Executive Protection Specialists vs Bodyguards


Many people associate Executive Protection with being a Bodyguard. However, there is a difference between Bodyguards and Executive Protection Specialists. In fact, in 2018 I penned an article on this topic which appeared in Skillset Magazine (available here) in which I stated:


“Executive Protection Specialists, aka Bodyguards (a term they typically hate, by the way), are responsible for protecting the life, reputation, brand, and many times the family of the principal. Plain and simple. They are professionals who have undergone extensive training and vetting. They pride themselves on their professionalism and discretion. They’re highly skilled and experienced in conducting on-going threat assessments, identifying safety and security hazards, and handling the entourage.”


So, what is the difference between an Executive Protection (EP) Specialist and a Bodyguard? Unfortunately, one bad event which ends up in the media answers that question succinctly. Having a large, imposing, intimidating bodyguard opening your doors and pushing the crowd aside for you to pass through looks impressive, true EP requires skill, finesse, analytical skills, the ability to conduct risk assessments, knowledge of how to properly conduct advance work, and the capability to think on one’s feet in an ever-changing threat landscape


Step One - Risk Assessment


True EP Specialists understand that the assessment of potential risks determines the protection strategy. Specific risk assessment strategies and methodologies remain fairly guarded within the industry but, it is fair to say that a risk assessment identifies what could hurt the principal physically, what can harm the principal’s name/brand/reputation, what threats are realistic and probable, and what can be done to eliminate or at least mitigate the identified threats. I hazard a guess that the stereotypical “bodyguard” has not had that training or possess that expertise.


Be Aware of Specific Threats

Oftentimes, specific threats are lodged against the principal. An EP Specialist will continually be on the lookout for these specific threats. Any specific threats to the principal and/or the principal’s family must be analyzed to determine whether the “person of interest” who made the threat has the capability and opportunity to carry out the threat. Since many individuals who make direct threats via email, written correspondence, social media, or vocally in public forums do not carry through on the threat, actually assessing risk requires more than maintaining a laundry list of recorded threats. It requires proactive intelligence techniques and analytical ability to identify realistic possible threats.


Sometimes, specific threats come from the area you are operating or traveling in. Will you be in an area with a high violent crime rate? Will you be travelling on routes known to be vulnerable for car jackings or kidnapping attempts? Will you be in an area where your principal is very well known and his or her presence has been publicized? And, during your route reconnaissance (a topic which will be addressed in a later post), did you identify other safety and security threats along your travel route?


An EP Professional Will Never Embarrass or Allow the Principal to be Embarrassed


In August 2019, a Bodyguard for a prominent CNN personality was charged with assault after he forcibly removed a credentialed reporter from an event at which the principal was delivering a speech. Not a good look for the Bodyguard or the principal. Let’s put it this way – if you as an EP Specialist has put your principal in a position where they have to either condemn or defend your actions, then you have failed in your job.


What an EP Specialist Looks Like


In the article I referenced earlier, I list several things a prospective protectee should

look for in a professional protection specialist:


  • Highly trained in protective intelligence and risk assessments

  • Utilizes Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) techniques to constantly assess threats

  • Trained in mitigating safety and security risks to avoid dangerous situations

  • Calm demeanor and proficient in defusing tense situations

  • Will work diligently to save you from embarrassment or compromising situations

  • Has the ability to use force but also the discipline to escalate only to the level necessary and only when needed

This is sometimes a tall order and requires a certain level of training and professionalism.


The Ever-Changing Threat Landscape – Real World Example


As most good stories start out, let’s open with, “so, what happened was . . . “


It was someplace in Europe, during a time of widespread protests and civil unrest. I was assigned the task of conducting the route reconnaissance and site advances for a principal movement from the principal’s hotel to another location to conduct negotiations. Risk assessment? Done. Motorcade security plan? Done. Site advance? Completed. Route reconnaissance? Done. Report out to the entire EP team? Of course. All tasks completed less than 24 hours before movement.


Game day. We moved the principal from the hotel to the motorcade without incident and started toward the next location. And then, the real world kicked in. We received word that protesters had broken through the police line a quarter mile away and were approaching an intersection we had to pass through. Our threat picture had just changed in an instant.


I was fortunate that I was working with two other professional EP specialists. Suffice it to say, we analyzed our options, made some quick route changes, and were able to move our principal to the intended location without incident. We arrived safely at our destination and the principal was totally unaware there had been a potential problem. That is what EP Specialists do on a daily basis.

Discretion


The EP professional is discreet. Simply put, the true EP Specialist will never be quoted on TMZ, never post selfies on social media, never discuss what happens behind closed doors, and will never write a “tell all” book about life with clients. Bodyguards, on the other hand, well . . .


Headlines such as “Kim and Kanye’s ‘Fired’ Bodyguard Gives Inflammatory Tell-All Interview” (Vanity Fair, May 5, 2016); “Bodyguard Opens Up About Working With Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie” (Newsmax, December 18, 2020); and “Ellen Degeneres' Former Bodyguard Calls Her 'Cold' And 'Dehumanizing'” (msn.com May 5, 2020) are all too common and hurt the reputation of true EP professionals who honor discretion as one of the primary duties in the profession. Short of outright criminal behavior or physical harm to others, EP professionals focus on their job and do not seek the limelight by giving insider looks into their clients’ lives. Period.


In Summary


There is a difference between a Bodyguard and an EP Specialist. True EP Specialists pride themselves on their training and professionalism as opposed to how intimidating they can look and/or act. If you are a true EP professional, in most cases, when done correctly, no one will ever know your name except your protectee. If done right, you will never be in the limelight. When done professionally, your principal’s personal safety, family, brand, and reputation will be protected.


If you would like to know more about Executive Protection and Threat Assessments, reach out to us at contact@overwatchrisk.com.


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