Since leaving the U.S. Government, people have asked me many times what it was like to protect high-value personnel (HVP) resettled in the United States due to their cooperation and involvement in U.S. Government national security programs.
The answer is that it was one of the most challenging and rewarding positions of my career working as an Intelligence Officer, hearing their life stories and understanding their motivations to become a spy.
Challenging because of the overarching threat posed against these individuals and their families. And rewarding to finally see these brave individuals – placing their safety and trust in the hands of the U.S. Government – and finally breathe a sigh of relief once their work is complete. But was their life ever complete or did their actions present more challenges for the life ahead?
Although their work/mission for the U.S. Government was complete, their safety was a responsibility of the executive protection teams I managed while serving the United States Government.
The Most Significant Challenges with High-Value Personnel
Following HVP resettlement in the United States, three particular challenges in managing protective operations for the HVPs arose. These include invincibility, complacency, and mental illness/self-medication, managing the short-term/long-term unknown variables. For example, mental illness, suicide ideation, and infidelity – that plagues the family unit of the HPV.
Suppose there are readers out there wondering how this relates to any business C-Suite executive protection. Well, rest assured, there is extensive overlap, as I have learned while operating my own company – Specter Security Group, LLC.
Our company has had the honor of managing protective intelligence and executive protection operations for several years.
Our clients have represented Fortune 500 companies in many realms. These include high-end commerce, supply chain markets, finance, environmental technology, entertainment, medical professionals, and investment brokers.
Understanding Baseline Exposure Issues
All principals possess some adverse baggage in their professional and personal lives that will impact the manner in which they conduct themselves in front of executive protection agents.
The principal’s professional life is never a 9-5 job, but one that intermixes with personal lives presenting operational communications security (OPSEC) challenges for the executive protection team in screening anyone who enters the security bubble on a frequent/infrequent basis. Therefore, protecting proprietary and personal information – as dictated by the company board warranting protection – will remain a constant challenge for executive protection agents.
Sometimes, the most common challenge for any security team involves your principal(s) or HVP’s uncooperative behavioral resolve. This resolve may be a continuous behavior problem from the beginning or it may emerge over time. What drives this unexpected behavior that now presents a wrinkle in the security footprint? This is a common question the lead executive protection agent must attempt to resolve regularly.
It is critically important for the protective team leader to understand and communicate with the principal all unresolved adverse exposures – mistresses, undisclosed debt, family stressors – that would impact the principal’s security. Transparency between the Principal and the Executive Protection Agent is key in ensuring the integrity of the security bubble.
There are exceptions that most executive protection agents must account for in their advance planning and protection process. Those exceptions are the principals who are so incorrigible that you may compare them to a five-year-old who just consumed a year’s amount of sweets.
First, the principal may adopt this “invincible” narcissistic image all the while attempting to skirt protection.
One must consistently remind the principal – whether it be in the morning or evening briefings – that there remains a systemic threat – overt or covert – warranting seamless protection. And regardless of threat level – High Medium or Low–the adversary that seeks to harm them or their family lies in wait for complacency.
Complacency and narcissistic qualities exhibited by a high threat principal is a toxic cocktail that a protection team should be cognizant of and adapt to in their daily protection routine. Such behavioral disposition if allowed to fester will – at some point – adversely impact the principal and the executive protection team.
Several control factors can be instituted to mitigate this overarching problem to include executive protection team indemnification clauses cited in the protection contracts and a governance officer on the corporate board to serve as an intermediary to remind the principal to essentially cooperate with security protocol.
Executive protection teams that enable principals to dictate without professional security advisory will undoubtedly water down any form of protection or lack thereof. This presents a host of liabilities for any company whose sole responsibility is to protect the principal.
Suppose the principal, e.g., high-value personnel, or family is injured or killed. In that case, there must be a chain of custody paper trail indemnifying the protection team’s coverage at the time of the incident. Without these indemnifying documents, the company responsible for protection will be liable and costly.
Other Considerations on High-Value Personnel
Aside from managing the principal’s movements to mitigate any sort of risk, next comes the family members who seek to manipulate the agenda. Whether willingly or unwillingly, the family unit will present a host of challenges for the executive protection teams and the principal.
Whether the principal (HVP) is being used for high-end debriefings or seeking to secure a major business transaction, the daily activities of the family unit will present challenges. If you will entertain me, let me name several that I encountered while managing protection teams.
The spouse-in all of his/her infinite wisdom – seeks to venture out seeking some form of liberty from the family compound. As they would like to call it, their newfound liberty will undoubtedly experiment in some form of social radicalization.
As in years past, I have witnessed the spouse becoming involved in risky sexual lifestyles, self-medication with alcohol, narcotics, or both, and/or gambling. Their endorphin fix – via risky ventures – substitutes what they are missing in their marriage because their spouse is involved with another mistress – their work.
The vulnerability that the forgotten spouse exhibits now becomes a vulnerability for the principal. The reason is that the old acronym of RAID – Revenge, Addiction, Ideology, and Debt – comes into play. Those seeking to blackmail or seek harm to the principal will use the spousal’s risky lifestyle to compromise them for payout.
Executive protection teams must consistently weigh the balance, patterns, and disposition of lifestyles that the principal and spouse exhibit. The reason for this is to ensure safety and security measures are harmonized and never compromised.
Lastly, the same applies to children. Depending on the age of the children, the safeguards or safety nets in protecting children of high-value personnel must be weighed following their exhibited behaviors.
Let us not forget that teenagers of high-value principals will sometimes exhibit the same invincibility behaviors as their parent(s). There will be attempts to push the limits, e.g., drug use, DWI’s, spring break binge drinking/incarceration, and if pushed too far, there may be consequences for the principal.
Although most family units – that executive protection teams protect – will be orderly and understanding why they are receiving protection. They remain the outliers that will present tactical challenges for principals in their role as a parent and a responsible corporate officer mitigating corporate exposure.
Timothy Gill, CFE is a U.S. Government decorated Intelligence Officer who spent decades managing overseas counterterrorism, counterproliferation, and counterespionage operations. Tim is now Vice President of Specter Security Group, LLC (a U.S. Government Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Company). The company runs executive protection and protective intelligence operations in the United States and abroad.