Due to tensions with North Korea and recent attacks on spectators, such as the tragic Las Vegas shooting, security at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics has been a prominent news story. Headlines about Olympians Red Gerard and Adam Rippon may drive media ratings, but security is just as critical to the success of the Games as factors like top-tier athletes, nail-biting competitions and record-breaking performances. Without effective security – and protective intelligence – the Games would not occur.

Protective Intelligence at : A More Covert Form of Security

Less conspicuous than security officers or metal detectors, protective intelligence is based on the concept that the risk of violence is minimized if a person with the interest, motive, intention, and capability of mounting an attack can be identified and rendered harmless. This is accomplished by (1) reducing the likelihood that someone would decide to mount an attack, (2) preventing the individual, if they chose to mount an attack, from getting close enough to do so, and (3) limiting the scope and extent of potential consequences to people, property and operations if an attack were to occur.

The 1996 Atlanta Olympics – A Seminal Event in the History of Protective Intelligence

The use of protective intelligence at the Olympics can be traced back to the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. On July 27, 1996, Eric Robert Rudolph committed a domestic terrorist attack at Centennial Olympic Park using a pipe bomb. The explosion killed two people, one of whom had a heart attack after the event, and injured 111 others. It was the first of four bombings committed by Rudolph, who was motivated by what he considered to be the government’s sanctioning of “abortion on demand.”

Following the attack, during Congressional oversight hearings, it became apparent that federal jurisdiction had not been established to secure the event or to determine protective intelligence responsibilities. The U.S. Secret Service (USSS) was responsible for its protectees and the events they attended. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was responsible for counterterrorism activities and tactical responses. And yet another agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), was responsible for emergency response and recovery. No one federal entity had sole responsibility for securing the event.

The Establishment of National Special Security Events

As a result of the hearings, President Clinton signed Presidential Decision Directive 62 in May 1998, which established the security roles for federal agencies at major events. A few years later, the Presidential Threat Protection Act of 2000 explicitly added special events to the responsibilities of the USSS.

These National Special Security Events (NSSEs), as they are designated by law, must meet the criteria of national or international significance deemed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be a potential target for terrorism or other criminal activity. These events have included summits of world leaders, meetings of international organizations, presidential inaugurations and, of course, the Olympics. The NSSE designation requires federal agencies to provide full cooperation and support to ensure the safety and security of participants, and the community within which the event takes place. The designation is typically limited to specific event sites for a specified time frame.

3 Roles Protective Intelligence Play in National Special Security Events

For all NSSEs, the USSS is the lead agency in charge of planning, coordinating and implementing security operations for the event. The FBI is responsible for intelligence, counterterrorism and investigation of major criminal activities associated with the event, and FEMA handles recovery management in the aftermath of terrorism, major criminal activities, natural disasters or other catastrophic incidents affecting the event.

As part of its process, the USSS establishes a Protective Intelligence Advance Agent, who liaises with local intelligence agencies and “provide[s] immediate evaluation of information received from them. This agent’s assignment is to make sure that all protective intelligence is coordinated.”[1]

As part of the protective process for an NSSE, the Protective Intelligence Advance Agent has three functions:

  1. Receive, evaluate, disseminate and maintain information concerning individuals and groups, and activities that pose a known, potential or perceived threat to people, property and events protected by the USS.
  2. Investigate those subjects and activities.
  3. Conduct intelligence advances preceding protectee travel.

2 Key Steps to Establishing Protective Intelligence at the 2018 Olympics

NSSEs are considered the global model for event security at the Olympics. According to media accounts, 5,000 armed forces from South Korea’s Defense Ministry are on duty during the games. South Korea has placed such a value on the critically important role of protective intelligence that it selected a private cybersecurity firm to protect against a hacking attack and the National Intelligence Service was tasked with security operations for the event. A Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team was also established to protect against terrorist attacks.

Based on my experience with protective intelligence and NSSEs, I believe South Korea likely took the following foundational steps to design and implement its protective intelligence program in support of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

  1. Define the problem, conceptualize the program and its functions, and establish objectives. To do this, the following questions [2] must be answered:
  • How does the organization define its protective responsibilities?
  • What protective responsibilities does the organization now have?
  • What responsibilities is it likely to have?
  • What approaches to protection are currently being used?
  • What kinds of protective services and programs are most likely to fulfill the organization’s responsibilities?
  • What is the legal basis for protection?
  • What currently happens when a threat is received?
  1. Assess the capabilities needed to implement the program and to ensure essential functions can continue over time.

I can’t understate the importance of security at a global event such as the Olympics. Although risks are always present, I am comforted by the fact that South Korea has embraced the concept of protective intelligence by leveraging the public, law enforcement and security organizations, the private sector and the media to help identify, assess and manage any threatening situations that may arise.



[1] The Presidents Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. 1964. Page 446.

[2] Fein, R.A., & Vossekuil, B. (1998). Protective intelligence & threat assessment investigations: A guide for state and local law enforcement officials