Handling the largest security operation
in Hong Kong's history
VIP Protection Unit members provided 24 - hours
security for top world leaders such as China's President
Jiang Zemin seen here arriving at Kai Tak
on 30 June, 1997
PART of the Security Wing of the Hong Kong Police Force, the VIP Protection Unit, an elite and purposely low profile detachment of around 100 officers, runs all aspects of Hong Kong government protective security which includes full-time protection for the Chief Executive of Hong Kong and for visiting dignitaries, that is, Internationally Protected Persons.
Under United Nations conventions, the Internationally Protected Persons Charter (of which the PRC is a signatory) is an agreement between UN members to protect each other's leaders when they travel around the world. IPPs are defined as heads of state, heads of government and foreign ministers.
During the handover of sovereignty period in Hong Kong, the Unit was obliged to protect 65 IPPs. Its service started at the airport when the first IPP arrived and didn't end until the last IPP left with 24-hour intensive coverage in-between.
The farewell and handover ceremonies entailed the largest security operation in Hong Kong's history. And while most Force members focused on events covering the June 30/1 July period, the VIP Protection Unit's operation was far more protracted. The first IPP, Singapore's Lee Kwan-yew, arrived on 22 June, with the last IPP leaving on 6 July. Fifteen days of honouring an unspoken guarantee that not a single hair is harmed on the heads of IPPs from over 40 countries 360 hours of re-confirming to the world the Force's professional ability and de facto autonomy to carry out security matters in Hong Kong.
Adding to the job-related stress was the fact that the Unit was in uncharted waters. Hong Kong had never hosted an event like this (few cities or nations have) especially as logistically complicated and complex. There were also security concerns for some leading dignitaries, and several high-threat operations during this period that raised the overall threat.
"Basically it was mission accomplished, says Craig Foster, Superintendent VIP Protection Unit, Security Wing.
SP Foster is not so much matter-of-fact as just plain feeling good. The operation was extremely successful. There were no diplomatic security-related incidents. The operation has enhanced the reputation of the Force, the VIP PU and Hong Kong. The Force has shown itself capable of taking full responsibility for all aspects of large and complex security operations in the SAR.
SP Foster is now revving up for the IMF World Bank meeting and G8 Finance Ministers meeting which will take place in Hong Kong in September. But after moving world leaders in 65 separate motorcades from six different hotels to the Tamar site, then to the handover site, then back to their hotels in a torrential downpour, protecting the estimated 10-plus IPPs attending the IMF event pales in comparison.
Superintendent Foster played a key role in commanding the handover's protective security operations. He spent the majority of his days and nights out in the field following the main movements of IPPs, focusing on the significant moves of the sovereign powers and paying supervisory problem-solving visits to all strategic sites.
More importantly he oversaw the planning, preparation and training of 600-plus officers seconded from different formations needed to provide protective services during the handover.
"Security is done by and large before the event takes place. Preparation is the key,Ó says SP Foster. "The 65 IPPs brought a huge amount of additional responsibility that fell to a limited number of experienced staff in VIP PU. It's a specialist job that requires particular training, experience, support and that takes time to build up.
The VIP Protection Unit's preparation began 18 months prior to the handover. Officers were sent to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in New Zealand, to the APEC Meeting in the Philippines and to Singapore for the World Trade Organisation Meeting to improve the Unit's knowledge base on this kind of large event.
Manpower seconded included former VIP PU officers, members from the Witness Protection Unit, former SDU officers and Weapons Training Division officers. Next came officers from the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau, Criminal Intelligence Bureau, Commercial Crime Bureau, and the Narcotics Bureau. An entire intake of the Detective Training School was scooped up, as well as 80 drivers from the Police Driving School and the Transport Bureau.
"We selected close to 600 additional troops, says Foster, an eleven-and-a-half-year veteran of the Force, eight-and-a-half of them in the VIP PU.
"We selected those who had some operationally related skills. Then we honed their basic police skills to fit the protection environment. They were trained and commanded by the VIP PU in a job-specific way, and in most cases they each attended a one-week course incorporating additional firearms, tactical, medical and protective security training. Thirteen separate courses were run between December 96 and June 97.Ó
To equip the extra 600 people and to upgrade the Unit's coverage to 65 IPPs was in itself a challenge. Over 216,000 feet of cabling went with the CCTV equipment systems purchased for hotel and venue security. Over 100 mobile phones, pagers, fax machines, computer equipment and additional radios were acquired. The Unit'S vehicle fleet rose to 106 including ten armored Limousines hired from Mercedes Benz and shipped in from Europe. Fifty separate command posts were established.
"We had excellent assistance and co-operation from Communications Branch, Transport Bureau and from the Police Stores,"said Foster. "They were outstanding with a very pro-active, can-do approach.
The preparation process - a constant array of rehearsals, recces and briefings was far more involved than people realise. Training exercises were held with the Airport Security Unit, as well as with the Special Duties Unit at the Convention Centre to rehearse worse-case scenarios. A mountain of operational orders had to be compiled, and details looked into.
Craig Foster, Superintendent VIP Protection
Unit, points out some of the IPPs who his
elite team has provided security for during
its 25-year history. Photos on the wall include
Queen Elizabeth, Pinochet, Fidel Ramos,
John Major, Thatcher and on and on
of the process was to inform, reassure and liaise with overseas governments and
other security agencies. A two-day briefing package entailing a security overview
and site visits was given to consulates and to groups like China's Ministry of
Public Security (Security Service Bureau), the UK's Royalty and Diplomatic Protection
Groups, the US State Department, as well as security officers from Germany,
Columbia, Singapore, Japan, Egypt and so on.
¡@"The Hong Kong Police have sole responsibility for protective security in Hong Kong," explains SP Foster. "Visiting security officers cannot carry firearms and they have no police power here. They worked alongside us while in Hong Kong in a liaison role. Our reputation as a protective unit helped to facilitate that. We also liaised locally with a wide-range of government and police agencies."
¡@To a less professional and prepared unit the operation itself could have proven to be a nightmare. There was no confirmed guest list until days before the event. Arrival / departure schedules and hotel arrangements for the IPPs were very late in coming. Nor was a finalised programme for the actual events given in any detail. It was a fluid, ever-changing situation - with a very complex political dimension Ð requiring great flexibility and perseverance. The rainy weather just made it logistically more complicated.
¡@"The package that we provided was a modified version of our standard package, that is, close personal escort on a 24-hour basis, with trained officers driving the IPP Limos," continues the VIP Protection Unit boss. "Our deployments were threat-based, and as such some guests were given escort teams as well as advance security teams. All hotel accommodation was protected. Large inner cordon venue teams provided security at Tamar and at the Convention Centre. A full-time airport team dealt with arrivals and departures. We also had an enhanced Command and Control Centre at PHQ.
¡@"My officers worked incredibly long hours. We are very grateful to the units that assisted. The secondees were very positive about this special duty. At least 100 of them will be assigned again to assist us with the IMF World Bank operation in September.
¡@"Because we had planned for all eventualities, and thanks to all involved, I am confident that our security measures were up to the task.Ó