TorchStone is in “The Business of Before®”…What does that mean?
TorchStone Senior Vice President, Joe Funk
As our nation prepares to re-open under “the new normal,” we have the fortunate opportunity of reevaluating our current security relationships and the ways in which we provide quality security services for our employees and customers. The conventional practice of contracting with an outside security vendor during a crisis may no longer be the most efficient and responsive in the post pandemic business world. We are witnessing a move to developing relationships with security consulting firms that provide services beyond bodies, badges and guns. The new concept establishes relationships with security firms that provide a holistic, multi-faceted platform. This is the first of several discussions on the topic of establishing a robust and collaborative relationship with a security provider.
Today’s topic is the continuing discussion of best practices around background investigations – more specially, reexamining the value of standard investigations versus more robust OSINT (open-source intelligence) investigations coupled with threat management services. While the topic can be discussed on several levels, including employee hiring procedures, business competition, etc., I believe the paramount area of concern is identifying potential issues of workplace violence or hostile employees and recognizing how best to diffuse and mitigate such conditions. Today’s employers have an inherent duty of care obligation to protect their employees and customers alike, whether working remotely or at a facility.
Many businesses rely on security firms to conduct background investigations on employees involved in situations that may lead to termination or exhibit behaviors that are cause for concern. While it is true this method has been utilized with success in the past, current thinking suggests we need more in-depth research; conducted by highly skilled and experienced investigators, and coupled with the oversight of mental health professionals and analysts trained in the identification of unusual behavior and potential violent tendencies. Over the past 10 years we have witnessed the explosion of online information, to incude social media, as well as the dark web and chat rooms cleverly hidden from public view. Social media platforms can be rich with information about an individual’s state of mind, social sphere, shifting life factors, and potential signs of pathway behavior. Standard background investigations do not normally include such online forums.
Many private investigators rely on records aggregated in public records providers like LexisNexis or Westlaw, supplemented with reports from third-party vendors that include address information, phone numbers, certain financial information such as tax liens and bankruptcy records, as well as and vehicle registration information. The TorchStone team undertakes a more holistic approach to the identification of information salient to its clients’ needs and uses the information aggregators described above as mere “starting points” for our investigations rather than relying on them completely. There is even more urgency to a rigorous methodology when clients are confronted with potential or actual physical threat actors, be they known or anonymous. The truth is, relying on a basic background check supported with armed contracted security officers at a workplace does not present the complete threat picture; nor does it provide the level of safety that the client likely believes they are receiving.
It is important that the information gleaned from an OSINT investigation be combined with input and oversight of experts in crisis management, business continuity, physical security, as well as by mental health professionals specializing in the identification of potential violence behavior (whether violence toward self or other). Some illustrations of these types of cases and results follow:
- A client sought information about the background of someone making repeated, sustained threats to them.
Efforts Undertaken/Information Found
- TorchStone searched social media and identified postings about, and images of, the subject’s medical records and prescription medication. Normally in the United States, this information would be protected under HIPAA (www.hhs.gov/hipaa/index.html). Nonetheless, the subject posted her own records in a public and open forum (although under an alias that our team was able to connect to the subject). The information was vita to our comprehensive work, where our mission was to keep all parties, client and subject alike, safe and secure.
Benefit to Client
- With the involvement of a licensed, clinical psychologist, the client was able to make better-informed decisions as TorchStone developed and executed on a comprehensive mitigation strategy.
- On behalf of its client, a law firm asked TorchStone to identify information about a recently terminated Florida-based employee who had left more than 40 threatening voicemail messages with the company’s human resources division.
Efforts Undertaken/Information Found
- FOIA requests yielded volumes of information about the subject as a complainant in circumstances involving local restaurants, bars, and neighbors. Incident reports also named the subject as someone who had engaged in stalking and other menacing behavior towards others, including former colleagues and ex-girlfriends. Further research ultimately identified a California county workplace violence case naming the subject in which it was reported that he had engaged in exceedingly threatening behavior when he was terminated from a previous employer.
Benefit to Client
- The information about the subject’s behavior during a termination hearing allowed the client to proactively prepare for a potentially dangerous situation. The client also was able to reexamine its pre-employment due diligence to determine why this subject had not raised any red flags during the interview process, and to make certain it would not happen again (Please Note: The client’s prior pre-employment background scope included only criminal searches, not civil (where the vital information was ultimately found). Most orders of protection and restraining orders are found in civil records, and many of those records cannot be searched for or reviewed online.)
The goal of Security and Human Relations teams is to provide the highest degree of safety and security to staff and customers alike. Additionally, it is the goal of TorchStone Global to treat the subject with dignity and respect, in spite of any alleged offenses. Unfortunately, the reliance on a basic background check supported with armed contracted security officers does not present the complete picture, nor does it provide the level of safety that the client truly needs. A complete picture only comes into focus after in-depth research and the participation of mental health experts. The final piece of the puzzle is the advice and guidance of trained and seasoned experts in the arenas of workplace violence and insider threat. However, here is the catch: This holistic remedy for threat management can only be achieved by establishing a relationship with a security firm that has the capabilities to provide “all of the above.” Only by establishing this cohesive relationship can the security consultant be afforded the opportunity to conduct the appropriate research and thus provide the required advice. Likewise, without this relationship, the client will not receive an accurate picture of potential options and will thus be limited in their response. These limitations could create a even more dangerous situation, expose employees to unnecessary danger, and lead to possible legal issues.
TorchStone is uniquely positioned to provide its clients the services outlined above. TorchStone’s Protective Intelligence team utilizes a holistic approach to identify information salient to our clients’ needs. Information aggregators are used as a mere jumping off point for investigations. The team creatively, but always lawfully, uses OSINT tools and techniques to gather information from the surface web, dark web, and available court documents. More importantly, our team will also work closely with the client’s key stakeholders (legal, employee relations, human resources, C-suite, and corporate communications as appropriate).
If the OSINT investigation reveals a higher level of risk, then TorchStone’s multidisciplinary Threat Management Team of internationally recognized experts is convened—in close coordination with our client—to evaluate that risk from several different threat lenses, including but not limited to psychological, physical threat, cyber, business continuity, and reputational. The team approach enables us to avoid potential biases and examine the information from all angles. The end result is actionable intelligence; a thorough assessment of risk level (ever-shifting); possible next steps for the client; likely outcomes of those responses; and support around physical security, cybersecurity, and ongoing protective intelligence support. This holistic approach to mitigating risk is best executed by establishing a relationship with a security firm, that has all the capabilities necessary, to seamlessly work together prior to encountering problems.
As our corporate motto suggests, we are in “The Business of Before®.” Not just idle words, the team at TorchStone Global Security believes the development of long-term relationships with clients is of paramount importance. In fact, TorchStone has retained over 96% of its clients over the past 5 years. TSG is uniquely positioned to provide its clients all the services outlined above. At TSG, we believe in the following three-pronged approach to employee situations:
- In-depth research conducted by leading industry experts.
- Assessment by Board-certified mental health experts to identify potential hostile or violent actions.
- Mitigation by subject matter experts on hostile terminations and workplace violence.
The TorchStone team is committed to working with our clients to develop long-term relationships and to provide a full range of security services at the highest levels of professionalism. I invite you to contact TorchStone to further discuss our full slate of services.