Recently, a young lady, new in the industry, raised a question in a social platform questioning the practice of, or if it is acceptable for, people in our industry dropping clients’ names in public. Surprisingly, many people who took part in the thread commented saying that they don’t find anything wrong with it. Some of them even named their own old clients. Some were trying to justify it by saying they don’t work for that specific client anymore, they didn’t reveal anything personal about the client, they have the client’s approval to post that picture or name the client, their client is super famous and paparazzi are always getting pictures of them together so why hide it. Essentially, they are good guys and how dare we criticize people we don’t know. These were a number of the comments from individuals who either work in the security industry as operatives or own companies and hire agents to represent them.
Now, we all know that confidentiality has been a hot topic that raises many debates every time it’s laid on the table. And we see the ever increasing need to have discussions about it nowadays, more than ever, due to the internet and the influence of social media. Merely saying that it is wrong to post a picture or name your client on public does not remotely infer that we are jealous of the clientele you have, it is certainly not because we want to talk bad about you or because we want to look better. The primary reason for it being discussed as wrong goes all the way back to the very basics on Risk Assessment and Dynamic Risk Assessment. Those who haven’t had the opportunity to be taught these topics in one of their EP schools should truly seek continuing education on it and those who fail to remember their training on how it can drastically affect client’s safety, need to go back and re study.
For a moment, let’s talk about risk factors and who may be after your client: Media representatives (journalists, paparazzi), stalkers, unhappy former employees, former wives, girlfriends, business associates, business antagonists, people he owes money to, kidnappers and the list can go endlessly on so, for brevity’s sake, let’s say anyone who may want to harm him/her in any way, shape or form. That being stated, the person who is standing directly between that client and all these risk factors is you, and anyone who works in the security detail. By linking your name or putting an ID on the person who is standing next to that client in the picture frame is a risk by itself. How so? We will explain later.
Now, let’s address some of the individuals who have stated that these are acceptable practices. Confidentiality is quite always associated with the less than desirable actions and events that occur during a detail, “What happens on the detail, stays on the detail” sort of thing. We have a tendency to become complacent with many other aspects of the more pleasant, day to day occurrences, not feeling that they are of any importance in the overall aspect of security. One could not be more mistaken. Confidentiality is about ANYTHING that involves your client and their life, and whoever was involved or interacted with the security detail. It entails the complete protection of any/all kinds of information that someone might gain access to, who may want to harm him in some way, obtain something to use against him, or even harm his reputation.
How long must I maintain this confidentiality? Well, just because you worked for someone in the past doesn’t mean you can or should discuss any details about them or the fact you worked for them formerly. Having worked for someone means you now know critical information regarding their security detail, estate security, what kind of vehicles are used, how many people work for them, what are the skill sets of the current agents (basically how good they are), if they have any issues or weaknesses (divorces, custody battles, use of drugs and alcohol, illegal affairs …), etc. You also know where the client likes to “hang out”, where his good friends live, his personal family, and most importantly, you are aware of all the security ‘’gaps’’ and security protocols….these tiny gaps? We write about them in our reports and address them to our supervisors and most of the time no one cares to take them into consideration because of the budget, or because they don’t want to ‘’bother’’ the clients routine or bring inconvenience to their daily life. So the complacent prefer not to change anything, and most of us have walked in security details where protocols (even radio call signs) haven’t been changed for years. So, having worked for someone in the past, even if you are no longer employed there now, doesn’t make it acceptable to talk about it, because you are in possession of important information that may harm or put anyone who worked for that client in a position to be blackmailed or harmed.
“I have client’s approval to get a picture with him and even post it”. Let’s admit it, there is nothing more satisfying in our profession than to have a happy client who is OK with having a picture together. Yes, you can take that picture of the two of you, but for your own personal photo album if you like to keep one of those…Never to post in public. The client may be OK with it, but remember, the client hired YOU to protect THEM. They don’t know about security procedures and risk factors, and if you ask for a picture, they may think it is safe. You, however, as the security professional, the trained and educated one, must think and breath ‘’security’’. You alone are the one whose acts must always take into consideration the client’s and team’s safety.
Many inexperienced agents are misled to believe that since paparazzi are after their client, their face is all over the media so why not post a picture? Well, the simple answer is, your face may be in those pictures, but you are just a face. A face doesn’t give an ID to that person standing next to your client, however, posting anywhere on the internet or in any type of social media platform absolutely does. So again, you’re putting a name with a face of the person who guards that client and thus presenting possible access to the client or their lives.
And to those who say we shouldn’t criticize someone we don’t know in person, please understand that you are critiqued for everything that potentially shows your professional attitude and performance. “Perception is reality” is more critical than you think. And for something like this, it only takes a misspoken statement in an interview or your personal opinion on social media. You are not necessarily judged if you are a good family person or a good friend. Someone must know you personally to have an opinion on those matters. But when it surrounds work, what you post, how you comment, and your professional behavior will be criticized and this fact spares no one.
In our line of work, we are the ones who must think and prepare for all threats and take needed measures to prevent worst case scenarios. Depending on who your client is (or was) talking about them doesn’t necessarily cause life threatening harm, but it can do damage in many other forms, which you as their security (past and present) must always protect them from, keeping them safe at all times. It may also harm anyone who worked along with you. Just think for a moment…If someone is threatening your child, blackmailing you or threatening someone you love, would you still be able to remain quiet, hold the information and not reveal what you know about that client? There is blackmail, extortion and kidnappings that are never reported in the news. Predators will go after the ‘’weak’’ target…Showing that there are any weaknesses and that client is most likely a candidate.
The companies who have the biggest clients are not known to most of us and they most certainly don’t go by ‘’tacticool’’ logos or brand names. These companies use strict NDAs, and they are critical of how you carry yourself on social media platforms and some will even forbid you from having any significant social media presence. NDAs are there for a good reason, mostly to protect any/all the information you will gain while working for the client. There are many of our colleagues who work for HNW and UHNW individuals and you will never know their names. For example, you’ll never see anyone from some of Forbes Top 100 security teams ever mention where they work or for whom they provide protection services.
Where you work, or who you have worked for doesn’t say who you are as a professional, or how proficient you are. We have seen excellent professionals working for great clients and less than deserving individuals working for them as well. The name of your client or his social/celebrity status is not related to the level of your success by any means. Each detail has it’s own unique aspects. Consider the actual threat levels, the intricate advances required, the planning and realtime decisions that must be constantly made on the move. It’s NOT about you…Never was, never will be. It’s all about the client and the operational professionalism you and your team provide.
Most of confidentiality issues come from people who have done celebrity protection. Rarely, if at all, will we see it with anyone who runs corporate security details, or works for foreign dignitaries or politicians. We all probably know a bad professional who said yes to a low paying job just to get that chance and get pictured next to a celebrity, but at the end of the day, you should measure your success by the fact you are still working as an EPO full time, it is your main income, you bring enough money home to your family and you are keeping your client and your team happy and safe.
It is up to us, the trained and educated security professionals, to identify a possible risk and minimize the threat level. Name-dropping our clients or unneeded selfies won’t make it any easier, and it always adds more risks. There are many colleagues, who think it is not a big thing naming or talking about your clients, but that becomes a liability and you yourself then become a liability as well. Tomorrow your work application may be rejected because someone saw how quick you talk publicly about your clients. You will find yourself passed over for another applicant who can remain quiet, over the simple fact that you can’t keep your ego aside. And you will always wonder why they didn’t hire someone like you who has more work experience and more tactical skills. The truth is, there are many companies who do truly care about confidentiality, and they not only see it as an ethical threat, but as a very strict part of their professional code of conduct.
Think twice before you name your clients or post that picture on public… it may very well leave you out of the loop!
Denida Zinxhiria Grow
Founder & CEO
Athena Worldwide LLC
I haven’t written in a long time, so I thought to say goodbye to this Year with an old topic. The real world of Executive Protection with all its truths and myths.
Many newcomers in the profession have a completely different idea of what the profession is, based on what they have heard or what Hollywood tells them it is. This lack of “truth” either leaves them disappointed or leaves them vulnerable to making mistakes while on duty.
It is common in our industry to see many of our colleagues posting pictures on the internet social media sites of “selfies” taken in first class airline seats or in the client’s private jet. More selfies show them with their feet up on a suitcase claiming ‘’another flight’’, or posting from 5 and 6 star hotel rooms or from the finer restaurants, or next to a limousine parked next to a jet.
The reality is that the majorities of these pictures are either staged or were taken while not actually working a security detail. I have seen colleagues, ask or even offer to pay to stand next to a private jet. They put on their best 100 dollar suit, shiny 30 dollar Timex watch and 12 dollar dark sunglasses and “pose” next to someone else’s 10 million dollar jet. And I have seen aircraft tail numbers show up in these photos and for fun, ran the numbers, located the owners, and even tracked the flights.
The reality is anyone can pose anywhere and anytime and make it look like they are working. Anyone can ask a limo driver to take a picture of them next to that limo. When you are in such dire need to brag about your job to others that you put your client’s health and safety at risk, who in our industry would ever work with you or recommend you to others?
If I could only call out the people I know who were on vacations with their families and they post pictures pretending to be on a detail. I even know people who traveled to third world countries to meet their ‘’online’’ girlfriend or boyfriend and they posted pictures as working a detail in those countries.
The reality is, when you work for someone, it is rare to have a first class airline seat next to them on a 6 hour flight. Most clients, no matter how wealthy they are will book you an economy seat. Yes, there are a few clients who will book first class for their CPOs but to qualify to work for these clients you must already be well established in the industry and have a plethora of industry history and references.
The reality is that when you work with a well-trained team, you will work on rotations and schedules that allow for only two things: keeping the client safe and getting to bed to get enough sleep to be able to do it again tomorrow. Anyone who has the time to ‘’enjoy’’ taking pictures has probably too much time on their hands and maybe isn’t working at all. And if you are working alone, you cannot spare the laps in attention to your client to focus on yourself.
I have been in rotations where after work I was so tired that I didn’t have the energy or interest to call my family. This is usually due to working long shifts alone which is a situation worth discussing in another article.
The reality is when your client travels, they may be working or on vacation but if you travel with them, you are always working. You will always get less sleep than your client. When they finally retire for the evening, you are up another few hours planning and preparing for the next day. When they wake, it might be because you are responsible for waking them, which means you are up a couple of hours before them.
While working, you have to focus on your client’s needs. Finding time to eat and go to the bathroom is not your client’s responsibility or even on their mind. If you want to eat, you have to find your own way to do it quickly. If you need to empty your bladder, you have to leave sight of your client and return quickly. If it is not safe to leave your client, then you choose to either hold it, or make other arrangement. This is hard enough as a male but as a female, it is nearly impossible to improvise. Again, a subject for future articles.
The reality is you will need to find time to eat, sleep, shower, go to the bathroom, write reports, call your family, pay your bills, clean your clothes, charge your equipment batteries, train, stretch, exercise, and accomplish other normal life tasks and all outside of the client’s view.
You will find yourself doing things you wouldn’t do in your personal life, because you have to adapt to your client’s activities. And you will need to be an expert in your client’s extracurricular activities to enable you to not just accompany them but to identify threats to their safety. Riding elephants or horses, scuba diving, skydiving, hunting, mountain biking… And if you know you are not qualified, learn when to partner with or hire your own replacement for the activity.
You will find yourself in presence of heated family conversations and you are asked to take a side.You know its unprofessional to choose a side and you have to find a diplomatic answer within seconds. You will see behaviors and listen to words that will challenge your own personal and professional ethics. And again you will adapt or fail.
You will find yourself in challenging environments too. (I developed asthma working in Mumbai), you may get food or water poisoning, malaria, and even get worms from food.
You will have to work with people who have no training or they have been trained differently than you. Some “professionals” in our industry are great with weapons or driving but have no concept of controlling body odor. They speak 4 languages but can’t drive a car, they can cook any meal out of any cookbook but can’t provide first-aid on an insect bite or gunshot wound.
The reality is that people who come from different cultures and have different perspectives regarding punctuality, performance of their duties, and the common traits of professionalism have no clue that every decision they make from their clothing, language skills, hygiene habits and skill are all measured by the clients who would hire them.
The reality is that true professionals will not let themselves be photographed by others and certainly would never photograph themselves while working. And they will not want to work with those who do.
Professionals will know the difference between ethics and etiquette and follow the rules of each. Doing anything to compromise your client’s business or personal privacy is not just a mistake, it is a catastrophic attack on my industry and my ability to earn a living in it. I will continue to counter these attacks with my articles.
Professionals will know how to dress for any occasion their clients may invite them into and know how to negotiate with the client to avoid unsafe activities and conditions.
Professionals will know how to do one-hundred things in the company of their client that will never be acknowledged or appreciated and a thousand things near their client that will never be seen or known.
The reality is if you seek recognition in this industry for the function you are being paid to perform, you are not a true professional and have no business in the Executive Protection Industry. You will be looked upon as a cancer to those of us who remain silent and invisible while in the company of our clients.
Founder & CEO
Athena Worldwide LLC
Many of us in the security and protection industry have heard the term ‘’situational awareness’’, however, few understand its full meaning or the complexities of its components. This may help.
First, to explain the definition of the term situational awareness we will use Endsley’s definition established in 1999:
Situational Awareness is “the perception of the elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning and the projection of their status in the near future” and is divided into three levels:
Level 1- Perception of the elements in the environment.
Level 2- Comprehension of the current situation.
Level 3- Projection of future status.
Regardless of your profession, it is vital to consider situational awareness as your most valuable instinct. It is an instinct because you are born with it. When the hair on the back of your neck stands up when you hear a dog growling behind you, or you suddenly find yourself surrounded by rain clouds… Instinct. When you turn and throw a stone at the dog to avoid being bitten or run inside the house to keep from getting wet…Skill
How effectively you use your instinct to protect yourself is a skill you must develop to survive in any environment.
I have routinely been asked if I can teach ‘’situational awareness’’. I usually answer this question with a question;
Are you aware of your own ability to apply your knowledge and skill to your surroundings, adapt to changes in the conditions affecting your environment, or recognize when you are not capable of these?
More simply, I can teach the theory of “Situational Awareness” but are you capable of combining and applying what you learn with your own existing natural instinct?
Some people can orient themselves easily to their environment and remain aware of activity affecting it while remaining ready to adapt to changes in it. Others cannot pay attention to the most obvious things around them due to distractions or even denial, or an inability to recognize environmental characteristics which could threaten their security or safety. Cellphones, intense conversation with others, overly noisy environments, darkness, heavy crowds, high crime areas, unstable governments… the list is endless, but all add to an inability to focus your senses on conditions which could mask specific threats.
After many years in the business I am conditioned to think as a security professional, even when not working. Taking my niece to school, jogging, shopping, or traveling on vacation or to work, I study my routes, weather, social and political activity, and even laws or rules which could affect my movement. There is no difference between when I am working and when I am not. There are few times when I completely ‘’shut down’’ or relax. I notice people who might be watching me, those lingering or loitering with no purpose, animal activity or behavior (because they react to things humans can’t hear or see), and I look for changes in weather, know what time it will be getting dark in July versus December and know what time the highway will be jammed with traffic. In addition to these, I always know what time it is. I study which way a door opens, closest exits, whether tables are bolted to the floor in a restaurant, and if I can sit and see the door without being directly in front of it. I look for people’s reactions when the Police walk in and if the girl jogging by my apartment has made more than one pass in the last 20 minutes.
Factors that can negatively affect your situational awareness:
Focusing too much on one source of information
Such as environmental factors or technology and gadgets.
There is a reason some in our line of work consider routine activities to be as deadly as a bullet. Habits form complacency which can lead to a numbing of the senses. You must remain alert at all times.
Experienced supervisors and team leaders know well that overworking your operatives can be very dangerous for your operation and your clients. An operative who is required to work 16 hours or more will lose focus and energy and attention to details will suffer. Awareness of environmental factors affecting situational awareness as well as reaction times and cognitive thinking will suffer. Personally, I do not allow any of my operatives to work more than 10 hours in a day and insist that they be given the appropriate time to rest.
Psychological factors/Stress/Personal Problems
Any of these can affect your ability to gather and process information. You must know how to identify things which can negatively influence your ability to properly manage stress and emotional challenges.
Being physically ill or in pain, or on medication will affect operational ability and your situational awareness.
Preconceptions and misinterpreting
People tend to try matching information to specific ideas rather than having all the parameters and the whole idea of what is going on. This happens with new practitioners as well as overworked veterans. Misconceptions of the protection industry by Hollywood and inaccurate reporting by the news media are also to blame for preconceptions. Misinterpreting information from your environment will give you false situational awareness, which will lead you to taking incorrect or harmful actions that will put your and your principal’s safety in jeopardy.
Lack of proper training
Basic training is not enough. being repetitively trained in different scenarios will enable you to take the correct actions when a situation/threat occurs in real life. When you are trained in different scenarios, you will be more likely to know what a situation looks like and have an appropriate response to deal with it.
A Situational Awareness checklist
- Ambiguous information
Do you have information from two or more sources that do not agree?
Are you uncertain or uneasy about a situation?
- Primary duties
Are all team members in their respective places and performing their assigned functions?
- See and avoid
Is there too much heads-down time without looking around? is your vision/hearing occupied by other distractions?
Are you focused on any one task? Do you know what time it is?
Have you heard or made any vague or incomplete statements?
Have you failed to resolve any discrepancies or contradictory information?
Have you lost your orientation of your current position to exits, safe spaces?
In your effort to bring back the level of your situational awareness you can practice the following:
- Train yourself with different scenarios in different environments. Use the ‘’what if’’ method so you avoid any surprises.
- Gather as much information you can. Use all available resources, contacts, tools.
- Scan your environment always. Don’t focus only on small details but also stay focused on the bigger picture. Each must be considered and evaluated equally.
- Plan ahead. Study the environment adapt to changes.
- Do not assume. This leads to misinterpreting information and the situation resulting in incorrect actions.
- Watch movies or television shows and look for fallacies in the script, make-up, wardrobe, scenery, technical subject matter accuracy and other things to test your attention to detail.
Situational Awareness involves a constant study of all things in your environment that can have an effect on it, including you.
Founder & CEO
Athena Worldwide LLC
By Andreas Venetis
Founder & CEO
Venetis Consulting & Training Services
In 1989, the FBI had arrested a person for espionage against the USA. After a large number of interrogations, the investigators could not get any information about his possible partners. “They tried several times to persuade, by citing his patriotic and humanistic feelings – that he could save many human lives – but they didn’t get any extra information about his partners. At the end of the interrogations, they decided to make a last attempt through the use of body language. “They put names of possible partners on 13-centimetre tabs. In each tab that showed him (total 32 to 33), they asked him to tell them in general what he knows about each individual.
They knew for sure that in the past he had been associated with them professionally and they assumed one of them might have also been his partner in this case of espionage. During the interrogation process, they weren’t paying any significant attention to his verbal answers, since they had not been able to get any information from his words. But, they focused observing his facial expressions.
They observed that while they showed him two specific names, on the tabs, his eyes first opened wide, then through the contractions of the eyelids they diminished, and finally his pupils looked elsewhere as if he felt a threat from these two names. This could be interpreted maybe because they had threatened to kill him if he ever spoke about them. In a subsequent investigation of these two individuals, they admitted their participation in the espionage case. «From the unconscious contractions of the suspect’s eyelids and eyes, which happened as a reflex, independently of his will (through the limbic system, especially the tonsil), led to the elucidation of a national security case for the USA (Navarro, 2007, p. 173)
Οn the contrary, the cerebral cortex plays the basic role in all brain functions, such as memory, attention, perception, thoughts, language, and consciousness helps us consciously check and decide what to say. Eyelid contractions, which cover part of the eyeball, are automatically controlled by the amygdala.
When we see something that interests us, the eyelids extend upward and the eyes open wide; when we do not want to see something or we do not like what we see, the eyelids twist and the eyes “diminish”. When we do not want to see something, our pupils turn elsewhere (sometimes the whole head) or even close our eyes – for example, in the incident of a terrible accident or during a horrible spectacle. All of those become “reflex”, spontaneous and unconscious, coming from the amygdala. An example of amygdala-function, from which someone can get important information, is a case of espionage reported by writer Joe Navarro during his service with the FBI (Navarro, 2007, p. 22)
During the incidents, I faced while I was working as the security director at a Casino, the aversion of gaze was the first thing someone did when I showed him the item he had stolen. There was a series of soothing moves that followed and, at the end, the most obvious movement was the excessive look in the eyes with the palms open, a move that states “I have nothing to hide”, as the suspect was trying to convince me that he had not steal it.
In a case where an object of high value was stolen by a member of the staff (and while there were indications, but not cameras evidence), during my conversation with the suspect, I noticed that she constantly had her fingers braided with each other, which is a classic stress indication, as it will be discussed in the following chapters. She quite often covered her neck area with her hand – a characteristic women’s move when they feel insecure, threatened or stressed, and at the same time she had a great difficulty in breathing, while she was saying: “I didn’t steal it” (all the above-described moves are typical stress indications).
However, her verbal denial was not accompanied at the same time by the negative movement of the head, as it is customary. Instead, she first said “no”, without beckoning at the same time, as it is normally expected; and then, at the end of her verbal denial, she made the negative head move. In short, what she was saying verbally in relation to what her body was saying was asynchronous. To me, this was a strong indication that something wasn’t right. After fifteen (15) minutes of conversation, she admitted that she had stolen it. Stress, whether you are a spy, a thief, or an aspiring assassin, is expressed in a similar way by all people. And this is because we are biological human beings with the same internal organs and biological functions. The only thing that changes is the frequency of the movements, depending on the stress degree someone has, but also on the sex (if one is male or female).
***The article is a small part of my Thesis on ”The contribution of body language in dealing with terrorism and crime: A comparative analysis of international cases” and the picture used for the article is from the incident taken one min before the assassination of the Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov***
Venetis Consulting & Training Services
How many times throughout history has an entire army successfully protected their ruler from repeated assassinations, attacks from foreign armies and attempted coups, only to allow their leader to be killed by a close and trusted aide?
When a decision is made to provide security for a principal, (regardless of who makes the decision), the process eventually involves a professional security “expert” providing an assessment of risk and liability exposure and offering some discussion using impressive terms and references to “concentric rings of security”, (Which by the way is not an effective way to separate risk exposures). After a couple of weeks of planning, interviews, route studies, communications enhancements and team coordination exercises, the new team is ready.
Every contingency in place and every family and household staff member investigated and interviewed, the Principal is safe… Except for the giant hole in the plan that didn’t address the maid’s addiction to gossip or the butler’s gambling habits or the House Manager’s jealousy of anyone who is closer to the Principal that he is. Additionally, the Principal’s wife was never been coached on carrying a smaller handbag, or dressing down when shopping or wearing shoes she could run in and the nanny didn’t have a clue about how to avoid exposure to risks in public or how to identify and use improvised weapons to defend her charge.
Nobody considered the more reasonable expectation of teaching the family and staff to read the environment, recognize potential risks to the Principal or household, avoid the risk and properly communicate the conditions to the security team. The Athena Academy created and hosts the NannyGuards program to address the training needs of the domestic staff. The program is so effective that even Principals and their spouses are attending the classes with members of their staffs.
Think this is too much? Try asking yourself if you are aware of how much of your principal’s information is available to family members, staff and friends, employees, clients, service people and social event attendees.
Valuable and sensitive information about the Principal’s personal life, movement, business related details, finances, health, and various other exposures are all at risk of disclosure by anyone who might benefit from doing so. Even the best security team can’t control all the exposures, but recognizing that a well-trained staff and supportive family can lessen the risk of exposure by recognizing the signs of someone with the means and willingness to take advantage of their knowledge of the Principal.
Another important consideration is that in many cases, the protective team or individual Close Protection Operative is not part of the family and therefore required to live outside the Principal’s home resulting in not only being out of reach but out of earshot of domestic conversation.
Lastly, a maid, butler, cook, nanny, or driver can inadvertently sabotage an otherwise perfect security plan with the click of a mouse or the tap of a cellphone. Social media enables the most innocent or mundane photograph or statement to compromise the Principal’s safety or security.
Photographs can show not only addresses, clothing styles, identifying tattoos, license plates, and trends or habits but through analysis of the image, can identify geo-tag locations and times and dates of photographs. Proper vetting of the staff is only part of the security equation.
There must be training of the staff and even family members specific to risk exposure and risk mitigation. And when setting up your “concentric rings” of security, don’t forget to look in the center of the smallest ring for the first exposure; the Principals themselves.
Founder & CEO
John R. Lehman
Athena Worldwide LLC