnings of every country.
As for those staying around town, below are different insightful perspectives of the security situation in Tunisia.
From the Diplomatic World…
UK: “It is possible to have a trouble free visit to Tunisia, but all travellers should be aware of the current political and security situation. The number and frequency of incidents of unrest has diminished and public order has returned in many places, including the main tourist coastal areas, but spontaneous political demonstrations and industrial protests still occur. Most demonstrations pass peacefully but there have been several occasions when clashes between police and protestors have resulted in deaths and injury. Foreigners are unlikely to be targeted, but there is a risk of incidental violence if you are caught up in a demonstration that does not pass peacefully”
US: “The U.S. Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the potential for ongoing political and social unrest in Tunisia. Unrest has diminished and public order has returned in many areas, including the developed tourist zones; however, spontaneous and unpredictable events, such as work stoppages and demonstrations, have recently occurred.“
CAN: The security situation in popular tourist areas along Tunisia’s coast has improved following the recent unrest. Canadians should exercise a high degree of caution when traveling to coastal areas of Tunisia.
AUS: We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Tunisia, due to the unsettled security situation and risk of further civil unrest. You should pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media for new information about safety or security risks.
A State of Emergency remains in place across the country. You should be aware that authorities may restrict travel with little or no notice. It is important that you observe instructions given by local security authorities and/or your tour operators.
From the Blog World…
“Criminals have targeted tourists and business travelers for theft, pick pocketing, and scams. Care should be taken with wallets and other valuables kept in handbags or backpacks that can be easily opened from behind in crowded streets or marketplaces. Criminals may violently grab at items worn around the neck (purses, necklaces, backpacks) and then run away, sometimes causing injury to their victims. Criminals have been known to rob pedestrians by snatching purses and handbags from their victims while on a motorcycle.
Harassment of unaccompanied females occurs rarely in hotels, but it occurs more frequently elsewhere. Dressing in a conservative manner can diminish potential harassment, especially for young women. It is always wise to travel in groups of two or more people. Women are advised against walking alone in isolated areas. Travelers are advised to avoid buses and commuter rail when possible, and to never enter a taxi if another passenger is present.
Theft from vehicles is also common. Items high in value like luggage, cameras, laptop computers, or briefcases are often stolen from cars. Travelers are advised not to leave valuables in parked cars, and to keep doors locked, windows rolled up and valuables out of sight. Americans resident in Tunisia are also advised to not leave items of value unattended in the yards of their homes, as there have been reports of theft of items such as tools and bicycles.” (Source: http://www.thesecuritywebsite.com/index.php/tunisia-security).
The Bright Side…
According to one French Tourist things are “wonderful, absolutely wonderful,” in Tunisia. “He still cannot believe his luck. He originally signed up for a special “economic crisis” budget deal to relax by the water. Instead he’s enjoying “post-revolutionary tourism” on the beaches of Hammamet. Sitting at the Sultan Hotel’s empty bar, this hardcore fan of Tunisia doesn’t regret ignoring French embassy advisories to “postpone all non-urgent travel” (Source: Worldcrunch, 2011).
If you’ve been wondering why there’s trash piled up everywhere you look, wonder no more. According to news sources since “April 11, 2011, Town Hall employees have been on strike for four days, requesting higher wages, which has affected waste disposal across the city” (Source: Sydney Confidential, 2011).
Besides the inconvenience of the strike, it has also affected our air quality and contributed to other environmental concerns. People who live in Carthage and La Marsa may not have noticed the trash problem as much since they are mostly serviced by private trash collecting companies who are not involved in the strike.
From a security perspective there are many ways to view this issue. First, it serves as a reminder of the sensitive security & political situation in Tunisia. Secondly, it is a good example of the many challenges ahead for the incoming government. Finally, this issue should serve to remind us that things are not “back to normal”.
These lessons are important for us to take note of especially for expats who usually put their guard down quicker than the local population because news tends to trickle in slower into their reality. Although it seems like the issue will be settled soon, it still reminds us to wake up and smell the proverbial coffee…
If we define the term rumor as “an unverified account or explanation of events circulating from person to person and pertaining to an object, event, or issue in public concern”, then we can see that during times of great change; rumors are very practical. Having the advantage of being both a “local” and an expat allows me to have a good pulse on what’s happening on the streets.
Personally, I like to divide rumors into (3) categories: Confirmed, Unverifiable, and Off the Wall. Confirmed rumors are verifiable through either a legitimate news or human source. Unverifiable rumors simply lack an “official source” but should not be disregarded as a “simple rumor”. Finally, there is the “Off the Wall” category which pertain to rumors that are not only unverifiable but also most likely to be untrue.
Rumor: “In recent days Tunisian authorities have captured over 100 snipers…”
Confirmed: “Tunisia’s courts are handling nearly 200 cases of killings by snipers committed during the uprising that toppled the president on January 14, the official TAP agency reported Thursday.” (Source: Middle East Online)
Rumor: “Tunisians are now allowed to veil and display beards on National IDs.”
Confirmed: “Tunisia’s transitional government announced Friday that it will amend some articles to allow photographs of veil-wearing Tunisian women in the country’s identification cards, in respect for individualistic freedoms. (Source: Al Arabiya News Channel)
Rumor: “Tunisian Election set for second week of July.”
Confirmed: “The body responsible for preparing crucial elections in Tunisia in July has approved the creation of an electoral commission…The election of a constituent assembly is scheduled for July 24.” (Source: Middle East Online)
On the Record: In Tunisia, the main Islamist group is al-Nahda. Hamadi Jebali, spokesperson of the Nahda movement has gone on the record to say: “We are for a civil, free society where liberties are guaranteed for all. We are for pluralism, the respect of human rights and the respect of the people’s will”
That being said the fact that “analysts have said al-Nahda could once again rise as a major political force” and an “Islamist-backed coalition won 17 per cent of the vote in 1989 elections”, its safe to say that they will have an important say in the next government.
Off the Wall
Since Off the Wall rumors have little value from an intelligence gathering perspective, I will not post any of the many ludicrous rumors that are in circulation. I would only advise people to make sure they are able to verify information before they pass it on as fact.
Share good information…
During a crisis situation rumors are inevitable and while there is often a lot “Off the Wall” information in circulation, “the rumor mill can actually serve a valuable purpose to companies, organizations, and individuals.” (Darby,2009).
With the lack of local news especially in the La Marsa and Carthage area, we need to handle information with the same care and approach similar to journalist. A good journalist makes sure that newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public pass the test of truthfulness, accuracy, and objectivity. Lastly, a good journalist knows that he or she is responsible for the information they pass on.
This week I would like to focus on the DCDC Global Strategic Trends Programme and their analysis concerning Tunisia and North Africa as a whole for the period of 2007-2036. Strategic Trends is “an independent view of the future produced by the Development Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC), a Directorate General within the UK’s Ministry of Defense (MOD).
Concerning North Africa the report states that “the Middle East and to a marginally lesser extent North Africa will remain highly unstable with, between them, massive population growth of 25% by 2010 and 50% by 2020 and poor prospects for employment and diversification from its dependence on a single sector; oil production” To a certain extent Tunisians have been blessed not to have so much oil and thus have avoided “the curse of oil”.
The oil curse exists mainly because money flows directly from Big Oil Companies to the Powerful & Elite, and thus governments have no incentive to develop non-oil sources which creates an environment where in-as a respected economist puts it- “the ruled (but untaxed) have little incentive to hold their rulers accountable” (The Economist, 2005)
Back to the report…
The report goes on to say that “the expectations of growing numbers of young people, many of whom will be confronted by the prospect of endemic unemployment, poor infrastructure and economic stagnation, are unlikely to be met. Their resentment in the face of unrepresentative regimes will find outlets in political militancy…”
We have been first hand witnesses to not only the resentment but also the various outlets which culminated in the Tunisian Revolution. Today more than ever businesses have to seriously think about the way they view Risk Management. According to security wizard George L. Head: “Risk management is the process of planning, organizing, directing, and controlling resources to achieve given objectives when surprisingly good or bad events are possible.”
As we witnessed during January’s revolution, many businesses both local and off shore where not prepared and it was evident that they invested very little in their Risk Management Plan. It is safe to say that now is the time to review one’s plan and learn from the past.
The DCDC Global Strategic Trends Programme
The Economist. (2005). The curse of oil: The paradox of plenty. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/5323394
During the Tunisian revolution it was obvious that ATMs were targeted by various groups rangaging from low end criminals to more organized and professionals ones. On the part of the perpetrator the logic is simple: ATM=Easy Cash. In fact, according to one European based study , ATM crimes have risen by over 149%. The European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), reports that “Annual losses due to ATM crime in Europe are approaching 500 million euros” (ENISA,2010).
Although there are no verifiable statistics that shed light on ATM crimes in Tunisia; we can with a fair amount of certainty say that after January 14, 2011; ATM crimes have risen significantly. ATM crimes range from your basics street mugging to more sophisticated technical techniques such as card skimming. Card skimming “involves making a copy of the information encoded on the magnetic stripe of the card” (Russell, 2010).
In Tunisia ATMs are widely available and almost all ATMs will accept Visa cards. Additionally, most ATMs meet appropriate security specifications such as being placed in areas that provide good lighting and visibility.
When using an ATM the following precaution tips will come in handy:
1. Selection: Choose an ATM at a location with minimum barriers preventing the line of sight. If it doesn’t look safe; don’t use it…listen to your first instinct.
2. Situational Awareness: Scan your surrounding area for any suspicious signs before using the ATM.
3. Transaction Completion: After you have completed your transaction scan your surrounding area once again and look for any signs of trouble. If you suspect a negative action is about to take place, calmly and quickly leave the area.
Lastly, unless you are really comfortable and knowledgeable in physical combat, remember the following tip: “If confronted by an assailant, give up what they demand. Do not resist, property may be recovered later or replaced” (Crime Tip Prevention).
ENISA,2010. Retrieved from, http://www.h-online.com/security/news/item/An-alarming-increase-in-ATM-crime-743283.html
Russell, D. 2010. ATM Skimming Device. Retrieved from, http://EzineArticles.com/2637689
Crime Tip Prevention. Retrived from, http://www.elkgrovepd.org/prevention/atm-safety.asp
Similar to restaurants, in the security world you are only as good as your last “meal”. The challenging part is that when security operations are running smoothly nobody even notices the effort, commitment, and dedication of the security team. In fact, it is during these times that someone may comment “why do we even need security?” Even more challenging is the fact that a lot of people consider themselves “security experts” simply based on the fact that they have watched a few action packed movies.
As security professionals we have to accept that when it comes to our line of work, we always have to be on our game because it only takes one time. No matter how much work, effort, and training; it just takes one incident, one mistake, one perceived flaw; and the entire security department is under suspicion. Within a week’s time a security team can go from sharp and effective, to complacent and undesired. All it takes is one incident, one bad decision on the part of a security team member to undermine the hard work and dedication of the entire team.
In this way security coordinators are very similar to chefs who know that regardless of their previous day performance, customers want to see and experience the same if not better quality of food. Our ingredients are security concepts such access control, crime prevention through environmental design, and inspection procedures. As security coordinators we hope that our “menus” remain appealing and consistent but we ultimately know that it is up to the waiters (guards), kitchen supervisors (lead guards), hosts (receptionists), and administration to join us in our pursuit of excellence. Although we may not also get it right, through perseverance and a positive mental attitude we always move in the right direction.
If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking. ~Buddhist Saying
In need of a makeover
As a security coordinator living and working in Tunisia, it didn’t take long for me to realize that security guards are not held in a positive light. Tunisians view security as a low paying and demoralizing job. Tunisians are certainly not the only ones who have a bad image of security guards, in the United States people usually refer to them in a negative manner such as “rent-a-cops”. In fact one American security professional states “It’s clear that security guards have a negative image from the public” (Herring, 2009). That being said he goes on to make the point that while the internet is filled with negative stories about security guards very few people actually go at the root of the reason why security guards lack professionalism.
The fact of the matter is that many security guards are under paid, overworked, and poorly trained. This is especially true in Tunisia where the average security guard works up to 60 hours per week and earns anywhere between 1-3 Tunisian Dinars per hour. Throw in the fact that they are usually not appreciated, work 12 hour shifts in less than ideal conditions, and are asked to perform tedious tasks; and the result is a lethal mixture of poor morale, frustration, and bitterness.
After years of working with contract security companies one quickly learns one important lesson: “Most companies are more interested in the invoice than they are in their own guards.” This way of thinking by most private security companies is the main cause behind the reason why guards are so demoralized. While the administration enjoys better salaries and more humane working conditions; the guards remain disconnected and therefore resentful towards the very company they work for. At this point we could also add the fact that guards are usually working for a “third party” who view them as “outside help” at best.
From experience we all know that within every profession there are those who simply go through the motions and then there are those who are truly professionals. What separates one from the other is usually a combination of training, self motivation, and a commitment to professional excellence. This commitment is a result of an individual doing something he or she not only enjoys but fits in with their perceived purpose in life.
It is safe to say that most security guards neither enjoy their work nor get any pleasure from their occupation. This can all change if they are motivated in the right way. Although training, education, and monetary incentives will go a long way; they should not be the only remedies for this challenge. What needs to happen is a complete renaissance within the security world. The current world situation has provided security professionals with ideal conditions from which to engage the public and shed positive light onto the security world.
This light can only benefit the security world if it is based on two important factors: 1. A genuine concern for improving not just the image of security guards, but their quality of life as well and 2. A commitment to Professional Excellence.
In Search of Professional Excellence
Alan P. Rossiter, Ph.D. wrote an excellent article entitled “In Search of Professional Excellence” which may serve as an excellent model for security professionals to emulate and bring light to the security world. In the article he correctly points out that “Striving for excellence involves developing not only technically, but also in the areas of communications, interpersonal relationships, ethics, and more.” Although an engineer by trade, all professionals with a commitment to excellence can learn from the eight aspects highlighted within the article. For the benefit of my fellow security professionals I would like to highlight three of these beneficial aspects.
1. Affirm your co-workers. Mr. Rossiter correctly points out that since “none of us can live or work in isolation, our ability to perform in any area of life depends largely on the cooperation of those around us. Thus, professional excellence must include the ability to evoke a cooperative spirit in those around us, especially the least prominent.”
2. Invest in furthering the profession. Another great point he makes is that the “continuation and progress of the profession depend in large measure on our willingness to provide the same help and encouragement to those who follow us.” This note is especially important to security coordinators and serves as a reminder that we can not just wish our security team performed better; we must be willing to show them the way. Additionally he points out that “the profession also depends on our ability as a group to make a positive contribution to society and upon society perceptions of what we do“. If this statement does not change the way private security contractors view the client, guard, organization relationship, then they are beyond help.
3. The Quest. Mr Rossiter reminds us that change does not come over night and so “developing professional excellence is a lengthy and challenging process”. This rings true with the Chinese proverb that states “the journey is the reward”.
Calling all Security Professionals…
The world has put out an all call for security professionals world wide to make a commitment to excellence and set new standards in professional excellence. This call must be answered in a humane and practical way that acknowledges the modern security challenges. We can learn a lot from people like Mr. Rossiter who can clearly outline why we should commit ourselves to the pursuit of excellence and professionalism.
The right training and leadership will greatly improve the image of security guards and the results will benefit the industry, guards, and hopefully the world.
Herring, A. (2010). The Ugly Truth About Security Guards. Retrieved from http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1410983/why_we_need_higher_standards_from_security.html
Rossiter, A. (1995). In Search of Professional Excellence. Retrieved from http://www.rossiters.org/associates/articles/papers/isope/index.html
It has been noted that “The fate of the Tunisian revolution is, so far, still hanging in the balance. Will it result in more far reaching political change? Will the momentum of the considerable working class opposition to the old dictator, including the General Strike, which was crucial in breaking his Presidency, carry the revolution forward to confront capitalist property revolutions? Will political currents emerge that represent this perspective? These questions are still to be answered…”(Rees,2011)
As a security professional it is both a privilege and a blessing to not only witness history as it unfolds but also have the opportunity to put my skills to the test…ON POST IN TUNIS.
Rees, J. (2011). The Tunisian Revolution in Historical Context. Retrieved from http://www.counterfire.org/index.php/theory/37-theory/9358-the-tunisian-revolution-in-historical-context