header top stories

By: Michele Dargan, Special for the Civic Association -- The use of Mar-A-Lago as President Donald Trump’s Southern White House dramatically increases the attraction of Palm Beach for ideological motivated terrorists, security expert Michael Reiter said Thursday.

Michael Reiter“Palm Beach is representative of what terrorists dislike most about our country and culture,” he said.

Image: Michael Reiter, Civic Association Director

The high concentration of affluence, combined with the newsworthiness of the residents, already had thrust Palm Beach onto terrorists’ radar even before President Trump’s election. But his presence on the island as president significantly increases the appeal to terrorists, Mr. Reiter said.

Mr. Reiter, a former Palm Beach Police Chief, spoke to more than 50 directors of the Palm Beach Civic Association during a luncheon meeting at the Sailfish Club.

Civic Association Chairman and CEO Bob Wright introduced Mr. Reiter, president of the Palm Beach-based Michael Reiter and Associates, a security, crisis management, and investigation firm.

A Civic Association director, Mr. Reiter retired as the eighth chief of police in Palm Beach with more than 30 years of law enforcement experience.

Mr. Reiter is the recipient of the Palm Beach Civic Association’s Raymond J. Kunkel Award, the Town of Palm Beach Employee of the Year Award, the Worth Avenue Association’s Above and Beyond Award, and the Palm Beach Atlantic University Distinguished Alumni Award.

“He’s an expert in crisis management and in the prevention and investigation of crimes against high net worth individuals,” Mr. Wright said.

sailfishMr. Reiter told the group that he rarely speaks publicly about specific security risks because “to broadcast your security risks and vulnerabilities causes you to increase your vulnerabilities.

“We’re four square miles and 8,600 people,” he said. “No other community with a similar description has the security threats that we have.”

Palm Beach has always been on the radar for conventional criminals - such as burglars, thieves, and robbers - because of the concentration of high net worth individuals combined with businesses who cater to affluent individuals, he said.

“One purse off Worth Avenue equals 50 at the Palm Beach Outlet Mall and that’s a reality,” Mr. Reiter said. “The reason we don’t have much traditional crime is because we have a very informed community who believes in ‘if you see something, say something,’ we have a very capable police department, and we have a geographical setting that doesn’t lend itself to escape. If you have an incident in the north end of the island on a busy traffic day, it’s going to be very difficult for that person to get off the island. The same problems we have on a daily basis with traffic actually reduces our risk level for traditional criminals. Terrorists, on the other hand, do not care about that.

“We are widely recognized as being highly symbolic of wealth and therefore of the achievement of the traditional American Dream,” Mr. Reiter continued. “That motivates terrorists, unfortunately.”

Mr. Reiter said he monitors monthly magazines, produced by terrorist organizations.

Some part-time Palm Beach residents have been specifically identified in these magazines as possible targets, he said.

“Most every successful person in New York, the East Coast, and around the country ends up here and has for over 100 years,” he said. “Therefore, as a community, we are highly symbolic and newsworthy and we register with terrorists … To realize your risks is the first step to mitigating them.”

The numbers of visitors staying in Palm Beach hotels are up, Mr. Reiter said, and can be attributed, in part, to the enormous amount of free publicity the island is getting because of the president.

Reporters Bingham Island“Almost every news magazine show has done something on Palm Beach,” he said. “They send reporters down here to cover Mar-a-Lago and have to do something in their spare time and then they run a story. That attracts people to Palm Beach because we have a magnificent place to live and work.  People see that and want to be a part of that. That includes criminals. It, unfortunately, includes terrorists.”

Residents are operating under a false sense of security if they think Palm Beach is safer when the president is in town because of the increase in law enforcement and Secret Service personnel. The extra personnel are designated specifically to protect the president and are instructed to ignore other potential problems as those may be diversions.  

Mr. Reiter urged attendees to support budget requests from the Palm Beach Police Department.

“Their resources are spread extremely thin,” he said. “They may need additional police officers, may need a full-time coordinator to deal with presidential issues, and they may need additional police officers and will need additional equipment and training.”

Protesters Mar-a-LagoMr. Reiter warned that there are going to be large protests in the future and recommended that people avoid areas of the protests. Although they have been peaceful so far, violent protests – that have already happened in other parts of the country – can happen here, he said.

In addition, Mr. Reiter advised that everyone should be able to recognize a motorcade and avoid it.

“If you see traffic completely stopped, the best thing you can do is turn around,” he said.

Mr. Reiter offered safety tips while traveling to nearby towns or to other states and countries.

  • Realize that you are easily identified as a target by criminals from the car you drive to the clothes and jewelry that you wear.
  • Avoid looking like a wealthy person when you go off the island to nearby neighborhoods like Clematis Street, CityPlace, and other areas. Don’t wear flashy jewelry or carry expensive handbags and be alert to your surroundings.
  • Do not carry expensive luggage or wear expensive jewelry on commercial aircraft.
  • Faraday BagCarry your passport inside a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) blocking sleeve or carry cell phones, credit cards and passports in a Faraday bag, which blocks RFID.   Image at right: Faraday Bags with metal shielding cloth
  • Never throw away a boarding pass at the airport and always shred them as they include a confirmation number that can allow anyone to change the rest of your itinerary. In addition, the bar code contains personal data.
  • Data IsolatorDo not charge your laptop or cell phone at a free charging station unless you have a data isolator because there are people skimming the data. Image at left: Data Isolator for charging devices. Click here for more information (Amazon.com)
  • You must use different passwords for everything. If you have one password and someone gets hold of it, all of your accounts are compromised.
  • Do not flag down cabs on the street in foreign countries. Taxi drivers in many parts of the world work with express kidnappers, who drive you to an ATM and make you empty out your bank account.
  • If you see something, say something, especially right here in your own community. If you see something suspicious on your street, call it in.

“It shouldn’t produce fear,” Mr. Reiter said. “It should cause you to be more careful and to realize that the kinds of feelings that we had previously in Palm Beach of ‘I don’t have to lock my car or I can leave my front door unlocked,’ that sort of thinking has to change.”

Photos: Capehart Photography

Directors Spring Luncheon March 16, 2017