At some point early in the morning on Nov. 9, it became obvious that authorities would need to build a fort in the center of Manhattan.
Well, the fort was already there — Trump Tower, at the intersection of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue. It just needed to be bolstered substantially, with the addition of sand-filled dump trucks at times (an effort to prevent vehicular attacks) and a permanent police cordon. CNN estimates that the effort to guard the president-elect's home costs the city $1 million a day. Pricey fort.
But there's another security consideration that may have dawned on folks along with the need to protect Trump's Gold House in Midtown: What about all of those Trump-owned and Trump-branded properties across the globe? Thanks to a hundred thousand voters in the Midwest, anything with the word “Trump” emblazoned across its front just became a huge possible target for international terrorists. What to do about those? Protecting Trump Tower is relatively easy. Protecting a Trump-branded resort in Indonesia is something else entirely, and raises a slew of questions. How? Who?
“Just from a pure protection perspective, it's going to be darn near impossible to try to carry out any sort of attack on Trump the president-elect or the White House or any high-value target,” Fred Burton of the security firm Stratfor told me when I spoke to him by phone Monday. “However, you certainly have a tremendous number of other branded properties around the globe that pretty much become then pushed into the soft-target arena.” Burton knows what he's talking about, having served as deputy chief of counterterrorism for the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service.
That sentiment was echoed by Chris Hagon, managing partner of Incident Management Group. Hagon formerly worked in the protective detail for the British Royal Family, as well as for the London police and in the private sector in the United States. Part of the problem for Trump, Hagon said, is that his long-standing marketing efforts conflict with the need to keep Trump-branded properties secure. “If you raise your visibility,” he said, “you can attract not only people who you want to see [it], but people who you don't want to see [it]. And some of those people may be inclined to act on it.”
Burton seized on Trump-branded hotels and resorts as particularly difficult to protect. Citing the attack at a hotel in Mumbai in 2008, he pointed out that hotels are in the business of making it easier for people to see how they operate. “Hotels are in many ways embassies of the future,” he said. “The perfect kind of soft-target set.”
“Anybody can rent a room as long as you have the money, and you can conduct a base of operations from your room,” Burton continued. “It presents a unique challenge from an insider threat perspective in that your customer has the opportunity to look at your target set online, can go in, rent a room, can walk the establishment and conduct a fairly comprehensive pre-operation surveillance package by just renting a night or two in the room.” What's more, hotels see huge amounts of other vulnerabilities. “You're dealing with outsourced guard contracts. You're dealing with a large number of deliveries every day. Trucks. You've got international foreign guests,” he said. “If I was saddled to write the threat assessment here, [hotels] would be first and foremost at the top of my list.”
For properties in the middle of cities, like the Trump Tower being constructed in the Philippines, the process is slightly different. Hagon suggests that most of these properties likely already have existing risk assessments looking at how vulnerable they might be to some sort of attack (a process that often begins before construction takes place). Protections for an office building could include measures such as additional mail screenings or enhanced surveillance technology — although Burton notes that this can add substantial cost.
External protections such as those at Manhattan's Trump Tower, though, may not be feasible everywhere. For example, one can establish perimeters around buildings requiring the screening of cars passing by. But that adds a huge inconvenience to local residents to offset a possible risk.
Burton notes, though, that there's an incentive for foreign governments to step up protection. “The last thing the Filipino police are going to want to have happen is something against a building in Manila,” he said. “They may take it upon themselves to enhance patrol coverage and fixed-post coverage and things like that” to defend Trump properties under their jurisdiction. It's also the case that the United States has been actively training foreign law enforcement agencies on terror prevention since 9/11. “Now is the time that you call in those chits,” he said.
It's probably not the case that the United States will deploy resources specifically to protect Trump-branded assets (unless Trump himself is visiting the asset or the country). But behind the scenes, the State Department has an existing process in place to take information gathered by our intelligence agencies and disseminate it to international business interests.
“The term is 'protective intelligence,' " Burton said. “In order to stay current on all threats against your president, you're going to be aggressively looking for global threats. Therefore, once those are collected, the process of dissemination and response is pretty darn good in our post-9/11 world.” The escalated threat is “not lost upon the intelligence community,” he added. Information about possible threats would be “very rapidly pushed out through liaison channels through the Secret Service intelligence division to Trump's corporate security empire.”
But, once again, we get into another sort of question: Where does deploying government resources to protect Trump the president end and protecting Trump the brand begin?
“Some of this stuff is bordering on a conflict,” IMG's Hagon said. “I think that's yet to be resolved in that situation. I'm not sure how that would be resolved.”
“It's unusual,” he added. “Or unprecedented, maybe.”
Even if nothing else is certain, that is.