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 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 of 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 the 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 client’s 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 the 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 clients, 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 the 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 are 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 its 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 the 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 the 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
Over the last 10 years, I have written a few hundred articles and granted interviews related to protective work within our industry. I have almost always addressed topics of interest from the perspective of a Close Protection Operative or directed advice or opinions toward the CPO.
As threats change with the times, the topics of discussion must change and occasionally we have to address an old topic from a fresh perspective. This article is directed to the security company Owner or Manager and addresses a more mundane yet equally important topic: INTEGRITY.
What many company owners and managers will tell you they are looking for when hiring someone to work for them (and represent their companies), is loyalty, dedication, hard-working, punctual, positive attitude, team player, ethical, honest, law abiding, professional. It shouldn’t be surprising but many employees are looking for the same qualities in a company’s top leaders.
Most of us as Managers, CEO’s, CFO’s, COO’s, or other Owners fail to remember that when our company is awarded a contract and we hire people to work for us, our organization’s integrity is judged by, and dependent upon our employees. So as important as they are to us, why did they suddenly resign?
Most successful protection organizations are managed by company Owners, Managers or CEOs who have been operatives at some point in their careers, so it should be hard to understand how they would neglect their employees, but it does happen all the times, and I do understand.
Below I will try to point out some issues that allow for a toxic work environment for both employers and employees which lead to turn over and poor loyalty.
Each company has its own vision and goal. The question is: are you as the creator or guardian of that vision as loyal to it today as you were on day one? Are you loyal to the people who work for you, to what your company represents, to the profession? Or are you ‘’bending’’ your own work ethic or clouding your company’s vision for that monthly check? Great operatives sometimes work for organizations that have cut corners, lagged behind in paying their employees, failed to support their employees, siding instead with the client, and forcing employees to quit before it was time to give them a raise. If you think that your employees won’t quit and inform everyone they know (including your competitors), about your conduct, you are wrong.
Are you on time with your responsibilities toward the people that work for you? Are they getting paid for their working hours/days expenses and benefits on time? “I HAVEN’T BEEN PAID BY THE CLIENT YET” is not an excuse for not paying your operatives on time. Operating a business and hiring people means you have a specific amount of capitol you must set aside to insure payroll. Failing to achieve payroll independence probably means you are mismanaging your profits and maybe your company. Do you return phone calls promptly? Do you promise performance raises at 6 months of employment and then wait for the employee to beg you for it at 7 months?
Are you honest regarding employment contracts? There are companies who practice “Shadow Contracting”, which uses two sets of terms: one for the clients and one for the operatives. The difference between the two are the services promised to the client within the terms of service and what the operative believes they are signing up for in pay, working conditions, risk and support. In most cases, the client is unaware of this.
Additionally, when you hire a CPO, you informed them about the initial threat assessment, so until they get their foot in the door and deal in real time with the client and his environment and do their own assessment they have to rely on what you know. As we know, in our line of work, the threat level is, in part, what sets the cost for our services. Some organizations will not inform an operative of the real threat level in order to pay the operative less.
Are you a law abiding professional? Unfortunately we have seen people with criminal records running security businesses or Managers who don’t mind hiring employees who have prior problems with the law or regulatory authorities, who add them to their company administration or to their CP teams.
These decisions initially affect the CP effort but quickly destroy the trust and loyalty in the organization as a whole and eventually the Client relationship.
Are you a team player? I have heard the phrase “I want you to see our company as your family”, many times. This is a hollow statement because:
- They already have a family.
- They are usually under a contract with a time limit
- They will never feel like family when your family and friends are in all of the key positions or in charge of the operations.
As a business owner, manager or CEO you have to think ahead and take care of your people. Some contracts require assignments in distant cities or other countries. Those people, who work for you, protect your client and basically make money for you and are away from their homes and families, possibly in a different culture, unfriendly country or in a domestic environment which tests their patience, fidelity, fitness and temperament. Are you focusing on what the CP needs to succeed 20 or 30 or 60 or 90 days into their assignment? Are you watching for complacency and prepared to replace or rotate your CPO’s if complacency or boredom becomes apparent? Did you remember to add this possibility in the client’s contract and explain that the CPO the client starts with may not be the one they end up with?
Do you regularly check to insure that your CPO’s do not exceed 10 hours a day in service and that they receive proper time for rest or rehabilitation or training or fitness? Did you put these terms into the contract? Did you secure a retainer?
Recently, I was made aware of a female CPO that took an assignment in a country she had not worked in before. She took the assignment with a signed contract which she was awarded because of her experience working with and protecting children. She was promised a weekly bi-weekly paycheck, time off, 10 hour days, clothing, food, lodging, travel and other allowance “reimbursements” and was furnished equipment. Within 30 days, she was behind 2 paychecks, out of personal money due to not being reimbursed, was working 18 hours a day, was being berated daily by the client’s wife, not allowed to discipline or correct a spoiled child and was not accustomed to the local exotic diet which was her only source of food, resulting in her being sick and under nourished much of the time she was in the country. Additionally, she was not able to leave once she decided to do so and had to work an additional 4 months before finally being paid an adequate amount of money to allow her to “escape”. She has not yet been paid the balance of what is owed her and has no legal means of demanding or recovering her earnings. The company is still in business and continues its practices. It has no loyalty and the internet is now peppered with negative comments about it.
If you see fallacies in your corporate hiring and management practices or are experiencing a high turnover in CPO’s or your management staff, spend some money on a private consultant. They can evaluate your practices for far less than what you are losing in lost contracts and overtime or training costs due to employee turn-over. Having the right people working for your company and stay with you for a long time is the best investment you can do.
End f the day, while you are running your own security firm take some time to remember where you came from and guard your reputation within the industry.
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Many people seem to have a confusion about what a CPO is. Because is one of the professions that doesn’t have specific standards to follow, unfortunately there many non professionals who are giving the bad image in our industry.
A Close Protection Operative is:
– The person who is in charge to protect his/her client’s life and interest.
– Have gone through specific Close Protection Training, so be aware of ex-law enforcement personnel, ex-military, ex-federal agents, and generally any ex- in something professionals who want to play in security industry field UNLESS they have specific Close Protection Training as well. Everyone has a specific training experience and field of knowledge, if you have a heart condition you will seek help from a Cardiologists, you won’t go to see an Orthopedic although they are both doctors, you need the one with a specific specialization, so why not doing the same when it comes to your safety?
– As the person in charged for his/her clients safety his suggestions over the security issues and plans must be respected and followed from the client, his family and his colleagues. Don’t make harder the work of someone who is there to protect you.
-Being a CPO mean you will be with your client and in present in many important personal or professional decisions or incidents will may follow. So your duty as well is to be discreet and silent about what you see and hear. There are enough many cases already of ex bodyguards who found the author in them and started putting in a book their ex clients ‘’spicy personal details’’. Professional and acceptable? I don’t think so.
A Close Protection Operative is Not:-A martial arts pro or black belt holder necessarily. In order to work as a CPO you must be in a position to know basic fighting techniques in order to protect yourself and your client. Be able to react in any possible attacks during your duty. But that doesn’t mean that you must have a black belt in any kind of martial arts or have practicing for years. Yes some Close Protection Operatives has gone through many years of training in martial arts practice and may have gain black belts but that is a result of their life and works prior their occupation with security industry, or as a personal choice. Have in mind when you start working as a CPO you won’t have that much time to attend any full time martial arts classes. So you need to learn something that will require less time but also be as much effective it can for you to use in real life and situations.
So a CPO is not a killing machine with a license to kill or beat anyone up.
-A CPO is not a Federal Agent or Law Enforcement personnel, they don’t have any access to any ‘’governmental sources or databases’’ or even ‘’call the brigade’’ options (unless some of them have the right persons in the right positions to gain any information out of the record), in some countries they have no rights more on duty than a simple citizen in his daily life. So don’t try to play the authority when you are not the authority. You must do your best to do your job and keep your client alive with what you have while not falling on a citizen’s rights. By that said you cannot do any body research or arrest anyone! Last incident in Greece, one of the CPOs of a Parliament Party Leader, threaten his clients supporters that those who will come closer to him at 1 meter will be arrested! And that while his client had a public speech.
Don’t think just because you are working in security industry that Law Enforcement personnel are your colleagues and should deal you like one. If they want to help your while you are working that’s more than fine but you can’t require or demand it. You need to follow their directions and orders when you are not in your client’s territory.
-A CPO is not a gang member, a doorman or a wrestler. Yes there are some cases when people who belong to ‘’night activities’’ have been hired to protect clients but that’s up the clients choice and belief that they can protect them better and know how to deal in hard situations. False and wrong idea… yes.
-A CPO is not responsible to carry his/her client’s shopping bags, laundries etc. Not only because has not been hired for that job, but doing any other activity or carrying anything will make his/her reactions slower if any attack occurs. Many clients require it, so refuse it by being polite and explaining the reasons.