Contracting TSCM Services
One of the most difficult and confusing tasks involved in the management of any technical security program is contracting Technical Surveillance Countermeasures (TSCM) services. Most organizations and individuals do not have the proper training, experience or equipment resources to properly perform TSCM services or “electronic bug sweeps” themselves. Because of this, it becomes necessary to contract these services from an outside provider.
When contracting a TSCM service provider, customers are faced with an onslaught of information with each provider emphasizing different backgrounds, training, and levels of experience while providing an assortment of opinions and advice to potential clients.
It is important to understand that the TSCM industry in Canada is, for the most part, unregulated and there are no credible, recognized or otherwise accepted industry standards for training or services performed. This creates a situation where a lack of integrity and professionalism can give way to exaggerated claims, false statements, and misinformation to convince potential customers that services are legitimate and to appear superior as well as to try and discredit others.
Such circumstances pose a huge hurdle in trying to locate legitimate professional TSCM services and leave potential customers wondering what to believe and whom to instill with the responsibility of protecting their privacy and information. Without the proper knowledge and understanding, it is virtually impossible to know how much, if any, of what is said is accurate. When faced with this type of obstacle there are two key courses of action customers can take.
The first is to obtain a better understanding of TSCM services. While it’s not necessary to become an expert in electronics or counter-surveillance, a better understanding will help in your decision to contract services based on questions asked and information supplied. Armed with the proper knowledge, clients will be less vulnerable to the possibility of being provided with and accepting inaccurate or misleading information. Contracting the proper service provider is critical to implementing successful technical security or counter-surveillance programs and often clients will have to act quickly and make the correct decision, especially if they believe a possible compromise is taking place.
Contracting a TSCM Service Provider
Monitor and Evaluate TSCM Services
Larger businesses or organizations often exhibit extensive, complex target environments requiring sophisticated and highly detailed TSCM services. These customers need to be sure their information is being properly protected. By monitoring and assessing TSCM services, any provider claims, capabilities, equipment, techniques and testing procedures utilized along with information in reports can be verified. In fact, legitimate TSCM service providers will recommend monitoring and evaluating various security measures to ensure their effectiveness.
Operator training and experience levels can vary greatly. Experience can range from active or retired private investigators to those with working TSCM / technical security backgrounds to career TSCM, technical security or intelligence-related government or law enforcement personnel. Operators may be working as part of a security or investigation agency or a company providing TSCM services or operate independently running their own private TSCM business. Operators may have solid consistent operational experience throughout their careers or they may have performed TSCM services simply on occasion as part of other primary security or investigation type services.
Operators from military, government and law enforcement organizations will, in most cases have far more consistent day to day operational experience and will often have offensive covert electronics experience providing a higher level of operational awareness.
While it’s safe to say that legitimate professional service providers will have many years of steady TSCM experience, proper training, and quality equipment resources, TSCM operators should also have criminal/security clearances and be in the good physical condition as inspections can be physically demanding.
Some service providers will operate alone or with an assistant, others will utilize teams of two or three TSCM operators or larger teams with as many as 5 to 7 operators if required. While a smaller operational team will usually be sufficient and even preferred for less complex residential environments, smaller businesses with limited physical size and budgets or when travel is required, their ability to provide highly detailed single surveys or inspections for larger more complex businesses, corporations and organizations will require an increased service time, sometimes over several days depending on the location.
A single TSCM survey/inspection performed for a large corporate organization by a smaller team lasting approximately four hours will only provide a limited low-risk assessment. However, smaller teams can provide a good general survey or ongoing program and the results can be analyzed to determine areas of weakness and can also act as a supplement to less frequent more detailed surveys of larger areas.
Larger teams of trained professional operators can cover far more ground by utilizing each operator for a specific task and more time can be spent analyzing and performing the various tests and procedures required. Often, team members will have individual specialized skills that enhance the performance of their operational tasks. There will generally be a higher cost for services with larger teams, but they will provide greater detail and more in-depth results over a shorter period of time. There are advantages and disadvantages for each type of operational setup and they need to be evaluated individually with respect to a client’s needs and budgets. When deciding to add TSCM services to your overall security posture, you need to decide what those requirements and budgets are.
TSCM operators need to be knowledgeable and well informed
Still, another factor to assess is the location of a TSCM service provider. While there may not be a legitimate provider in your immediate area, greater travel distances can pose certain issues. Travel by air, costs for transporting equipment for large corporate services as well as food, lodging and ground transportation costs can be significant. For situations where international locations are involved, any legal issues and equipment restrictions need to be considered. For locations where a professional local operator is not available, it is important to utilize a quality service provider that is familiar with the particular region of travel If possible. Individual physical and electronic environments can be complex and vary throughout different regions, and having a service provider familiar with such aspects can be an advantage.
In some cases a provider may limit the amount of equipment that they travel with, however, a client should know this in advance if it differs from the normal scope of work performed. It may be that a legitimate provider in your area can perform more detailed services at less expense. Some organizations may prefer a single TSCM company to perform all work required regardless of different locations to be inspected, while others like the ability to compare operators and different points of view. Travel can also pose problems for emergency inspections or whenever time is a factor. Once again, there are advantages and disadvantages to each situation that need to be considered.
There are a variety of opinions with regards to equipment resources and many TSCM service providers have certain types and brands of equipment they prefer. Some providers will emphasize the overall dollar value of their equipment resources, while others will focus on specific equipment capabilities. Although it is good to know the equipment resource capability for a provider, what is more, important here is not what a provider claims or lists but what they actually utilize during the survey/inspection. The major equipment resources that will be utilized, their particular capabilities and how they are utilized will be of greater interest to potential clients with a solid understanding of TSCM services. While circumstances may change during TSCM services depending on various results and possible findings, clients should always know the minimum scope of work that will be performed in advance.
The electronic equipment utilized by legitimate TSCM operators has become more sophisticated and expensive but is also available to anyone who has the money to purchase it. A service provider’s equipment resource list has become a very common focus for marketing as proof of legitimacy. However, the ownership of such equipment does not guarantee its proper use or that it will be used at all.
TSCM operators need to be knowledgeable and well informed with regards to the many methods used to collect intelligence or information, many of which are non-technical in nature. The protection of privacy and information goes beyond the realm of electronic surveillance devices which dominated our thinking in the past, and while important, are only part of what needs to be looked at and evaluated by TSCM service providers today.
Contracting TSCM services is not an easy task by any means, with many different factors to consider, but the bottom line is individuals, businesses and organizations of all sizes must be vigilant and take responsibility for the protection of their privacy and information as a key component of a technical security/counter-surveillance program. By taking these actions they will be in a much better position to make accurate and informed decisions regarding their overall technical security posture and the protection of information.