About

Merriam Webster defines prudence as caution or circumspection as to dangers or risks. Its synonyms include sagacity, diligence, wisdom, vigilance, foresight, and judgment.

 

USMC Scout Sniper Instructor School, April 1983

USMC Scout Sniper Instructor School, April 1983

I understand the power of prudence. I know a lot about living in, working in, and traveling through the most dangerous places in the world. I also know how to safeguard myself, others, and our nation’s secrets from any type of threat, including criminal, terrorist, or a hostile government service. Why? From my commission as a Marine Corps second lieutenant in 1979 through special forces service — both as an Army Green Beret and as a Delta Force Operator — to my retirement as a CIA Operations Officer in 2015 — some  35 years of service, I spent most of my life traveling the globe, residing and working in some of its most dangerous places. I learned that having martial skills was not enough to survive mission after mission. I often entered a country with only a small team or alone, with no one to call on if trouble struck. When operating alone or undercover, you cannot fight your way out of every situation. I came to rely on prudence to provide that little bit of margin that allowed me to emerge safely, whether planning a mission in a war zone or in daily life alone in a foreign country. My definition of prudence is obtaining knowledge, conducting extensive preparation and planning, exercising constant vigilance, and making judicial decisions as situations develop. The tenets of prudence that worked for me can also work for you in the face of the threats of today: mass shootings, crime, civil unrest, and terror attacks abroad and at home.

 

“The tenets of prudence that worked for me can also work for you in the face of the threats of today…

 

I spent most of my career working in the shadows. While some of my service was spent with large groups, such as the 32nd Marine Amphibious Unit, serving in Beirut in 1982, I spent most of my career working on small teams or alone. We often lived and worked with foreign military units like a Kuwaiti tank unit in the northern desert in 1996. In 1998, I worked alone in Yemen. Trouble spots on my own became my specialty. After 9/11, I launched to Uzbekistan in the vanguard for 5th Special Forces Group and served on several teams in Afghanistan during 2001 and 2002, participating in major combat operations alongside Afghan indigenous forces. Often, my mission was to enter a country to determine if other special operations forces could safely follow and operate. If so, I would develop the situation and make ready for them to arrive. In 2002, after departing Afghanistan, I moved to a mid-Eastern location to prepare the way for the next conflict. Working independently and conducting successful, often classified missions on several continents taught me the power of prudence…and the skills that must accompany it.

 


The how

Khowst Afghanistan, February 2002

Khowst Afghanistan, February 2002

How did I learn and develop the principles and skills that kept me alive? Gradually. My initial introduction to security and defense was from the United States Marines and was unit focused. We learned to defend company- and platoon-sized units from attack in war. In Special Forces, I learned small-team security. Green Beret teams usually operate with just 8 to 12 men living, training, and fighting alongside indigenous forces in other countries, whether they are host nation military forces or even anti-government partisan forces. In each of those cases, we planned and prepared to protect ourselves and our team from acts of sabotage, attacks from within the group, as well as external threats such as terrorist or opposition forces. Often, there were no other US Forces to provide protection and support in the event of trouble. Additionally, we learned to be prepared to escape from a country if the government fell or relations between the US and our hosts put us at risk of capture or attack. This entailed not only extensive preparation but also intentional vigilance to allow as much time as possible to react to a threat.

“…prudence is obtaining knowledge, conducting extensive preparation and planning, exercising constant vigilance, and making judicial decisions as situations develop.

 

 


The why

I later adapted those techniques and tactics to working alone in countries such as Yemen. There I lived and traveled in and between the capital in Sana and the town of Aden on the southern coast. Operating alone for several months, my requirements for security were no different than a large unit’s — 360 degree security, primary and alternate routes for everywhere I traveled, multiple means of communication, contingencies if I had to depart my residence in an emergency, planning what to do if attacked at any point while driving, walking or even eating in a restaurant — but operating as one meant all of the planning, preparation, and vigilance fell to me alone. I learned to live, work, and exist as I constantly re-evaluated my security and contingencies minute by minute. Adherence to the tenets of knowledge, preparation, and prudence led me to the conclusion in 1999 that terrorists in Yemen were capable of conducting a major attack against US interests there. My opinion ran afoul of the Ambassador and the official US position on security in Yemen but was based on sound principle and solid evidence. I ultimately raised a warning through military channels of this potential, an act which drew the ire of the Ambassador. The attempted bombing of the USS The Sullivans in January of 2000 and the successful attack against the USS Cole in October of that same year forever ingrained in me that the cost of imprudence is often measured in lives.

CIA Headquarters, May 2015

CIA Headquarters, May 2015

 

Later, as a CIA officer serving abroad, I extended my threat awareness and security measures not only to protect my family — who sometimes resided with me — but also to protect US information from foreign intelligence services, which actively target US diplomats and officials. In some countries, my family faced simultaneous threats from criminals, terrorists, foreign intelligence services, host nation intelligence services, and natural disasters including earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes. We had to be self-reliant for our safety until we could tie into a support system such as the US Embassy or an evacuation by the US military. We knew in a crisis or emergency that help might not be available for a matter of hours to days and that we could only count on ourselves in those critical first moments of a crisis.

 

The tenets of knowledge, vigilance, and prudence worked against every kind of threat and remained real throughout my career. Let me teach you how the same principles and techniques can become real for you, too.

“…the cost of imprudence is often measured in lives.

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