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The Evolution of American Executive Protection and the Advance and Conflict Models

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Historical reference in any endeavor is the key to overcoming past mistakes and preventing future missteps. That holds true even more so in Executive Protection where the “Zero Fail” mission is the basis for all operations. The professional history of Executive Protection in the United States provides practitioners with a foundation for personal career growth and lays the groundwork for positive future improvement across the personal protection sector.

Roots of Executive Protection in the United States

Executive Protection in America began in the 1860’s when Alan Pinkerton, a Scottish immigrant living in Chicago and Head of the Union Intelligence Service during the Civil War, disrupted an assassination attempt of President Abraham Lincoln, who was enroute by train to his Inauguration in Washington, D.C.

Pinkerton later went on to establish a private “Detective” agency in the US which had great successes following the Civil War and Western expansion. The company still exists today as a division of Securitas which primarily focusses on contract facility security and access control.

On the date of his death, April 15th, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln met with Treasury Secretary Hugh McCullough, before his fateful visit to Ford’s theater, to discuss the rampant counterfeiting of US currency which devalued the dollar and interfered with the rebuilding of the American economy post-Civil War. At that meeting, McCullough recommended creating the U.S. Secret Service to end the problem and Lincoln agreed. Within the next 36 years following that fateful date, three sitting US Presidents would be assassinated, prompting Congress to assign protection of the sitting U.S. President to the newly formed Secret Service.

During World War 1, Executive Protection was influenced by the creation of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service. Today the agency is renowned for their physical and personal protective mission worldwide. As a result of their successes, both the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. State Department are currently the international models for most government protection teams.

The 1960’s were a turbulent time in the United States and the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King shaped every aspect of society including the means and methods of those that supplied personal security services. During this period, most private personal security was provided by off duty or contracted law enforcement officers. If you could legally carry a gun, off duty jobs were available in Executive Protection in most areas of the United States. On the date of his assassination, Senator Robert Kennedy, a candidate for President, was being protected by former FBI agent Bill Barry and former NFL player Rosey Grier. As a result of this assassination, Congress directed the U.S. Secret Service to begin protecting major Presidential candidates.

Recent Historical Developments

In the late 1970’s, Susan Ford, President Gerald Ford’s daughter married Charles Vance, a U.S. Secret Service agent formerly assigned to the Presidential Protective Division. Vance left the agency later to establish Vance International, a private sector executive protection and security firm. At that time, executive protection was limited to extremely High Net Worth individuals who contracted with a handful of existing companies with limited training and expertise. Vance brought an elevated executive protection model to the private sector, and it was copied repeatedly in the industry after its introduction. This model, based on existing Secret Service techniques, focused heavily on the completion of “Advance” EP planning prior to a visit to identify and mitigate existing security issues. As a result of the introduction of this protective framework, two well-known protection schools were created on the East and West coasts of the United States, which are still in existence today.

Despite the highly public assassinations of the 1960’s, the protection of celebrities didn’t become commonplace until the murder of John Lennon by Mark David Chapman in New York in 1980.  Even after the Manson Family Murders in California, protection was generally considered something that only governments did. The assassination attempt of President Ronald Reagan brought renewed public attention through the televised images of the attack forefront in American society again. While the focus of physical protection again shifted to national leaders, Hollywood was later put on notice with the murder of actress Rebecca Shaeffer in 1989.

Then 9/11 happened. The attacks on America by Al Qaeda significantly shaped the EP industry and continue to have lasting effects to this day. Following the attacks, the U.S. State Department began leveraging increased resources and staffing to support overseas missions and operations to protect U.S. facilities and personnel.

At the same time, the U.S. began wartime operations in two separate geographical regions, creating significant infrastructure and support needs that the U.S. and its allies were forced to subcontract due to limits in resources which resulted from post Desert Storm drawdowns in the 1990’s. Private Military and Security Companies (PMSC) like Blackwater, Triple Canopy, DynCorp, Aegis, and other contract protective services companies (the modern version of WatchGuard International) were hiring and training personnel as fast as they could process the paperwork.

Active Duty Tier One operators and experienced soldiers were leaving low paying military positions for high dollar short term contracts and doing the same jobs as their enlisted counterparts. After some high-profile missteps, the U.S. and British military began to distance themselves from contracted security and ended most positions through contract attrition.

Executive Protection in the United States Post 9/11

Post 9/11, the exodus of former military members with substantial skillsets and unused Veterans Educational Benefits created an attractive business opportunity in the United States. Executive Protection Courses and “academies” began to pop up everywhere with little supervision or regulatory oversight. These academies structured their courses and training around the known security needs and experiences seen during wartime security operations. Rather than Executive Protection in a corporate environment which followed the advance model, courses were tactically oriented and provided less emphasis on planning and logistics. It’s estimated that in the US alone, there are over 14,000 schools and protection related companies in operation today, most of which were created after 9/11.

Without any consistent “Standards” in the EP field, training academies and their graduates, working under this “Conflict” model, became the de facto standard in positions outside of Corporate EP teams in America. This shift away from the previously established “Advance Model” of protective operations created a significant gap in experience and training within EP that can still be seen today. Many people who entered this field during this period left, but those that stayed had to adapt and learn additional skills to stay relevant in this competitive market.

Between 2005-2015 a new group within the EP industry established a significant foothold following the contractor and military exodus after the drawdown of contract security companies during the two simultaneous U.S. wars. This group consists of individuals that weathered the rise and fall of contracted EP and PSD work in Iraq and Afghanistan and successfully transitioned their skills to private sector Executive Protection in the United States and other locations.

The “Ten-Year” crowd has their own internal support network, relies heavily on social media for promoting their services and are sometimes at odds with those with different training and experience. Right or wrong, this group has successfully navigated some of the markets need for personal EP. This group has recognized that advertising equals dollars, and the EP career field now has a considerable number of YouTube marketing professionals who supply advice and content on EP related issues regularly while circulating their services and employment. The Ten-Year crowd currently competes with other EP personnel for contracts and employment, citing experience in the protective services industry which they now have.

Executive Protection in the United States

American Executive Protection Today

Today, there are two distinct divisions within Executive Protection in the United States. There are those that work as employees for large corporate teams and those that work privately under contract. Corporate EP teams often use subcontracted EP services and driving resources in the completion of their duties, but most are permanent employees of the company they work for and have significant experience and training.

Most corporate EP teams work under the historical EP Advance Model by conducting detailed pre visit inspections of venues and conducting extensive logistics and planning prior to a protectee’s visit. Because of significant financial pay structures, advanced continuing training and company benefits, the competition for these corporate EP positions is very high and they are often filled with former federal agents or retired senior law enforcement officials with extensive backgrounds in personal protection.

Within Non-Corporate EP or Contract EP sector there is also a division. There are large established professional companies that offer professional staffing and protective services to clients under contract and have well trained EP personnel and there is Private or “At Will” EP companies and individual contractors who are often referred by reputation or self-promotion.

EP can be expensive, and the value of EP isn’t usually seen until something terrible happens.  Anyone can show up in a dark suit and sunglasses but having the skillset to respond in a crisis correctly requires more than dressing for the part. Over the last 20 years, contract EP has slowly moved away from standard protective services into a perceived visual “accessory” by some of its clientele. Because having a protection team signifies status, lesser celebrities looking to save money have begun to use what is commonly referred to in the industry as “Buddyguards,” or friends of friends or former athletes. In many cases these Buddyguards have no real protection training, but they can “look” like security when needed. “Fake it till you make it” is alive and well in the EP marketplace, just watch any TMZ clip. Again, no problem until something bad happens and then a lack of training and experience makes a bad security situation a horrible and possibly fatal life decision.

EP Training and Standards in the US

Between the three groups that comprise most of the EP sector, there is a wide disparity in training, experience, and even financial compensation. Navigating this system as a prospective employee is also difficult and, in some cases, cost prohibitive due to the excessive expense of proper training. EP training itself is likewise just as diverse with similar curriculum only in States that mandate oversight for minimum instructional content and standards. It’s not uncommon to receive completely different and, in some cases, contradictory EP training from one State or academy to another because there is no national standard.

As protectors, we are at a significant crossroads in the history of the EP industry. Regardless of the specific EP sector you work in, it is clear the career field needs a unified standard, both operationally and in training academies nationwide. In March 2021, The Board of Executive Protection Professionals began the much-needed work to bring a National ANSI Standard to the EP industry.

Recruiting over 180 industry leaders and EP practitioners, the BEPP began the heavy task of writing what will eventually become the first U.S. National EP Standard. This ANSI standard benefits everyone in EP by providing standardized terminology, baseline career knowledge and protective operations principles to all practitioners. The process has been completely transparent, and the completed standard will be the foundation by which future training and certification within EP are obtained. Some training academies will exceed the standard, and are encouraged to do so, but the resulting standard will give everyone a baseline understanding of the minimum standards required to provide operational protective coverage as an EP agent.

Since the ANSI development process was initiated by the BEPP, others in the industry have rushed products in the form of certificates and made announcements for “other” standards which are in development.  While some have indicated the significance of this national standard will not impact the career field, it is important to recognize that the ANSI Standard will be the “only” American Standard. Future licensed training academies and States will develop training standards for EP based on the American National Standards Institute standard. It’s not an institutional, company or organizational standard, rather it’s the “American Standard.”

Final Remarks

Today, EP works in an environment where Risk Management is continually competing with Legal Liability. EP is squarely in the middle and the divisions that exist in this career field must be overcome to progress forward. An American National Standards Institute standard in EP corrects decades of lingering divisions within the career field by providing clear guidance and positive direction for future protective operations.

Our history has led us to this crossroads and standards will guide us down the correct path and into the future.

The best way to predict your future is to create it.

– Abraham Lincoln

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