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Covert Protective Details — “The Invisible Shield”

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For new Close Protection professionals entering this industry or those considering it, you should know that there can be covert protective details, overt ones, or a combination of both.

How the appropriate protection plan and the team is chosen relies on the information known or gathered from interviews with the client as well as conditions affected by culture, political or business climate, the client’s mood, planned activity, local laws, and codes, and even weather.

Many clients feel uncomfortable with highly visible or “overt” protective details. Some may even ask you to be so invisible that they don’t know you are there. Male clients may feel uneasy about a male CPO guarding their female companion or spouse and ask that the big guys maintain their distance and not interact with them. Large-framed protectors may not blend in well at the golf course or mall.

A female protector may work better at a corporate function or business luncheon. Once the person is picked as a protector, the client’s wishes must be considered as part of their protection plan.

Another challenge is communication with the client or even your own teammates. Remember that earpieces and cute little coily cords and bulky radios may not work in some environments. Think about Bourbon Street in New Orleans Louisiana during Mardi-Gras or in Rio Brazil during Carnival or Christmas Eve in Vatican City, Rome Italy. A noisy kids’ birthday party could be just as bad when coupled with nosy 8-year-olds asking who you are so be ready.

How do you blend in with the environment, (and culture), and remain capable of protecting your client?

How do you provide full coverage around your client without the obvious “Diamond” or “Box” formations?

“Blending in” requires knowing your client, environment, surrounding cultural challenges, traffic patterns, local laws, and rules, and yourself. You also need to master smooth calm movements, relax the military posture and bearing and learn how to speak like a normal tourist and less like a Special Forces operator, all while remaining ready to react to a threat with “explosive ability.”

Your appearance can also give you away. Plaid shirts, goatees, and plastic sunglasses may make you feel cool and get you noticed by the editor of any popular military supply catalog, but it will also get you noticed by everyone who has ever seen one of those catalogs.

Try to avoid tactical clothing, military or police-style haircuts, tactical sunglasses, and wristwatches, and try to wear clothing and accessories that the community you are in would wear. Wear what your client would wear. Cover tattoos, avoid excessive jewelry and bright colors, and black.

When doing covert protective details, boring is best.

What is your reason for being near the client? If you are not a “bodyguard,” who are you? What is your backup story? You can be a reporter doing a human-interest story, an event planner, the client’s “associate,” a personal assistant, a personal trainer, or a personal shopper…. You can even have business cards that back up your story but have one and stay in character.

Now that you have your backup story, let’s address some movement issues while doing covert protective details. As mentioned before, movements must be smooth and calm. A person who acts like they are stressed or hurried will draw attention and just as serious can telegraph this uneasiness to the client.

Don’t mirror your client’s movements and unless you know or feel that their risk exposure is increasing at the present rate or direction of movement, don’t interfere with the client. Unless you must hover over your client, don’t. If you can sit, do it. If you must sit or stand, don’t do it like you are a normal alert and aware security professional.

covert protective details

Stay in character.

You can pretend to stare at your cellphone screen while focusing on your peripheral vision. You can use earbuds but have the volume down to hear surrounding noises or conversations that otherwise would be missed. Also, you can still wear your sunglasses if everyone else would normally wear them and mask your eye movement, but your goal is to blend into your environment.

Avoid “mirroring” your principal’s movements. You don’t have to sit or stand up as soon as they do. Waiting a few seconds to move is fine when no threat is present. If working on a team, coordinate with others to cover your client’s movement.

Team communications here will be critical. Hand, eye, or verbal signals are valuable and must be learned. Knowing your client’s mannerisms will also give you an advantage in reacting to them. Also, pay attention to the waiter or others who interact with your client. They will give you clues to what your client may do next. If you see the check coming, be ready to move. If the client gets up to go to the bathroom, be ahead of them.

Finally, and maybe as critical, your attitude must blend in too, so forget about being the “authority” or the “security specialist,” STAY IN CHARACTER. Be polite and don’t annoy others with your presence.

Many people enter this industry to do something meaningful or significant and in their own way may even consciously or unconsciously seek recognition or notoriety. They purposely blow their own cover or even send photos to social media of them working so they can brag about their work.

This is more common in the newer and unpolished CPOs but exists in all areas of the profession. Trying to convince someone with this mindset to remain “invisible” in the crowd is not always easy.

Picking the right person for covert protective details is a rare skill set and should be left to an experienced mission planner. If you need to switch out with another CPO to maintain a low-key presence, bury your pride and trust your replacement choice. If choices you make relative to your client’s safety are ever about what is best for you, you are the wrong person for the assignment and the wrong ego for this industry.

Denida Zinxhiria

Founder & CEO

Athena Worldwide LLC

Athena Academy

Nannyguards

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