Snipers For Concerts? Jonathan Gilliam Makes His Case

Jonathan Gilliam has gone on the record that it is time for concerts to start thinking like the NFL and include law enforcement snipers and/or spotters. 

This may seem extreme – if maybe less so after the events in Las Vegas – but Gilliam talked to Pollstar to make the case that it is a simple advancement, with no repercussions from the fans. Gilliam’s bio is at the bottom of the interview but it reads like Bruce Willis’s entire career: He has been a police officer, a SEAL, a DHS consultant, a Federal Air Marshal, an FBI Special Agent in charge of coordinating large events and their threat assessments, and has been seen on television news programs more than 1,000 times. He hosts his own Facebook TV show called “The Experts.”

Jonathan Gilliam
– Jonathan Gilliam

You have suggested concerts incorporate snipers into their security plans. But what if an event organizer believes snipers would scare the public?

I can say this a thousand times. I’ve handled all the special events for the FBI in New York City. I was the special events coordinator. Any major event or incident, I was the guy coordinating the forces. I did the threat assessments. I did the operations orders. I coordinated our assets and liaisons with other enforcement entities, and private entities.

I did Times Square. I did the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I was the first FBI agent on the scene when Sully landed his plane on the Hudson River. I’ve been the guy who was there for all these events.

Never once have I heard a private sector entity or somebody who was a fan say, “I’m freaked out because I see snipers.” 

I’ve been where the president was. I’ve been where there were visible snipers – and people were in awe. They feel very secure, and they’re not worried.

The only people who are afraid because cops are around are people who are probably doing something wrong. It doesn’t set a bad image. It doesn’t make people think “I need to leave.” They’re still going to go there, they’re still going to enjoy the music, they’re still going to drink.

So you don’t think that if it was a festival with a “peace, love and understanding” kind of vibe, the promoter would say snipers would bring the mood down?

Hey, listen: the mood got brought down by Vegas. Law enforcement is not going to bring the mood down, especially if they’re going to put a smile on their faces, and that’s something the promoter can insist on. “We want the cops here. We just ask they smile at them so they feel at ease.” 

A promoter can ask that. Whether the cops do it, I dunno. The more insight the promoter has on security the better he or she will be able to handle law enforcement.

So, no, will that kill the vibe? No. Again, I worked security for [a well-known teenage heartthrob] and there were cops everywhere. The girls don’t even notice them.

Anything else?

Yes. concert promoters need to be very careful who they pick for security. It would be better to eliminate two security guards and pay for someone who has real experience in unconventional warfare, preferably someone like myself who is Special Forces and a cop.

What they bring to the table is so unbelievably far beyond someone who is a detective for 20 years or – and I’ve seen this all the time – somebody who was a maintenance supervisor at a stadium for 20 years and they made him head of security because he “knows the place so well.”

These people don’t think unconventionally like I do, who has my credentials. Concert promoters and people who are the managers of these series should realize if they’re going to spend the money somewhere, they should spend it in having somebody who understands how an attacker can attack, not somebody who understands we have to have five guys over here, five goes over there and are buddies with the cops. That doesn’t do anything to prevent me, an unconventional warrior, from weaving my way in through your vulnerabilities and attacking.

That’s the biggest thing. Sony Corporation, when they got hacked, that happened because they didn’t have the right people thinking the right way. Ariana Grande – they should be thinking that’s where everybody leaves and that’s where all the cops should have gone.

I did an interview about this on CNN years ago. You’ll see me talking about this exact thing. It’s at the end of the events. It’s after the Boston Marathon. At the end of Ariana Grande.

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Every Yankees game. That’s where the biggest threat lies with the exception of an open-air event where that exists the entire time. That is the biggest problem with open air events and why law enforcement should up their game, as well as concert promoters, when it comes to awareness and mitigation of the threats.

Las Vegas Shooting Mandalay Bay
AP Photo/John Locher
– Las Vegas Shooting Mandalay Bay

If you were to do a similar event in Las Vegas, what would you do?

Right off the bat, you have to have a meeting of the minds with anybody in security with the promoters, with even the sound people. See, this is the other thing: when it comes to concert security, you need to include more people than just your security guys. A concert promoter or GM will see something differently than a guy standing on the ground next to the stage. The guy who stands next to the guy on the floor is going to see things differently than the guy in the sound booth. I can guarantee you the person running the sound that night in Vegas was probably the first person to say, “This is not a speaker. This is not something going wrong with the sound.” They know.

These people need to communicate with each other. In the past they’d say, “That’s never going to happen. We’re not going to consider it.” Well, the unthinkable happens now.

Security is a whole team where they all come to an understanding of what’s normal and what’s not. There’s no question that’s stupid. 

The second thing, especially with open-air venues, when you go inside of a stadium you’re — I’m not going to say secure – but the target is somewhat hardened. You’re not necessarily going to get a long gun in there. People are not going to be bad guys. The Ariana Grande concert is a perfect example. They waited until the event was over to do the attack. And it was just as successful as getting something in but, nonetheless, the soft area of a stadium or arena is outside, at the end.

That’s where security should concentrate. That’s where tour managers should understand what a soft target and a soft area is. They can help eliminate things. If that place gets hit, that concert series is going to take a huge hit as well, even if it’s outside. When it comes to open-air venues, however, I see the breakdown of communication with all the people who are part of the tour and the breakdown of law enforcement to advance their technique. 

As we saw in Vegas, there were no snipers to counter snipers. Law enforcement was all over the place trying to figure out where this shooting was coming from because they were on the ground. Law enforcement still relies on SWAT too heavily to go after a subject.

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So, knowing all these things, a tour manager should be able to sit down with law enforcement – I know they have these meetings – and insist on these things. If the tour manager and the head of security understand the history of these attacks they can say to law enforcement, “Look, based on these things, we think it’s best, if you don’t have a sniper, we would like to see you put people in some high advantage with anything, even a pair of binoculars.”

This may sound weird that a concert tour manager will be telling cops how to do their job but that’s the way it works. Cops do things based on patrol, not based on counter-terrorism or counter-attack. I know that sounds strange coming from someone who was in law enforcement, but I was a SEAL as well. I was unconventional warfare expert and I’ve watched law enforcement for the longest time from an attacker’s point of view and I’m here to tell you: They’re stuck in the patrolman mentality. “I patrol from the ground and then if something happens we figure out where it is and we go there and, if it’s too heavy or hot, we pull out and wait for SWAT to get there.”

That’s the way it works, which is a completely exploitable vulnerability for bad guys. As we saw, this guy went on shooting for nine minutes.

Now, if you had counter-snipers up, they would have been able to locate where this person is coming from. Maybe they were close enough to reach out with their own weapon, maybe they wouldn’t have been, but they would have been able to identify it a lot quicker.

I think, you know, in this country we must have – and if tour managers understand this they can insist on this – but we need to have an evolution in law enforcement where they start thinking in the way of almost a combatant type of defense stance for these concerts, just like if the president was coming, or if the secretary of defense was going to Iraq. 

But a concert like Jason Aldean? Those threats are not going to be posed outwardly so you must be positioned in a very defensive, almost militaristic way, to think where these things are going to happen and to counter that. That’s the only way. You’re not going to be able to put up a special laser or force field. It’s going to be awareness and forward thinking – what are your critical areas, what are the critical times for those areas, the vulnerabilities and the attacker’s avenue of approach. Having looked at that area, where all this took place, from a targeting perspective,

I could have told you that if someone wanted to do a threat assessment on this, I could have told you, “That hotel right there is a problem. Because 30,000 people will be right here, someone can check into that hotel, their luggage won’t be checked, they’re immune to any type of checkpoint in these hotels, so that’s going to be a huge vulnerability.”

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Are you suggesting that is standard operating procedure for other events?


The NFL. I don’t know how they did it throughout their history but they convinced the FBI and law enforcement that they are the ultimate target and they are above and beyond any other entertainment venue that should be secured. That’s why the Super Bowl had the hostage rescue team there, they had FBI agents all over the place, everybody was on lockdown.

Well, the way I look at it, the real threat to the Super Bowl is not the actual event, it’s after the Super Bowl, it’s all the parties for the week leading up to that. The same thing with a concert or open-air venue. As I said, at an arena, it’s somewhat of a hardened target inside. Open-air venues are so vulnerable and open to attack that they’re the ones that law enforcement should be concentrating on. When you get 30,000 people in a parking lot, there’s a massive threat to that, known or unknown.

That’s the other problem in law enforcement and security: If there is no known credible threat, they believe that the possibility is less. But we should never confuse probability, which is a numbers game, with possibility. The possibility of a terror attack in Vegas last Sunday, at an open-air venue, shooting from a hotel – the possibility was 100 percent. The probability was low because there is no statistic to show it’s ever happened there before. But we saw, on Sunday night, that probability and possibility met head on.

Can a promoter, venue, etc. convince the FBI and law enforcement they are the ultimate target? Obviously there is still a budget involved here.

First, the biggest thing about the Super Bowl, or NFL, or all these different things is that the people who work at the stadium, the people who are involved with the NFL, are all very security conscious. That’s the No. 1 thing, regardless if the FBI or anyone else is involved, the No. 1 thing of a football stadium, and I’ve seen it, I’ve done threat assessments on one of them. Everybody there was top notch. Even the vendors had a recollection of what’s normal and what’s not because they’ve worked there a long time; they’ve seen fights. They understand the nature of the people in and around the area. That’s because they’re at the same place every time.

Now, when it comes to concerts, you all are moving constantly, going from place to place. But, ultimately, and I think this is the bottom line where concert promoters should realize – true security doesn’t cost you anything. It just takes time to train people in what they should be looking for, what’s normal sound, what’s not. You take everyone on the tour, you sit down and go over it, and you’ll be blown away that it doesn’t cost anything and the fact that you become exponentially more secure.

Simple things like, “We’re going to have pyrotechnics at this point in time. If you hear something and it sounds like a gunshot, it needs to be verbalized immediately.” They need to get everybody off the stage and make an announcement to depart the stadium. That doesn’t cost a thing.

As for law enforcement, it doesn’t cost them any more to have a patrolman on the ground is it does a sniper in the air. Or a spotter. Even if they didn’t have snipers in Vegas, if they had spotters at an elevated position, it wouldn’t have cost anything, and they would have identified where this was coming from quickly.

Gilliam’s latest book, “Sheep No More: The Art of Awareness and Attack Survival,” is available here.

According to Gilliam’s bio, he began his career as a police officer just outside of Little Rock, Ark., He eventually trained as a U.S. Army Ranger and became a Navy SEAL before being deployed as Officer in Charge (OIC) in Central and South America as a SEAL Officer on Counter Drug/Narcotics missions. Gilliam then joined federal law enforcement as a Federal Air Marshall, then served as a Security Specialists Contractor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, responsible for instructing soft-target sectors as a member of an assault team. He then served as an FBI Special Agent in New York, where he developed threat assessments on targets in NYC and was the on-scene coordinator at high threat events and large scale incidents. He has made more than 1,000 televition appearances including CNN and Fox News and has his own Facebook Live show called The Experts

Editor’s note: The following article might add to the discussion: Event Safety Alliance gave a tour of the Microsoft Theatre, home of the Golden Globes, to show its security procedures, with the help of the DHS