What it’s like protecting the mega-rich

By James Cook

Wherever your favourite pop star or plutocrat goes, it’s a safe bet to assume that a coterie of bodyguards and protection officers follow. Silent and often disguised, the world of the Close Protection Operative (CPO) is hidden from the media spotlight that their client (called a “principal”) often comes under.

The Kernel spoke to Rick Mounfield MCGI MSyI, Operations Director of security company Blackstone Consultancy, to find out what life is like for the men behind the dark sunglasses.

We asked Rick what goes through the head of a protection operative while they’re at work.

“A good CPO will be constantly thinking ‘What if?’ ‘What if an attacker came out from that alley, where will I extract to?’ There a lot of CPOs that do it to look cool in shades. Psychologically speaking, they are the attention seekers that like dark shades and curly earpieces. We do not employ such people.”

Security guards almost always plan ahead, vetting travel locations before arrival. According to Rick, it’s not obvious that a security operative is even there to begin with.

“A full operational risk assessment proceeds any deployment. The location is recce’d first covertly to prevent any advanced warning. If intelligence reveals a viable threat, The Principal is informed and advised to change the venue or time. The best protection is not to be exposed in the first place. If your movements are unpredictable, it makes it very hard to be targeted for attack.”

Interested in his claim that security operatives covertly check locations before visiting with their principal, we asked Rick how a CPO goes about staying innocuous.

“The Advance team will be dressed to blend into the environment. They never interact with the protection group unless an attack is instigated. The Protection group CPO should be dressed in a similar style as the principal, to maintain their profile. There is always a benefit to overt protection because it discourages many forms of attack such as the protesters or statement makers. If the threat is assassination, then it is better not to disclose all your assets.”

“CP can be close or maintained at a distance. We have had clients who do not want someone on their shoulder so we maintain protective surveillance. The CPO or team will box around the client at 10-15 metres so that they are not noticeably accompanying him. If a threat is perceived, they can close in but generally, as long as the client can see them nearby, that is sufficient.”


The danger zone

For an operative working to protect someone else, what’s the most dangerous situation they can be in? A riot? A war zone? Rick says that it’s something quite different.

“A hostile environment includes anywhere that a good civil infrastructure is absent. Police are poor or corrupt and medical facilities are inadequate to deal with life-threatening injuries. Our CPOs will have advanced medical skills.”

“During the Arab Spring, we were involved in deploying teams to extract clients from such countries such as Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt and Libya at very short notice. More recently we have deployed teams into Israel, Moscow and China, though not hostile in the traditional sense, they are non permissive environments in which to operate and conduct business.”

Tiers of security

There isn’t one type of bodyguard or CPO. There are plenty of different groups and specialities, so we asked Rick to detail the common types for us.

Tier 1

  • A. Ex-Royal Military Police Close Protection Unit. Completed a 13 week course and deploy in support of British Ambassadors and Generals worldwide.
  • B. Ex SO1 Met Police Diplomatic Protection group that protect Prime minister and Cabinet worldwide right down to visiting foreign dignitaries in UK.
  • C. Ex Royalty Protection Group who protect The Queen through to Princess Alexandra and anyone with public duties in between.
  • D. Ex Special Forces if they have completed a Protective Security course much like the RMP one. They only get deployed on short term or high threat of assassination.

Tier 2

Ex Military/Police from other backgrounds but tactically aware and have adapted to the soft skills of diplomacy and etiquette.

Tier 3

Door supervisors who have completed the SIA course to advance from being a bouncer.

According to Mounfield, “there’s no typical CPO”, although the majority are indeed ex military or police.

There are alternative methods of protection available for when a client doesn’t want an obvious bodyguard. For example, a specialist type of operative exists to provide surveillance.

“Our surveillance teams are deployed to establish facts about the lifestyle or movements of persons of interest accused of fraudulent activity or civil litigious matters like that. Private Security Companies are sourced to obtain evidence to assist legal council develop their case. We have a global network that allows us to conduct numerous investigations and Due Diligence tasks in countries where others struggle. In the protective sense, some clients do not wish to have a CPO in close confines and as such we provide clients with protective surveillance, intercepting threats often without the clients knowledge.”

Safety at home

As well as protecting people in the street, security can also be arranged for inside the home.

“Residential security teams are CPOs within the confines of the clients property. That could be a town house or a huge country estate. We monitor any technical equipment such as alarms or CCTV and call the Police if an intruder is identified, whilst ushering the Principal and family to a safe haven within the house. When kidnap or loss of high value property is a concern, that security is a comfort blanket.

“A technical surveillance counter measure sweep (TSCM) is conducted to ensure that no audio or visual recording devices are in the property (Bugs). Secure communications and unpredictable movements are compromised if the house has such devices spying on the client within the safe location (home or office). In the same vain, IT equipment is forensically tested for malware that may be spying on email traffic.”

And for when you feel like venturing out of the house, a driver can keep you secure there too.

“Cars and security drivers ensure the secure movement from secure location to secure location. Cars can be armoured to varying degrees but usually it is the tactical awareness of the driver that enhances security. Rolling to a red light and not stopping, ensuring doors are locked prior to departure, parking so the appropriate car door is aligned with the entrance so as to shorten the distance the Principal has to walk to enter the next safe area etc.”

When things go wrong

So what happens when things go wrong? We asked Rick to detail the kind of response CPOs take to a dangerous situation.

“Reaction to attack is instinctive. The more time spent practicing scenarios, the better the appropriate response. The primary role is to remove the principal from the danger area. Usually, a team would be employed. The Bodyguard controls the Principal while the escort section deal with the threat. Prevention is better than a cure though and so a good CP team would arrive in advance of the Principal and search and secure the arrival point. In that time any threat would be identified and the VIP group directed to avoid the area until it is resolved and secure. If attacked en-route, drills are taught to extract by the easiest means. The worst scenario is a complete ambush. In training this is always repeatedly tested because it has to be instinctive.”

“This is what happens when the arrival point has not been secured! A good CP team will identify a threat early and never allow the principal to enter the danger area!”

One of the worst situations for a CPO to deal with is a kidnapping, we asked Rick what procedures are in place to deal with a missing Principal.

“Our protection teams conducted counter surveillance constantly to identify any threats and highlight them to the client/Principal. Post kidnapping, there are specialist Kidnap and Ransom services usually supplied by ex police K&R specialists. It is not a service we provide. We only offer services in which we excel.”

“A 24-hour emergency line is essential as well as tracking solutions. Our clients can be issued with a tracker that is geo fenced. ie areas are designated secure such as the hotel and if the tracker leaves the hotel the tracker sends alerts and starts tracking in real time. This is useful because the CPO does not stay in the clients room so if they were kidnapped or decided to escape the cover of protection (which happens) then they will be easily tracked and located.”

If this all sounds like something you need, you can contact Blackstone Consultancy through their website.