Covert Tools for Force Protection and Officer Survival

“If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.”     Sun Tzu The Art of War


Many threats currently posed by criminals and terrorists are increasingly difficult to positively identify. Our overall safety and protection is based upon certain principled behaviors which entail pre-planning alongside our risk and vulnerability assessment, adopting and making a habit of security measures and counter-measures; especially those of surveillance detection, OPSEC, and suspicious activity reporting.


We further prevent targeting by criminals or terrorist by disappearing in the operating environment, following the dictum to ‘Know the ground’ and to lower your signature, reduce your profile, and blend with the environment according to its mixture of ethnic and cultural settings.  In general, this may be as simple a solution as wearing plain and indigenous clothing, avoiding any display of wealth or affluence, and avoiding or minimizing speaking in public. It also means that our carried tools and equipment must be innocuous, go unnoticed, and not draw attention.

This applies as much to an off-duty officer as it does to specialized units working with human sources, conducting surveillance, and intelligence collection. Among those tools for security, the knife is an important part of the overall force protection equation and there are many variations and carry methods for this tool which can reduce the possibility of compromise and detection by a hostile observer.


Our covert tools by definition must not be observable. They must withstand the studied observation of a person as a whole and the detailed scanning of the hands, waistband and garments for any visual signature of the tool. In example, a detailed scan for a knife will look for the two distal points which can present its signature mark through clothing. Your concealment choice must also defeat the close study of clothing worn to include the hem-lines and collar for any asymmetry and imbalance caused by carry of a tool.


The goal of concealment must also balance against the real interest in the time critical deployment of the knife under exigent circumstances and imminent threat to safety. Where your knife is located and how easily it may be grasped during a struggle by either hand will generally prejudice the placement choice to the frontal area of the body and from the collar to waistband. Thus, we will find many experts who advocate for varied locations for concealment in the front waistband area. Your overall consideration for the covert carry of the knife will be based upon the exceptional use of principles for cover, concealment, camouflage and conjunction with an active deception plan.

Students of this method will not only study the covert deployment and application of the knife which generally emphasizes action and movement in those natural blind spots outside the line of sight and attention of a targeted threat. Instruction in these methods will improve safety, protection and survival, enhance edged weapon awareness and improve your capacity to defeat those same threats.

Remember that you must always default to your particular agency guidelines, orders, and applicable laws for the use-of-deadly force. The firearm is generally speaking the primary instrument and means for delivery or application of lethal force for most agencies and departments. The application of lethal force by other means will often concern the exigent, emergency, or in extremis use of lethal force due to the implied necessity and constraints of a given situation.

While edged tools are not as effective a wounding agent as firearms, they are ubiquitous and commonplace. The Center for Disease Control surveillance of nonfatal violence-related injury shows that “cut/pierce” injuries are 6-7 times more prevalent than non-fatal gunshot injury. Globally, this vector remains the primary cause of intentional penetrating trauma and cause of casualty and fatality.

In terms of both frequency and severity, a significant part of the threat matrix you face involves the use of edged tools. Understanding the application of lethal force with an edged tool will not only increase your situational awareness of this threat and increase survivability but become another layer of your defense and provide increased force protection.

The history of covert knives shows that they are often sewn and glued sheathes inside seams and may also be further secured with ties, lanyards or clips. Today, Velcro applications and adhesives are used for sheath systems contained inside articles of clothing and accessories work to effectively secure the knife and reduce or eliminate observable movement of the tool.Remember that sewn and glued applications may restrict fast removal and abandonment of a tool when necessary.

Historically, the sewing of leather sheath systems to garments was especially common with clandestine tools worn in WWII by the Jedburghs, members of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), SOE (Special Operations Executive) and the BCRA (Bureau Central de Renseignements et d’Action).They were stitched, attached to buttons and sewn also to straps for limb carry, the most famous examples being lapel worn thumb daggers.


Covert knives have also been carried in body orifices, palmed in hand or concealed or camouflaged as ordinary items creating ‘cover’ for open carry in bags, boxes, containers, and reading materials. They have also been numerously camouflaged in a long list of objects as coins, keys, credit cards, pens, combs, and so on. A general awareness of these possibilities and a thorough understanding of carry methods is important to your survival. We must also remain aware of the possibility of external hides, caches, and emplacements in the operating environment, structures, and vehicles.


A current innovation and important work in the tradition of covert tools has been advanced by Curtis W. Koehler. Koehler began a personal quest to improve survivability with edged weapons and concealment systems in 1998. This journey has led him to study metallurgy and to experiment endlessly in a long period of trial and error which has led to fruition with a range of rapidly deployable and highly concealed knives and swords from behind the worn belt. He has received considerable attention and insider acclaim from elite US Law Enforcement units and the military SOF community for his work.

These unique tools are filling an important niche and are currently carried by career practitioners both here in the US and in hostile environments overseas. The daggers and sheathing systems created and advanced by Koehler originally came at the calling of an elite narcotics unit conducting regular undercover operations. The current designs were developed with specific input and guidance from that Narcotics Bureau.

His concealed belt sword system has since had service supporting force protection goals in the Central Asian theatre and Afghanistan (where it has been worn operationally by SOF members up to 18 hours a day). He has also received kudos for his efforts from now retired US FBI Special Agent Robert Taubert who was a germinal force in the development of FBI HRT and acted as that agency’s liaison for many US Special Operations units.

The covert tools and sheath systems advanced by Curtis meets the zero compromise criteria imposed by dedicated covert operations and meets professional standards for time critical deployment under emergency conditions. This system will reliably enable sub-second deployment of a knife under stress.

About the Author: Aaron Cunningham is the acting President of the International Tactical Training Association (ITTA) and a lifetime practitioner and noted instructor of edged weapon tactics and training. Mr. Curtis W. Koehler may be contacted at Note:

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