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 readers of this magazine know, there is no such thing as an “individual” bodyguard who can effectively react to a threat and move a client out of harm’s way simultaneously. All an individual can do effectively 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. 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, constituting a minimum of two security professionals (aka buddy pairing). From that minimum, teams 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 comprised 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 a news team in a hostile environment), I’ve always explained to them why they should never consider me 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 tough 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 can comprise a bodyguard team.
These are just some examples to help set the scene, but they hopefully drive home the point that the label “individual bodyguard” is not for real. 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 would become legitimate to call them “bodyguards”. It may sound like splitting hairs, or just a play on words, but as readers of this magazine know, attention to detail can make the difference between life or death.
The Fallacy of the Individual Bodyguard
By: Bob Shepherd
Bestselling author Bob Shepherd is a security advisor and 20-year veteran of Britain’s elite Special Air Service. With almost 20-years of private security work to his credit, he has successfully negotiated some of the most dangerous places on earth as both an SAS soldier and private citizen. Combined, Bob has spent almost 40 years operating in conflict areas. Bob is a regular media commentator on security issues and has appeared on CNN International, BBC, SKY News, Al Jazeera English, BBC Radio and various newspapers and magazines. He also shares his insights on security politics through his blog;