In the wake of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s assassination last week, many security professionals are left asking several key questions – how could this happen, what can we learn from this tragedy, and how can we ensure our own clients remain protected? If this event can happen in a country such as Japan, with some of the world’s strictest gun regulations and where political assassinations are rare, it can occur anywhere. It serves as a warning that high net worth individuals and their security details must be knowledgeable about their threat environment and ready to react in any situation.
According to open source reporting, Prime Minister Abe was giving a campaign speech to a crowd of people outside the
Yamato Saidaiji train station in Nara, Japan when 41-year old Tetsuya Yamagami approached from behind and fired two shots at Mr. Abe with a homemade gun.
Mr. Yamagami reportedly targeted the former Prime Minister because he perceived Mr. Abe’s grandfather, Mr. Nobusuke Kishi — Japan’s Prime Minister from 1957-1960 — contributed to the expansion of the Unification Church. Mr. Yamagami claims his mother’s large financial donations to the religious organization led to her bankruptcy.
What Went Wrong?
Concentric’s Chief Security Officer, Jim Morgan, a 24 year veteran agent of the United States Secret Service, had the pleasure of protecting and working with Prime Minister Abe during his time as a Secret Service agent. Concentric’s Global Intelligence analysts worked with Mr. Morgan to identify and analyze available open-source media to determine what went wrong and what we can learn from the tragic assassination of Mr. Abe.
- Lack of Preparedness. Mr. Abe did not have sufficient concealment from the rear during his speech in Nara. The assassin had an open view to Mr. Abe which allowed him to approach from behind and fire two shots before Mr. Abe’s security intervened. It is important to deter access to the principal from as many angles as possible and limit uncleared persons access. Mr. Yamagami told investigators he originally planned to assassinate Prime Minister Abe at an event in Okayama, a prefecture about three hours’ drive from Nara, the day before the shooting. Mr. Yamagami noted the admission’s procedures made it difficult for him to enter the event. Similar procedures and additional security in Nara probably would have deterred Mr. Yamagami.
- Possible Intelligence Failure. We are left with key questions surrounding the assassin–was he known to the Japanese government or local law enforcement? Did this individual show up on their radar as a known person of interest in the area? High net worth individuals are vulnerable to a variety of individuals who might want to cause them harm, particularly when they are traveling or attending events. Having these details ahead of time, as security professionals prepare to enter an area, is critical to ensure the protection of high net worth clients.
- Lack of Trained Personnel. According to Jiji News Agency, Mr. Abe’s protective detail consisted of only local police and one member of Japan’s Security Police – a protective detail division of Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department which serves a role similar to the Secret Service in the United States. When the first shot occurred, Mr. Abe’s detail looked around in confusion – they did not act until the second shot, when it was too late. “This is a training issue,” Mr. Morgan says, “you have to be trained so when the first shot goes off, you are moving.” Proper training would have given the security team the instincts needed to cover the protectee and institute the evacuation plan while simultaneously addressing the threat.
- No Evacuation Plan. After Mr. Abe was shot, he was left on the stage as personnel rendered aid. “That is not the place to render medical attention,” according to Mr. Morgan. “It is not a safe environment, you do not know if a secondary attack is coming and you are still evaluating the condition of the principal.” Medical attention must take place in a safe environment such as a car, whereas staying on the stage opens the protectee up to a secondary attack.
High net worth individuals and security professionals can glean several takeaways from the unfortunate events surrounding Mr. Abe’s assassination. Public, open-air venues can present a challenge for security professionals, especially in locations where guns are not allowed. However, security professionals have many tools in their proverbial belt which can provide 360- degree coverage for their clients.
- Conduct an Advance. “Regardless of the size of your protective detail, the assassination of Mr. Abe shows the importance of a proper advance,” Mr. Morgan says. An advance allows dedicated security agents to go to the event’s location weeks, days, or even hours before the event. The agent identifies any potential threats to security and safety, from details regarding arrival location, the fire alarm system, or obstructions which may cause the protectee to trip or harm themselves, to more major vulnerabilities such as lack of concealment in the rear. In the case of Mr. Abe, a proper advance would have identified the opening to the rear of the stage and given the detail the opportunity to place a banner, poster, or curtain to block the assassin’s vantage point. “This would force the attacker to rethink their attack strategy,” Mr. Morgan says, “even with a small detail, you can manipulate the physical environment to your advantage.”
- Intelligence. Though the Japanese authorities have not released details regarding the role of intelligence in Mr. Abe’s security detail, it’s role is vital to any security operation. Like an advance, proper intelligence provides the protectee and their security detail with vital information regarding the location and any known persons of interest. Intelligence is “constantly tracking the threat [potential] from individuals,” Mr. Morgan notes. If a high net worth individual’s security detail is able to anticipate threats from persons of interest in an area, they can ensure their security plan addresses those potential threats.
- Prepare an Evacuation Plan. The evacuation plan, which is often created and scouted out during the advance, provides security agents with an egress in the case of an emergency. After Mr. Abe fell, “too many people moved to the shooter,” Mr. Morgan says, “whereas you want to maximize the number of people to the protectee, evacuating him to a safe location, and as few people as possible would address the threat.” A prepared evacuation plan allows the security team to move on instinct, transporting the protectee to a secondary location where proper medical attention can be administered.
- Training. Proper training allows security personnel to move quickly in scenarios where a split second decision is necessary. In the case of Mr. Abe, “no one moved after the first shot,” Mr. Morgan notes, “you have to move to the protectee. If they moved, Mr. Abe may not be dead.” Proper training reinforces what to do in an emergency scenario, from covering the protectee to proper evacuation routes.
“In security, nothing is 100 percent,” Mr. Morgan notes, “you can do all of the things you’re supposed to do and something could still happen. So you try to make it as hard a target as possible for the assailant so they move on from your principal.”
To learn how Concentric can help support your security details with executive protection agents, training, or intelligence, please visit our website, and reach out to let us know how we can help keep you safe and secure.
Prime Minister Abe’s Assassin: A Private Individual with Longstanding Grudge Against Controversial Church
Based on Concentric’s Global Intelligence team’s findings, Prime Minister Abe’s assassin, Tetsuya Yamagami, is a 41-year old former member of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force. Though he was unemployed at the time of the assassination, Mr. Yamagami was previously hired through a dispatch agency in October 2020 to work at the freight department of a factory in Kyoto prefecture. Colleagues characterized Mr. Yamagami as someone who kept to himself and did not discuss his private life. He would often eat lunch alone in his car.
After six-months of work, he started to exhibit gradual neglect of work practices. In March 2022, Mr. Yamagami began taking unauthorized time off and spoke of heart issues and other physical problems, despite having no previous issues with attendance. His employment ended on May 15.
We found no information to suggest Mr. Yamagami held any specific connections to Prime Minister Abe. Mr. Yamagami told investigators he initially planned to target the head of the Unification Church due to his mother’s financial troubles, which he attributed to the church. He said he also intended to kill Prime Minister Abe due to his belief that Mr. Abe’s grandfather contributed to the church’s expansion in Japan.
Mr. Yamagami circumvented Japan’s gun restrictions by making his own zip gun. Zip guns are most frequently seen in areas where firearms are extremely difficult to acquire, such as in prisons or countries with strict gun regulations such as Japan. Mr. Yamagami told police he watched YouTube videos to learn to make the weapon, and practiced shooting in the mountains days before the assassination. A search of his home revealed additional handmade guns and explosives.
Author: Timothy Davis, Concentric’s Intelligence Analyst for Global Intelligence