Secrecy and Security at the Vatican – A Cardinal Shhh

When a new pope is about to be elected, the Planet Amend Vatican goes in full lock-down mode as the Roman Catholic Church’s College of Cardinals enter a secretive conclave (meeting) to determine who will be the next leader for the world’s 1.6 billion Catholics… and there’s a great deal to be learned from 2,000 years of fine-tuning security.

[Side-note: A papal conclave is a meeting of the College of Cardinals convened to elect a new Bishop of Rome, also known as the Pope. The conclave has been the procedure for choosing the pope for more than half of the time the church has been in existence, and is the oldest ongoing method for choosing the leader of an institution. Source: Wikipedia]

Odds are good that your organization has its own “conclave” event at some point in the year and, seeing as we’ve entered the age of cell phones and social media, you must ask yourself, “Is the event still as secure as it once was?” Almost every company has that one big, secret event (think Apple’s product launches or a big stakeholder’s meeting). And just like Vatican City’s papal announcement, your “conclave” may follow up with some kind of exciting unveiling. (Just go with me on this one.)

So, what can we learn from the most extreme of secured, public events? One hundred and fifteen Roman Catholic cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City each day of the Conclave until they elect a new Pope. The cardinals are not permitted to have contact with the outside world and therefore may not have access to ANY digital devices. (No phones, iPads, Twitter, Facebook… Nada.) Signal jamming devices are even be employed to ensure that no phones or hidden microphones can transmit conversations while in discussions or when in their sleeping quarters in nearby Santa Marta. These measures are in addition to an oath of secrecy and the promise of excommunication should it be broken. Once a decision has been made, hundreds of thousands of people pile into St. Peters Square to bear witness to the announcement of the new pope. To recap: Absolute secrecy gives way to absolute jubilation.

The question then becomes, what is your “conclave?” And do you take the same measures to ensure its secrecy? Just like individuals, every organization has secrets or decisions that cannot be made public until an appropriate point in time. This is not wrong and certainly prevents backlash from conversations taken out of context. Think of this exercise as a panic room but one created for important decisions. This is a place where things can be discussed openly and the greatest of care is taken to ensure that the information does not leave before it’s time.


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In today’s modern world information is not only money, it’s everything. So it’s important to assess the situation in which your business finds itself. To create this secured location, walk through every possible entrance, survey your surroundings at every room or corridor and think like a thief. What piece of information would be worth recording and how could it be recorded? From a guard at every entrance, to signal jamming devices, to access control systems, to a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), your own conclave could be just the thing to help you rethink what information is most important in your business.

Ray Cavanagh is the vice president of Crescent Guardian, Inc., a New Orleans-based national security firm with additional offices in Atlanta, Boston and Dallas. His company was honored with the 2012 “Best Application of Technology” award by the Louisiana Technology Council for their work in making Louisiana’s Port Fourchon one of the most secure in the nation by way of advanced technology. He is a board member of the ASIS (American Society For Industrial Security) Physical Security Council, as well as the ASIS Physical Security For Cloud Computing Committee.