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In our July 2017 print issue we featured Alex Bomberg, the group CEO of Intelligent Protection International (IPI), about counter-espionage. In the September print issue, we speak to that company’s MD George Foster, pictured, about another arm of the company; close protection (CP).
While the company has done work in ‘hostile environments’ and indeed still does, in north Africa for instance, the bulk of its work is in the UK and the rest of Europe. Guarding someone in Libya, and an executive doing business on the Continent, takes different skills, that the former military or police man or woman may have. Or may not. Softer skills, that the SIA’s licence for CPs may not cover well, or at well; holding a conversation with a high net worth individual, for instance, about current affairs.
If you’re sending your CV to the company seeking work – and they do turn down most CVs they see – bear in mind that having taken a course in firearms will not be not much use by comparison, especially as a bodyguard cannot carry a gun in the UK. IPI has just opened an office in Paris, and is looking to open a couple more this year. Their bodyguarding work covers royal families and heads of state; celebrities; and those high net worth individuals. We asked George to compare the categories. With royals, it’s about etiquette; and understanding their culture, and its differences from yours, most obviously about how to address them when spoken to. That differs from pop stars, where as George puts it things can be a lot more ‘relaxed’. You have to be more dynamic: “There’s less of an itinerary, and things can change at a very fast pace.” The star, being in the public eye, can draw a lot of attention. Whereas a royal may be famous, but only in their home country, and not if they’re on holiday or honeymoon. George points out that for a celebrity, close protection might not be a requirement as much as a status symbol; and it’s not something that IPI like to cater for. The body-guard can become almost a bag-carrier, and there may not be much of a threat. Whereas someone of political stature may well face significant risks.
Alex Bomberg offered a word here; ‘buddy-guard’; meaning that the close protection for a celeb becomes part of the entourage, and a bit of a celeb themselves (on social media for instance); whereas the job of close protection demands you be firm for the sake of security. You cannot always say yes; sometimes the celeb (like any other client, in fairness) may have to be told that going somewhere is not sensible. Looking good – wearing dark sunglasses, being The Bodyguard as in the Kevin Costner film, rather than a bodyguard – is different from providing a professional service, Alex suggests. We ask about hotels, as executives and celebrities alike may use them. IPI argue that there’s a misconception about close protection; most of the work is not physically keeping the outside world at bay from the client, but planning: going over the route, from the airport to the hotel to the meeting to the hotel and back again. At a hotel, who is the point of contact. Where are the entrances and exits, and are fire escapes an option, from the dining room for example. If the client is highly recognisable, do you want him beside a window? More practically, if the client is eating lunch, that may well be the one chance for the next few hours that you, and any other members of the team, have to eat also. A businessman is hardly going to halt his day, for you to take a bite to eat; likewise, if he goes to the gents, that’s your time to take a leak. If you are caught short, an exec is not going to wait; he’ll be on his way.
The same planning goes into ‘route reconnaissance’. How bad might be the traffic; any roadworks, any police stations or barracks on the way, or hospitals, places to head for if the client comes under attack or simply falls ill. Does the client take medication? And there must be contingencies for contingencies. As for the risks to the principal, a music star may have fanatical fans; a head of state political enemies. Fans may get to the star’s presence, by hook or by crook; but only to speak; a political enemy may throw eggs or paint, or even attempt to kill. If the close protection team find themselves in the position that an assassin has drawn a gun, it’s already too late. And despite the films such as Clint Eastwood’s In the Line of Fire, IPI do not advocate that you jump in front of bullets; because as they point out, chances are that someone will have more than one bullet in a gun; or if they swish a knife, they will swish it again. If the first bullet hits the head of state, the second will hit you. Better to plan and to pick up indicators of such an attack. To think of famous assassinations, while some have been in the shot man’s home country, many are abroad. Close protection is covered by laws of each country. The SIA covers the UK; IPI has recently received the relevant accreditation to operate as a company in France.
On the SIA, IPI like others in CP do not speak well of its regulation of the sector. For one thing, you can pass the training, so as to apply for a licence, and yet lack what it takes. You can be 18; without a driving licence; physically handicapped, even. Alex and George echo nagging concerns held by others in CP over the quality and value for money of training providers – and dubious and outright fraudulent training is a problem in the door staff and guarding sectors too – and how can exam awarding bodies police that? Besides, as of May 2017, some 13,946 held a CP licence; few, George says, are doing close protection work.
In the United States, states may have their own requirements, some more robust than others, for instance around the carrying of firearms. The CP ‘armoury’, in any case, George suggests, should include a ‘trauma kit’, in case of injuries, and pediatric equipment if the principal has children; and such things as an oxygen supply and defibrillator. In large CP teams, even more, communication – radio comms, George adds – are key. Why radio, ahead of mobile phones? If you’re in a country that suffers a terror attack, quickly mobiles might not work as everyone wants to ring their family. Other basics to carry are notepads, and torches – ‘I know people want to hear firearms, but it’s something we try to veer away from’. IPI can offer it, but ask if carrying a firearm is required, or a symbol of status. As George says, they try not to leave themselves susceptible to anything that might harm or embarrass the principal. Say you do carry a gun, and fire a shot; some authorities may well have to investigate. If the bodyguard is detained, where does that leave the rest of the mission. Airports and many hotel chains abroad operate metal detectors on entry; how are you going to explain a gun? Especially if you are escorting the principal from a hotel to the car door, one of the more vulnerable points of a principal’s day. Again, the high net worth individual is not going to wait, to ask after the welfare of the CP team; he will be gone. George returns to his point about planning; such things can and should be looked at, way in advance.
Hours of standing
If it still sounds glamorous, consider that the CP operative’s day may be hours of standing outside a hotel door. When the principal goes to sleep, then you can; except that you may have to do paperwork; liaise with the office; and if the job is at all a long one, wash socks, call home, even have a hair-cut. As Alex adds, the principal will not see any of that. If a team is covering a principal, who goes back to his hotel room at 7pm, you may get permission to go off duty. But if the principal decides to go to a restaurant, or a nightclub, or his family decide to go out, they may ask you to carry on working. Or the family may change their mind and want to go to the match at Wembley. That will take tickets (and can you buy tickets so that operatives are nearby enough to respond, overtly and covertly?). Or they visit the Brit Awards; and fall asleep: “That’s how it goes,” George says. “You do have to be on your toes, you do have to keep a level of concentration, constantly, which is probably one of the hardest aspects of the job; it’s easy to dip in and out when you are doing the same thing, constantly. But you need that mental agility, I suppose, to stay on point.”
Alex gave the example of a royal’s honeymoon that covered nine countries. That took some recces, and logistics. The CP team did not wear dark suits, that would only have made them stick out; they wore beach shorts and t-shirts like the royals. But that casual dress did not extend to flip-flops; try responding at speed wearing those on your feet!?