A dozen years ago, I was having coffee with the in-country manager of a blue chip security firm operating in Afghanistan. It was the height of British military and government involvement in the ill-fated NATO-led effort to crush the Taliban, and Kabul was inundated with people needing close protection services. From diplomats attempting to build infrastructure and civil institutions, to corporate honchos sniffing out potential business opportunities, there was no shortage of clients for security firms to pitch. As my conversation with the in-country manager progressed, I broached the subject of IBGs – individual bodyguards. I told him in no uncertain terms that the idea of having an individual effectively carry out the functions of a close protection team was utter and absolute flannel. His response: “Maybe, Bob. But it brings in the dollars!”
Today, the IBG business is still going strong. This resilience can be credited in part to CP clients who don’t know how to assess the quality of the service they’re purchasing. They may have seen an overt “bodyguard” standing behind (or in front of, or next to) a Hollywood A-lister or VIP and think if that’s how the rich and famous do it, it’s good enough for me. Because to the poorly informed client, a “bodyguard” is someone who is paid to protect them by reacting quickly and effectively to ferry them to safety when a threat presents itself. But as many security professionals know, there is no such thing as an “individual” bodyguard who can simultaneously react to a threat effectively and move a client out of harm’s way. All an individual can do is proactively advise a client on how to minimise risks and when an incident arises, make a snap decision (hopefully born from serious training and experience ) and choose between moving a client to cover or addressing the threat directly.
When viewed through a lens of best practice, it’s pretty clear that a close protection professional looking after a client unilaterally is no “bodyguard”. He or she is a security advisor only. And the distinction is crucial for both contractors and clients to understand if best practice is to prevail.
Unfortunately, there is no external regulation of the private security industry, so for now the foxes are minding the client brochures. If an unimpeachable regulatory body were to set and enforce criteria and standards, it could ensure that all descriptions of close protection services explain what does and does not constitute a “bodyguard”. That way, everyone would understand that an individual is only a “bodyguard” if they are operating as part of a team of no less than two security professionals (aka a buddy pairing). From that minimum, teams can scale up all the way to a full blown Presidential-style detail comprised of dozens of bodyguards complimented by a covert surveillance team (some years ago, I built and managed a large CP team of bodyguards and surveillance professionals for a high profile European client).
When we consider different threat scenarios, it’s apparent that a bodyguard can only be called such when operating in tandem with at least one other security professional.
Scenario A: Someone opens fire on a client.
When a live fire situation goes down for real, a lone security advisor can only carry out one action at a time and must decide whether to get the client immediately into cover from fire and view, or to return fire toward the attacker. They cannot do both at once (despite what Hollywood action heroes pull off on the big screen). This is why whenever I’ve worked alone as a security advisor to a client or a small grouping of clients (such as news teams in hostile environments), I’ve always explained to them why I am not a bodyguard.
Scenario B: A client group comprised of an A-lister, their spouse and small child is walking down a street when an attacker attempts a machete attack.
It’s pretty easy to see how an individual security professional would have to make some very difficult choices in a split second. Do they move the most vulnerable of the group – the small child-to safety? Do they protect the A-lister first or the spouse? Do they deal directly with the threat? The point is, a lone security advisor can only execute one response at a time and it needs to be immediate.
Scenario C: A client group comprised of a news team is filming in a vulnerable location when their primary vehicle breaks down under live fire.
As any seasoned security professional knows, you should never move a client from point A to point B in an insecure area without a backup vehicle. This way, if the primary vehicle breaks down, the client or clients can be cross-decked to the back-up. A lone security advisor can’t move the clients and cover them with return fire at the same time. That takes a minimum of two security advisors who together comprise a body guard team.
These are just some examples to help set the scene, but they hopefully drive home the point that the label “individual bodyguard” is a fallacy. A security professional looking after a client unilaterally is a security advisor. If they work in tandem with a second advisor and they can operate in the close protection role, then it’s legitimate to call them “bodyguards”. It may sound like splitting hairs but attention to detail can make the difference between life or death.