• United States



by Senior Editor

Obama Inauguration Puts Spotlight on Executive Protection

Jan 12, 200911 mins
Business ContinuityCritical InfrastructureIT Leadership

Between the pending presidential inauguration and roiling anti-corporate sentiment, executive protection is more critical than ever. Expert Robert Oatman explains the elements of a good program, the impact of technology, and more.

Joan Goodchild, Senior Editor CSO: What are the absolute basics of a good executive protection program? Robert Oatman:I have been a strong advocate of concentrating on the fundamentals. It is the foundation of any serious executive protection program. It is all about the details. If you conduct your mission with purpose and a plan you will be successful.

My first challenge is based on the risk assessment. How can you protect any principal if you can’t identify the risk? You then work from a starting point so that your protective effort is realistic and reliable.

We see serious issues when the proper planning has been left to chance. You need to gather the facts and build your program on sound principals so that you execute in a reasonable and correct manner. I like to use the analogy of constructing a building: Without a professional architect the structure automatically is in jeopardy. Without proper planning you are placing your principal in harm’s way.

Proper training is necessary so the EP specialist knows how to blend into the C-suite environment. A close connection with the protectee and his or her inner circle: spouse, executive assistant, drivers, housekeepers, closest colleagues, and others who inhabit the protectee’s daily orbit. This connectedness greatly increases the EP specialist’s ability to protect the principal.

Another important component is access to the necessary information, such as the principal’s daily schedule, upcoming travel plans, both work and non-work, work activities that might generate special risk, and any odd or threatening communications.

How much of a role does a good personality play in making these things work?

It’s the number one characteristic you have to display. You have to have the right chemistry so that you and the principal you protect get along well. And that is not always the case. You can have someone with really fantastic professional background in protection, but if that chemistry isn’t on mark, it’s destined for failure.

It’s just as important to be approachable. In order for us to be successful in executive protection, we’ve got to have allies up and down the main stream of the company. If you want to get things done, you can’t do it by yourself. You’ve got to be able to get along with people.

What are the things people tend to overlook in an EP program?

Understanding that chemistry between the principal and the executive protection detail. You have to have buy-in from the top. Support from upper management and communication from those we protect. In executive protection it is all about the details. There is a common misnomer that anyone can provide protection. But without the proper training and support the mission will be compromised.

Programs can also overlook collecting information on the principal’s various life-locations, and becoming familiar with those locations, the risks surrounding them, and the protective resources nearby. We’ve seen EP programs where the EP manager didn’t know the locations of the principal’s several houses. It’s just not possible to protect a person in, or extract him from, an unknown location.

In a big company, when executive protection must interface with several other departments, what advice would you give to make those relationships work smoothly?

This is the key to success: Being able to build strong relationships without stepping on someone’s turf. You need to understand the corporate culture and nurture that support so that everyone is on the same page.

We need to articulate our mission and get buy in from those who are the gate keepers. By gate keepers I mean the executive administrative assistant. The administrative assistant to the principal plays a vital role in your success. Upper management needs to understand your mission and support your program.

Executive protection is based on facilitation. You need to not only interface with your travel department they have to understand your requirements and support those abrupt changes in schedules. If your corporation is supported by Flight Operations, if the executive travels with a private jet for instance, there should be a close relationship established so that you work in harmony to get the job done.

I am a firm believer that we need to explain the role of executive protection. Don’t work in a vacuum and treat everyone with respect. If you explain your concerns and your mission folks will appreciate the openness.

Sometimes executive drivers are organizationally part of a transportation or facilities department that is not specifically focused on executives. We have found that EP programs can coordinate activities and information exchange much better when they move their executive driving programs into the EP organization. Closer integration leads to better protection with a smaller chance of letting a key detail slip through the cracks.

How might current events have an effect on executive protection in companies around the country? The corporate bailouts and the Madoff scandal, as two examples, have lead to an intense amount of negative sentiment toward business.

This is a very challenging question: I believe that executive protection should be elevated to a high concern based on present conditions. Name any U.S. company that has not been impacted by this economic downturn: From layoffs to terminations to bankruptcy it is unprecedented. This is not the time to downplay the importance of protection but to support the protective effort.

I go back to the risk assessment model: There is not a day goes by that the media doesn’t zero in on top executives and the loss of confidence in the market. The big 3 automotive companies testifying before congress received a lot of attention. The executives were lambasted for riding into town on the corporate jets. There is anger among the populace about executive compensation. Employees are being terminated — being furloughed or their company has gone bankrupt because of the economic impact. To make matters more dire, the Madoff Scandal has really galvanized the web and the media. It is all about corporate greed.

Those CSOs responsible for the protection of the corporations leading assets should be proactive in their approach to these challenging times. This is not the time to worry about the P.R. side of the company. It is time to assess the vulnerability of their principals.

I believe that a professional executive protection program will offer a level of protection that can be seamless and effective. We can lower the protective profile by engaging in a counter-surveillance effort that will allow us to blend in and capable of identifying a potential adversary and act accordingly. The fundamentals will give you a great return. Itineraries will be carefully orchestrated and a low key professional approach will be seamless to those around the CEO. Advances will be a priority as they should be and public spaces will be secure within reason.

The cost of EP is always justifiable when the risk is there. The cost of losing an executive through an attackor even an accidentis almost certain to greatly exceed the cost of protecting the executive in the first place. The cost of losing, or even nearly losing, an executive when he or she could have been kept safe is huge. Just imagine the loss in terms of organizational disruption, morale, fear, corporate image, investor confidence, and other factors. It’s also important to remember that EP actually increases an executives productivity by facilitating safe, fast movements from point to point. So, in good times and bad, executive protection earns its keep.

On a global level, the Benazir Bhutto assassination occurred a little over a year ago. What went wrong there?

The Benazir Bhutto assassination, in my opinion, was not a question of WOULD the assassination happen, it was WHEN it would happen. Historically 82 percent of assassinations and attempts occur in or around an automobile. Her arrival at the site where she would give her last speech to her supporters was uncontrolled and chaotic. Her departure was even less secure and proved to be deadly to her and those around her motorcade. This supports our premise that planning and training are vital for the correct approach to executive protection.

Whenever we see events like this, horrific assassinations of this kind that occur under these kinds of circumstances, it is always a time for myself and others in the industry to look at it as a lesson learned.

President-elect Barack Obama has already received lots of threats. What new challenges will his protective force face with his installment?

I believe that the expertise and level of security provided by the men and women of the United States Secret Service will be up for the challenge. They have decades of experience and have met other challenges head on. They have had the opportunity to provide protective coverage and intelligence when the Mr. Obama was running for the office of President of the U.S. The planning and logistics of protecting the 44th President of the U.S. and his family will be monumental and they will rise to the occasion.

The issue of Obama’s Blackberry was controversial. He has been urged not to use it while in office because of the risks associated with it. These days, many executives carry GPS-enabled phones. Do these pose challenges?

We are concerned about the loss of confidential information or real time data for those executives who utilize PDAs and mobile phones. It is our job to make sure that the devices are not left behind or confidential information being overheard by a third party. These are new challenges that need to be part of the planning process.

As always, it’s a challenge to find the right balance between security, that is keeping the executive safe, and productivity, which is letting the executive be an executive. If a PDA falls into the wrong hands, the information loss could create some risks. On the other hand, if a device is secured so completely that the executive can’t use it, or loses a lot of time getting it to work, then security is hobbling the protectee too much.

At the very least, the EP program should be close enough to the principal that it will find out right away if he loses his PDA and then change travel plans or protective measures as appropriate.

Any other tech advances in recent years that have required new thinking or new precautions? utilize Google Earth that can give an adversary the ability to download the principal’s address and see the office the home or the golf course they operate in. The ability to place a device on the principal’s car or his family to track their exact location undetected. The sophistication of listening devices that can be planted undetected in an office or conference room including the home. These are all new concerns in our field.

The World Wide Web is a concern. The ability to

What are students in executive protection training programs learning now that might be new?

Less emphasis on the gun and more on planning and intelligence is the future of executive protection. The opportunity to utilize counter-surveillance to “watch the watchers” and being able to blend in and support the protective team. The ability to use technology to your advantage and harness the energy to be in front of the curve so that you are proactive and not reactive.

We are stressing the idea of putting the protectee under a 24-hour protective umbrella. That does not mean the protectee is accompanied by an EP specialist at all times. Instead, it means the EP program is, at all times, doing two things: The first is monitoring the rise and fall of the risk level that the principal faces. The second is providing the level of protection appropriate to the risk. That may mean in-person protection, or it may mean simply being on call and prepared to respond in an optimal fashion if needed.

The key is to view the principal as being under a protective umbrella at all times, where the degree of protection varies according to the risk.

Robert Oatman is the author of Executive Protection New: Solutions for a New Era

and operator of training and service company R.L. Oatman and Associates.