How would-be assassins are identified by the Secret Service: ANALYSIS

A man was shot and killed in an FBI raid after alleged threats against Biden.

August 12, 2023, 11:15 AM

In the past few days, the world has seen an assassination executed and several alleged assassination plots interdicted.

An alleged informant for Russia was detained by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) in connection with a plot to allegedly assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy via a Russian airstrike, the SBU said Monday, according to CNN. Russia has not publicly commented on the allegation.

Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio -- who had allegedly received several death threats last week according to Villavicenio's former campaign manager -- was shot and killed, which was captured on video, near his motorcade after a rally on Wednesday.

With security concerns heightened throughout the South American country, six suspects have been arrested in connection to the assassination and one suspect is dead, according to officials.

Early Wednesday morning in the U.S., a Utah man, Craig Robertson, was shot and killed during an FBI raid, the bureau confirmed to ABC News. The raid was in connection to an investigation into alleged threats against President Joe Biden and others, two officials told ABC News.

According to the federal complaint obtained by ABC News, Robertson allegedly made threatening posts online, including references to his firearms and allegedly posting he would pull out his "ghillie suit and cleaning the dust off the M24 sniper rifle," when Biden visited Utah, which the president was scheduled to do three days after the alleged post.

PHOTO: Secret Service agent on duty on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington, Apr. 7, 2023.
Secret Service agent on duty on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington, Apr. 7, 2023.
Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images, FILE

The White House said Biden was briefed on the matter.

According to Secret Service Exceptional Case Study 1999's findings, assassination is routinely seen as an act used when an individual is seeking "change" over a "grievance" for political or personal reasons.

After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, acting President Lyndon B. Johnson created the Warren Commission. The commission was tasked with investigating Kennedy's assassination, and through the investigation recommendations were made for the Secret Service. According to the Warren Commission, the Secret Service needed to rapidly expand its protective intelligence and tracking mechanisms in order to try stopping attacks before they occur.

According to the American Psychological Association and its Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, protective intelligence at its core is a proactive method of identifying, assessing and mitigating possible threats launched toward a person.

The protective intelligence process is meant to mitigate the ability of an individual from getting close enough to conduct an attack or even deciding to attack. This process not only includes assessing a potential threat but also taking a broader look at an individual's actions and conduct to determine if the threat posed is indeed actionable.

From a retired Secret Service agent's perspective, prior to the use of protective intelligence, threats were often determined by what was said. If someone said that they were going to harm someone, it was routinely determined a threat.

In 1997, the Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center published "Preventing Assassination: Secret Service Exceptional Case Study Project," a case study which reported several findings that helped modernize and advance the field of protective intelligence.

The basis of these findings were rooted in a behavioral analysis of individuals that posed a threat. The behavioral analysis cited findings including if a person has a documented history of mental health, within the court system, with law enforcement agencies and if they have exposed a real or perceived "grievance."

The Secret Service gathers this information during a thorough investigation and analysis of an individual's case. This information gets inputted into the Secret Service's Protective Threat Management System (PTMS) and is used to record information and data of potentially threatening behavior and incidents that may impact the Secret Service's mission to protect.

PTMS then helps the agency determine mitigation measures needed, which can range from arrest, to referring the individual to mental health services, to an involuntary psychiatric hold or assessment, as well as referral to local support systems or other federal agencies. During protective visits, the Secret Service may conduct protective intelligence pre-visit interviews and / or surveillance operations on individuals it has determined are of concern.

While the Secret Service typically doesn't release numbers associated with its protective intelligence work, due to fear of "copycat" or "encouraging similar behaviors," former U.S. Secret Service Director Randolph "Tex" Alles said in 2017 that former President Donald Trump had received 6-8 threats per day in his first six months of office, roughly the same number of threats that Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush received while in office, CBS News reported.

According to U.S. Department of Homeland Security 2022 annual report, the Secret Service currently has 35 protectees.

The Secret Service uses PTMS, a thorough behavioral analysis, to properly assess, collect, collate and coordinate threat information so that they and partners, like the FBI, can effectively track and mitigate a threatening individual before they become an assassin.

Donald J. Mihalek is an ABC News contributor, retired senior Secret Service agent and regional field training instructor who served during two presidential transitions. He was also a police officer and served in the U.S. Coast Guard.