Hostile Environment Close Protection & Working Alone
Can you provide close protection to a client in a hostile environment while working alone? Yes, of course! I have done so many times and there are many others that do it on a daily basis!
I have seen social media posts and articles where people are stating that the days of the “individual bodyguard” are dead. My response in return is just because you do not know how or are too afraid to work alone it does not mean everyone else is.
Now what a lot of people, usually ex-military personnel do not understand is that working in the commercial close protection industry is a lot different than providing close protection services while in the military or for a government agency. In this short article I will try to highlight some of the differences that many supposed close protection experts do not seem to comprehend.
To start with a base fact is that most commercial close protection jobs are unarmed, even in hostile environments. The commercial close protection business is about being pro-active and avoiding problems at all costs and not about walking around, looking tacticool, carrying a gun and getting into shootouts.
If you are in the military or working on a government related contract you will or could have legally access to firearms and if you get involved in a shooting the military or government will back you up legally, medically etc.
In the commercial close protection world if you are legally carrying firearms and get involved in a shooting the chances are you’re getting arrested straight away, will be covering your own legal fees and medical bills. If you are carrying firearms illegally and get involved in a shooting you are going to jail for a long time as are those with you. If you are stopped by the police and they find an illegal firearm in your car, everyone in the car is going to jail… I hope your beginning to see the realities of working armed. For more on working armed click here for my article "Working Armed Internationally"
Now, for arguments sake let me give you an example; you and your 4-man team of executive protection specialists are working in say Mexico and you drive into a Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) roadblock, what are you going to do? Let us say you and your team are carrying pistols, are you going to open fire? Well, I expect the CJNG will have a lot more guns and ammo than you have so, you, your team and your client are going to get messed up, to put it politely… Let us say now you are unarmed, so what reason will four foreigners have for being in Mexico? What will you tell the narcos? Your ex-special forces? Your bodyguards? How many likes you have on social media? You have PTSD and need a hug? I do not really think they will care; they will smell a rat and if you are very lucky you will die fairly quickly… In such situations a close protection team is a liability, a traveling personal assistant that is willing to offer a joke and a bribe would have a far better chance of survival for himself and his client…
Many in the close protection business do not understand that high profile and visible protection can have negative effects for the client. In the 90’s in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union bodyguards would be targeted by criminals providing security services who wanted to take the bodyguard’s clients; if the client had just had his protectors beaten up or arrested in front of him it is in his immediate interests to hire those than had done the beating or arresting, right? Visible security personnel can also alert criminals that the client is of some importance, has goods worth stealing or be worth kidnapping. As to those reading this thinking the close protection world is all about being a tough guy, I will tell you are very wrong, it is about being alert, crafty and cautious. Click here to ream my article Killing With Kindness - How Professional Criminals Operate!
Also, think about it from a business point of view. If you were going do business with someone and when you went to meet them, they had a close protection team with them what would you think? Personally, I would be thinking why do they needed security, what problems do they have, are those problems going to affect my business dealings with them and possibly put me under threat. Or do they have the security because they do not trust or want to intimidate me. These are just a few things you need to be taken into consideration when initially putting together options for a client’s security program.
A good example of where a large and heavily armed close protection team was messed up and the client killed research the assassination of Alexander Zakharchenko on 31/8/18 in Donetsk. Click here for the story and video.
What I am talking about here is nothing new, this the basics of the close protection business. Another reason why clients will hire a lone close protection operator over a team is the cost. It is a lot more cost effective to hire one person than to hire four, right? This is the business aspect of the close protection that many who only know military or government close protection do not seem to understand. In the military and police everything is provided and paid for, and you do not have to worry about budgets, in contrast the commercial world is all about budget, money and profit.
As I have described above in many situations four goons, with or without guns, are going to cost the client a lot of money and in most cases do nothing more that attract unwanted attention form the local police and criminals. So, how do you protect someone by yourself? Well, to start with you need to be wise… If not, then you won’t be able to protect yourself let alone someone else.
When you are working alone you need to understand the threats you and client are going to possible be exposed to. You must keep everything on low profile and make the maximum use of secrecy, deception, and counter surveillance. If you spot a problem, or identify a threat then you must be able avoid it, or relocate to a safe location etc. You can not afford to get into confrontations as the chances are you will be immediately arrested.
Now, confrontations happen, and this is where you need to be wise and decisive in your actions. If physical confrontations happen you must deal with the threat immediately. This differs from a lot of close protection doctrines where your first response it to give protection to the client. Think about it, if you take out the threat, then there is not threat… If you’re trying to shield a client, then you can not effectively respond to a threat…
This needs to be included in your training. For unarmed techniques you want to focus on strikes to areas of an opponent that will drop them straight away. The last thing you need is to be caught up in a grappling match or restraining someone, then the client has zero protection, and you are vulnerable. So, if you can’t de-escalate then end the confrontation as quickly possible and then get the client to a safe location ASAP!
After a confrontation do you wait for the police to turn up or get the hell out of there…? Depends on where you are, in some places you will just want to grab the client and head for the nearest airport or take the evacuation route you should have already planned. In more civilized countries, move the client to a safe area while informing the police of the situation. And expect to get arrested…
The most important factor is having a cooperative client, if the client is not going to keep you informed of their schedules or just sees you as goon then its going to make things very difficult if there are any issues. The clients are paying the bills so you need to fit in with their requirements, but they need to listen to your advice and know that if things go bad then you’re the boss and then need to follow the pre-determined protocols that you should have gone over with them.
So, the major problem with those saying you can not provide close protection by yourself is that they have the wrong perspective about what providing close protection services is actually all about. It is about identifying and avoiding problems, it is about ensuring your client’s travels and business is kept problem free so they can get on with life without worrying about threats to themselves or their families.
When working alone you might have to employ the services of drivers and security personnel. These will not be your team members, these are contractors who you are hiring and managing, and of course can only be trusted to a limited extent. But, in the close protection business trust is only a word and you must always expect people to being trying to sabotage your work for their own benefit.
I use the term a lot these days that people “Need to Be Able to Swim”. What I mean by this is that people need to understand how to live and work in their environments with as few problems as possible. This may sound like something which is very simple, and is if you have a regular job, home, and stable lifestyle. In the close protection, firearms, and investigations business being able to swim in different environments and understanding a multitude of different laws and cultures can be a little bit complexed. One of the main issues in the close protection world is backstabbing and attempts to sabotage by jealous competitors and team members.
Knowing how to communicate and behave properly and respectfully is an issue a lot of people, especially former military people have when the leave their service. They are used to giving orders and people unquestionably doing as they are told. I was talking with someone recently who had to fire a former British Army sergeant major as they could not communicate with other staff, especially those who they saw as being subordinate to them. They were causing to much friction in the workplace which could have led to lawsuits against the company.
In the U.S. or Europe such behavior can lead to lawsuits or friction in the workplace, none of which is good for a business’s reputation or productivity. But if someone is acting like an asshole while working in a potentially hostile environment it can lead to major issues, such as the loss of trust and respect of the locals. If you are working by yourself, you must be able to build trust with those you are interacting with because they are your network, they are the people who you are working with and relying on to provide you with services be it laundry or local security. Be nice to people and they will provide you with a good service and might help you if required, act like an asshole and they will happily scam you or sell you!
In the late 1990’s I was offered a job in Far Eastern Russia to provide security for a couple of executives from London that were in, let’s say a hostile business negotiation with a prominent government official from that region. I turned the job down on the advice from my partners at the time as we could not provide any protection in that region to those clients. We could hire the local special police, but they were loyal to the government official, as they lived in that area, and the government official effectively controlled the police and courts etc. They would not jeopardize their jobs and families for just to protect a few foreigners for a few days… They would be still working for the government official…
Could I have recruited a close protection team for the job? I am sure, and in less than an hour, but what good would they have been? They could not carry weapons in Russia and even if they did what was the plan if there was a confrontation with this government official’s police protection team? Get into a shootout with the Russian police in the depths of Russia?
If the government official’s people got notice there was a foreign security team with these executives, which of course they would have, the arrest warrants for some crime or another could have been waiting for the CP team as they got off the plane at the local airport. And would these protectors be found guilty of the crimes they did not commit, of course, who controlled the courts? Or maybe the government official would show some good will and release these protectors after they spent a week or so in a Russian jail that his people controlled. I am sure our protectors would have been completely different men as they “maybe” walked out jail from the ones that had arrived in the region a week earlier… So, would a CP team have been of use in this situation? Defiantly not, it would have been a walking target that would have been hit…
Understanding how to provide protection services is understanding how to avoid problems at all costs. To start with you must be able to protect yourself, many supposed protectors can’t even do that. And I don’t just mean physically, which is really irrelevant if you’re dealing with players because it would take little effort for example for a criminal to drug someone’s bodyguard or bodyguards PDQ these days.
On a base level many supposed protectors engage in petty crimes such as illegal drug use, bending the rules as far as licensing, business or financial regulations are concerned. It amazes me sometimes when I see people bragging and posting content on social media that is, if not incriminating, then giving their competitors angles so they can try to sabotage their ongoing projects. Where money and business are concerned only celebrate when the job is over, and the money is in the bank.
I remember years ago one company that were advertising close protection courses in Russia had major problems on the first few days of their course as the local police turned up and arrested everyone, as the firearms being used on the course were apparently unregistered… I expect those running the courses did not know “How to Swim” and had upset the wrong people who let them put themselves in jail… If you let fools have enough rope, they will hang themselves…
It’s sad that a lot of those trying to enter the close protection industry are attended training courses that are not providing the relevant training or mindset required to perform commercial close protection duties. They are being trained by instructors who are teaching what they were taught in the military or police or what they themselves were taught on courses but have never applied in reality.
As I have said before the commercial close protection world is completely different than providing close protection in a government setting. Working commercially, you have to understand the risks involved, understand how to avoid them, understand how to deal with any confrontations without getting arrested, understand how to effectively communicate and understand how to ensure you get paid!
And don’t forget that you “Need to Know How to Swim”. And as Bruce Lee said “If you want to learn to swim jump into the water. On dry land no frame of mind is ever going to help you”. So, if your serious about the protection business go and get wet and expect to swallow quite a bit of water as your learning to swim… And learn to swim with sharks because big fish only end up getting eaten…
Books on Amazon
Close Protection: Luxury & Hostile Environments
This book is relevant for bodyguards, investigators & those working in hostile environments.
Kindle @ https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CNSKXJF
Paper Back @ https://www.amazon.com/dp/1980900388