Hard Lessons Learned in Executive Protection
The United States recently mourned the 50th anniversary of the killing of a President and executive protection specialists were also reminded of some hard lessons learned.
In the 50 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the U.S. Secret Service took the lessons of that tragedy to heart and vowed to never repeat them. Among the changes to procedure was the elimination of the open limousine for motorcades. While this change may seem like a “no-brainer”, it was not as simple for the secret service to demand as it may appear.
Presidents, dignitaries, and all other politicians earn far more political capital when they can meet the people they serve up close and personal instead of being on the other side of a television screen. This was as true, maybe even more so, 50 years ago as it is today. However, up close and personal to a crowd full of possible attackers is a security nightmare.
Executive Protection Requirements Need to Balance With Politics
For better or for worse, the 1963 murder of JFK gave the Secret Service needed leverage with the White House political operatives. Executive protection was given a higher priority and security personnel were able to become more proactive in dealing with potential threats. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that it took such a terrible incident to highlight the need for Presidential security.
As any executive protection or other security professional will attest, it often takes an incident for most clients to really see the need for security and balance it with costs and politics.
The Kennedy example is a valuable lesson for any professional in executive protection services: often the protected individual or family is unaware of the measures necessary to ensure their safety. In this blissful ignorance, they may push back when inconvenient or uncomfortable circumstances might be imposed. For example, video surveillance or the presence of security personnel may impinge on family privacy. Likewise, sweeping a room for explosive devices or unauthorized recorders could delay a busy executive’s board meeting or social function.
One of the duties of a good executive protection detail leader or other security professional is to educate clients about the threats they face, and how security procedures reduce those risks. In some cases, this may take some rationalization where the detail leader makes the client aware of the worst case scenario. This is done to create some level of what many in the security industry call “healthy paranoia”.
Executive Protection Agents Need to Keep Up with Trends In Technology and Focus on Intelligence
Trends over the past decades further inform modern security providers about the need for preventive, as well as reactive, designs for those high-profile targets in their charge. Knowing about the client and his or her lifestyle is a crucial first component. Whereas in JFK’s day, telephone usage meant land lines exclusively, contemporary cellular devices give executives instant access to partners and subordinates…but can also inadvertently reveal conversations and whereabouts to potential predators. Changes in technology and culture present new threats and challenges for the Secret Service and other executive protection services with high-profile clients.
On the flip side, cell phones can also be used to remotely detonate bombs, as in the case of the Boston Marathon bombing in April of 2013. Executive protection services must install and review encryption software in phones, laptops and other mobile devices on a regular basis. Conversely, even today security professionals are following the progress of military research related to technology that can identify unauthorized cell phones at a given location.
Technology aside, protectors need up to the minute intelligence if they are to execute their tasks effectively. This means access to their clients’ social networks and Rolodex; research on their neighbors, colleagues and competitors; and an understanding of the client’s significance and the consequences of untimely demise. Video cameras, house alarms and human shields can only go so far without a thorough knowledge of the threat. As the threat grows, so too must the knowledge.
Executive protection specialists can learn many lessons from the JFK assassination.
Precision Risk Management Group specializes in corporate executive protection services.