Risk assessment is a touchstone in every field of security, executive protection no less so than others. In considering risk to a principal, protective specialists must use good judgment, investigative resources, and other essential data, such as local contacts and media reports, to evaluate the potential threat to their client.
The art of effective protective intelligence is a challenging aspect of protective services. Since the U.S. Secret Service began its Exceptional Case Study Project more than a decade ago, it has been determined that there is no profile, background, or description that helps identify who will be an assassin.
Although some people who make threats may pose a real threat, usually they do not. But a key corollary, according to the Secret Service, is that those who actually pose a threat frequently do not issue formal threats. Thus, protection specialists must realize that attacks on principals are not typically preceded by threats. This fact makes continual risk assessment critical.
Risk assessment by the solo protection professional is the same as it is for multiple agents, except that lone professionals must always be cognizant of their individual capabilities and honestly assess their ability to be effective. The agent must simultaneously be dealing with the present threat environment and thinking several “moves” ahead, anticipating the opponent’s actions and evaluating the changing situation. The best agents role-play or visualize their route or assignment before going live with the principal so the environment dosen’t take them by surprise.
Do Your Homework
Dovetailing with risk assessment is the need to do as much work ahead of time as possible in terms of knowing the protectee’s agenda, and gathering information about locations, potential problems, available resources, and emergency response options.
The executive protection specialist must also know the protectee to properly assess risk and anticipate needs. Since every principal is unique, issues and events of their personal lives, personalities, businesses, professions, political persuasion, and financial standing all deserve thorough examination.
But where should the specialist draw the line between informed and intrusive? The answer is that, to provide effective service, the specialist needs to be able to show that the information sought is relevant and justifiable.
In my experience, most clients are amenable to providing all necessary information. Some may bristle or object, especially when the information relates to personal issues. Still, if those issues affect the risks to the protectee, the specialist should respectfully but firmly pursue that information.
Consider a case in which a male executive gets a phone call at home from a man who says, “You’ve ruined my life; I’m going to kill you.”
The specialist might start by looking at employees who have been recently fired, laid off, or otherwise hurt by company policies or actions. If that avenue and others don’t pan out, the specialist might pursue a more personal angle; in my experience, personal relationships are often at the root of such problems.
If the executive’s phone number is unlisted, the specialist might ask the principal how the person could have obtained the number.
Further probing could proceed like this: “I have to ask you a question, sir. Please don’t think of it as an accusation; we have to cover all the bases. We’re all human beings. Is there any reason you could think of why this person might have made this phone call? Even something that’s far-fetched, sir, like maybe a comment made toward someone that could have been considered untoward?” The specialist should encourage the principal to come clean so that the problem doesn’t fester.
In my experience, protectees usually understand the need to share information. But it helps to avoid being accusatory and to stress that you are getting the information for the protectee’s well-being.
Know the Environment
Of course, the physical, business, political and social environments in which protective services will be conducted will directly affect the protection specialist, and the specialist should attempt to ascertain ahead of time the types of environments that will be encountered and how to deal with them.
For instance, working for the chairman of a multinational corporation who travels exclusively on private aircraft with administrative personnel and members of the executive staff is far different than working for the president of a national corporation who travels on commercial aircraft and without staff. An assignment with a major political figure in the throes of a campaign poses entirely different risks.
Be it the chairman or the politician, either assignment poses challenges in coordinating and facilitating protective services during travel, at the hotel, on public streets, during leisure activities, and at business functions. In each of the vastly different environments different protection measures are emphasized.
For instance, in a leisure situation, protection measures typically focus on potential accidents. If the principal goes hunting with a group, the protection specialist should ask the person organizing the hunt about the experience of the shooters, control of the ammunition, the reputation for carelessness or safety of the hunters, the existence of first aid and medical transport, and so on. If one hunter has a reputation for occasional carelessness, the specialist would likely steer the principal away from that person, to keep him or her further from harm’s way.
In general, one-on-one protection works best in controlled environments such as private office buildings with limited access and parking. Shopping malls, public theaters, restaurants, and sporting venues, pose greater challenges. The lone protection specialist should try to maximize the use of controlled environments.
Of course, operating as a lone protection specialist in open environments among large groups of people is at times unavoidable. The specialist should seek to minimize threats in those cases. That can be done in some cases by handling as many of the arrangements as possible. Say a principal visiting New York wants to attend a Yankees game. The protection professional must secure tickets, a place to park, and security for the client’s vehicle. The professional should also scout the restrooms and concessions for the principal. Doing so will smooth the way for the protectee, while reducing the potential risk.
It’s advisable, of course, to avoid crowds, so it’s best to leave before the game ends or after the crowd clears. A good approach is to suggest the latter to the client who wants to see the whole game, but make staying at the event a pleasure rather than an imposition. For example, the protection professional might check whether the team owner or any other VIPs are present and can meet with the principal while he or she waits for the crowd to disperse.
The best way to keep up with changing tasks and itineraries is to try to stay ahead of them. For example, a good executive protection specialist filters pertinent information gained from the principal’s actions and conversations and plans accordingly.
A specialist might hear the principal on the phone trying to slip an out-of-town meeting into the daily itinerary. The proactive protection specialist will alert the principal’s travel planner to make tentative arrangements for flights, a car, accommodations, and anything else that might be necessary or helpful.
This may seem like secretarial work, but juggling arrangements is an integral part of protection. Planning and logistics—determining where the principal will be and when and how he or she will get there and back—serve the protective function at least as much as a specialist’s physical presence.