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“Holding on to the things that made us great in the past is not the way to make us great in the future. In fact, I can only think of one reason to stand still, and that’s if you want somebody to catch you.” –Gen. Mark Welsh, former Chief of Staff of the Air Force

“We evaluate people all the time, quite attentively, but they only get our conscious attention when there is a reason. We see it all, but we edit out most of it. Thus, when something does call out to us, we ought to pay attention. For many people, that is a muscle they don’t exercise.” Gavin de Becker

“I firmly believe that all human families are full of crazy people, and if your family doesn’t appear to have any, then there’s a high probability you lack situational awareness.” – Harrison Scott Key

  (Day 121 of the federal guidelines for social distancing)

Whether we know it or not, all of us are potentially subject to the often deadly collateral damage of a “kill chain.” Every act of violence is the fruit of an active “kill chain. Very few are random. When someone dies a violent death, somewhere along the way, someone put some thought into making it happen. 

Understanding what the specific “kill chain” is, how it progresses from an idea to an actual violent act, and then to what happens next is not difficult to grasp. Knowing how the “kill chain” works could save your life. 

In this edition of “More than Meets the Eye,” we will learn what a “kill chain” is, how we can easily become victims to a “kill chain,” and how to interrupt one. We will develop personal strategies for securing ourselves, our organizations, and our communities. If we apply what we learn from reading today’s article, we will be able to walk with growing confidence in our abilities to avoid acts of violence.


The term kill chain was originally used as a military concept related to the structure of an attack; consisting of target identification, force dispatch to target, decision and order to attack the target, and finally the destruction of the target. This is just a fancy way of saying that a kill chain is the process through which a person goes to carry out killing someone. They decide who they want to kill, secure a weapon to carry out the act, decide when to do it, and then finally, they commit the act. This can happen in a very complex manner, involving planning, surveillance, and a deception plan which may include many different people.  Or it can be a situation where a guy who sees his girlfriend with another guy, and out of anger picks up a club, approaches his target, strikes him, and kills him. 

Whichever it is, a complex attack or an act of anger-ridden rage, there are steps that every attacker goes through, and the sooner you are able to interrupt the attack, the easier it will be for you to walk away unscathed without ever having to engage a potential aggressor with any form of aggression yourself. The idea of  “breaking” an opponent’s kill chain is a method of defense or preemptive action.

In typical military parlance, the term “kill chain” refers to the lengthy process of identifying and thwarting threats, typically covering activities from reconnaissance, until the threat is eliminated. In the military, this dynamic targeting process is also generally referred to as the sum of its parts — find, fix, track, target, engage, and assess (F2T2EA). This is the military’s complex way of saying, find your target, (“Fix,” which is doctrinally described as “identifying an emerging target as worthy of engagement and determining its position and other data with sufficient fidelity to permit engagement,”) keep them in your eyesight, aim your weapon, pull the trigger, and after you have fired your weapon or struck with your club, you assess to determine if you got the desired effect.

By now you are asking the question, “Why create such a complicated equation for such a simple task?” Here is why. At each transition, you, as the possible target of the attack or the potential victim of the collateral damage of the attack have an opportunity to interdict the attack and either diminish its impact or stop the attack completely. 

Every time there is a comma in this sentence, find, fix, track, target, engage, and assess, there is an opportunity to either escape or stop the pending attack; except perhaps the pause after engage. By this time the nefarious deed is done. 

How can you break a kill chain?

  1. We become victims of a kill chain through either someone targeting us or through the collateral damage that is caused by the attacker. Collateral damage could be a stray bullet intended for a target, a blast of a bomb, killing anybody within its radius, or getting hit by a car as the attacker tries to escape.  
  1. How can a kill chain be interrupted and stopped? Defeating a target attack against yourself or someone else depends on whether you are the specific target of the attack. If we pair situational awareness with a couple of simple tradecraft practices we can avoid the nefarious effects of 90 percent of the potential violent attacks to which we might fall victim. 

Situational awareness is very important, not just for personal security but as a basic building block in your collective security. Being aware of one’s surroundings and identifying potential threats and dangerous situations is as much of a mindset as it is a hard skill. Because of this, situational awareness is not something that can be practiced only by highly trained government agents or specialized corporate security teams. It can and should be exercised by anyone with the will and the discipline to do so. Situational awareness is not only important for recognizing terrorist threats, but also serves to identify criminal behavior and other potentially dangerous situations.

There are two extremely important mindsets that each of us needs to have in order to survive in this increasingly violent world. 1. We need to recognize the presence of potential threats. Denying the reality that there are threats is a quick way to get killed. Denial causes one to pause when an attack occurs. If we hesitate, when we should be responding, we will likely become a victim rather than someone who makes a difference. Recognizing the reality of potential threats also causes us to keep our eyes open and stay aware. 2. The second mindset is accepting the fact that we are responsible for our own security. Whether knowingly or not, for way too long we have simply outsourced our security to strangers, who may be paid barely above minimum wage, to carry a gun and to protect us. This is a bad solution. For brevity, I will not go into an entire article about situational awareness, but I will point to several articles that do a great job in helping us to understand situational awareness and how to exercise it. 

Practical Guide to Situational Awareness…

How to Develop the Situational Awareness of Jason Bourne…

Take responsibility for your own security. It is here that we begin to explore personal security tradecraft. There are a few skills you can learn that will prepare you to position yourself in a place to interrupt potential kill chains which might harm you or others. 1. Be unpredictable in your movement patterns. If you go out every day at the same time to jog the same route, you are just setting yourself up for bad people to commit egregious acts against you. Change your pattern regularly, or better yet, keep from establishing any patterns at all. Leave from different exits, take the stairs from time to time, always look to see if there is anything different in your path, something you have never seen before. 2. Look ahead. I practice what I call a 1-10-100. When I exit a building, I quickly survey what is within arms reach of me. I then scan to see what is 10 meters out, in a quick 180-360 degree scan. I then look out to, up to 100 meters to see if there is anything there that I have never noticed before. This practice takes about 10 seconds and I can tell you it has saved my life a time or two. 3. Do not go out in public wearing earbuds or headphones. If you do, you are taking away a significant portion of your ability to detect threats. Just don’t do it. 4. Control your online presence. Never give away your actual location.

These are only a few tradecraft skills that I think we should master in order to provide, at least a better image of security. Mastering them will give you the time you need to devise an exit plan and to warn the appropriate authorities.


Security is not an illusion. We must learn to take responsibility for our own security, not by weaponizing ourselves, but by practicing personal, “good citizen” tradecraft and situational awareness. It is important to remember that the safety of others is at stake, as well as your own. The security of your entire family, organization, and community are at risk. 

By practicing sound security as a normal daily practice we would be amazed to know how much our lives are impeding the kill chains that are at work within our communities. We may never know how our vigilance is changing the lives of others. To be certain there is far more than meets the eye transpiring around us, events which we may never know about this side of heaven.


Practicing situational awareness can help someone identify, reflect, and forecast upon the environment around them and empower them to anticipate threats. Mindfulness takes these same skills and improves one’s cognitive capability to deal with a high-stress situation. In essence, if a person knows how they respond to daily stress and can mitigate anxiety, it better positions them to deal with higher-than-normal stress, which is common, especially during travel.

Here are some suggestions as to actions we can take to re-orient ourselves, not only to become situationally aware, but to do so without increasing our own personal stress.

  1. If we realize we are beginning to feel stressed (increased heart rate, rapid breathing, headaches, muscle tension), we could take a few moments out of the day to become more aware of how our situation is contributing to those feelings. Take a few deep breaths to try to minimize the feeling of stress.
  2. While moving through our everyday lives, we could take mental notes to “check-in” with ourselves, asking, “Are we experiencing stress due to the situation around us, or are we creating our own stress? Are our thoughts present in the moment, or are we only thinking of the future?”
  3. Re-centering ourselves is one way to bring our thoughts back into the present. We can do that by simply closing our eyes and listening to what is going on around us. “What do we hear?” Think about what we hear. Keep our eyes closed, smell what is around us. Think about what we are smelling. These two actions can help to reduce our stress and bring us back to the present. Why? Because we don’t hear or smell in the future or the past. Our senses are visceral and in the present.

Stress will impede your ability to remain situationally aware. Keeping stress at a minimum is key to both good tradecraft and situational awareness.

The follow-up.


U.S. Preparing to Suspend Extradition Treaty With Hong Kong…

The feed-back.

For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at:


“Kill Chain Approach”. Chief of Naval Operations. April 23, 2013. Archived from the original on June 13, 2013.

Jonathan Greenert; Mark Welsh (May 17, 2013). “Breaking the Kill Chain”. Foreign Policy. Retrieved June 30, 2016.

Benitez, Mike (May 17, 2017). “IT’S ABOUT TIME: THE PRESSING NEED TO EVOLVE THE KILL CHAIN”. War on the Rocks. Retrieved April 28, 2020.

The Kill Chain, Brose, Christian…

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