The term executive protection (EP) has been very popular since the turn of the last century, especially in corporate circles. It is used to refer to specific and exclusive protective services aimed at crime deterrence, risk mitigation and management, and security in general.
The exact definition has taken on many meanings through years of misuse – both at the hands of amateurs and security professionals who have no idea what executive protection really entails. It became a misnomer because some of its practices and techniques are not limited to EP, but are applicable to anyone with a need for personal security.
Still, we can say that executive protection is a security programme specially designed around the specific lifestyle, environment, and family of the Principal. Sometimes called close protection, it includes practices and concepts such as:
• determination of actual and potential vulnerabilities,
• analysis, planning and preparation,
• implementation of a comprehensive security plan,
• advance security arrangements, and
• provision of a safe secure environment.
Simply put, it entails anticipating and preparing, as well as planning for any contingency that could put the Principal at risk. Therefore, the goal of Executive Protection is the removal of potentially harmful circumstances, with direct confrontation as a measure of last resort. Executive protection agents’ duty is to deter attacks, not to expose their Principals to danger.
A Brief Historical Overview
Executive protection as we know it today is a rather young service industry. It was born somewhere in the last four decades of the twentieth century. Specifically, in the 1970s, after several corporate and political kidnappings and terrorist attacks – like that of Richard Oetker, Patty Hearst or Aldo Moro, to name a few – companies began providing bodyguards to vulnerable executives, politicians and their families.
Soon enough, celebrities and other public figures recognised the increased need for protection specialists to keep them safe. The police simply could not provide the protection that they needed due to limitations in terms of manpower and funding. Also, depending on the jurisdiction, law enforcement faced a number of legal restrictions.
Another defining moment came with the onset of the Iranian Revolution, when a small but very significant change happened in the security business. An increasing number of Iranian expatriates immigrated to the USA.
Many of these were wealthy and influential people in their own country. They created a niche for protection specialists, who previously worked in agencies such as the Secret Service, FBI, U.S. Marshall’s Office, and founded businesses specialising in executive protection.
So, after the turbulent and violent seventies, executive protection outgrew the sweeper-mentality bodyguard or the martial arts trained bouncer. EP agents became highly professional and trained personal protection specialists.
The Need for Executive Protection
So, why do companies and high net-worth individuals need executive protection? In the simplest terms possible: to avoid and manage risks that threaten their lives, businesses and reputations. This is a very complex matter since threats and vulnerabilities are not “created equal.” There is no one-size-fits all solution.
A number of factors, circumstances and considerations enter into the calculation. However, when assessing risks, we can say that the goal is to provide answers and solutions to the following questions:
• What would be the consequences if a certain risk is realised and the Principal is harmed?
• What is the probability of that event happening?
• How to avoid that threat in the most effective manner possible?
A major company can suffer a number of negative consequences if, for instance, their CEO is harmed.
Firstly, of course, this concerns direct consequences to the CEO and their family – potentially this person can lose their life. Secondly, there is the impact that such an event would have on shareholder value and the financial interests of the company. Thirdly, an organisation’s reputation and competitiveness would be severely damaged since they are often directly related to the well-being of high-profile company members.
This means conducting risk assessments entails more than simply looking at actual threats. A number of factors such as income inequality, threats of terrorism, local crime rates – or traffic accidents, come into play.
Then, there are the celebrity or infamy elements to consider. The more spotlight a certain company or individual gets, the greater the likelihood of them attracting the attention of persons of interest – i.e., people who present a threat.