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The Human Complexities of Executive Protection

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Recently, Elon Musk hosted Saturday Night Live. During his opening monologue, he publicly admitted he has Asperger’s Syndrome on live TV. I applaud Musk for coming forward with this admission as it can help open the dialogue with others who have various degrees of this syndrome. Especially as experts now consider it to be part of the autism spectrum disorders (ASD). On that note, let’s discuss the human complexities of executive protection.

In my experience in executive protection (close protection), this openness may be a massive benefit in educating professionals on this “elephant in the room” topic. In addition, as we have all learned more about ASD, we are finding better ways to support those affected.

Previously, dealing on a personal or professional level with someone with an ASD could manifest itself regarding a difference in their:

  • Personal security perspective,
  • Miscommunication,
  • Habits or actions that could, in fact, be harmful to the principal, and
  • Other unique scenarios that can all be part of any special close protection relationship between the protectee and the protector.

Often there might be a quiet conversation among staff and the protective agents regarding these challenges.

However, discussing these concerns, even privately, people often see them as taboo and just avoid them.

In my experience, principals with varying degrees of ASD and even those with bipolar episodes can sometimes create additional challenges or confusion for those providing close protection and lead to elevated personal risk for the principals.

According to Applied Behavior Analysis, Asperger’s Syndrome is one of the disorders that is generally considered high functioning on the Autism spectrum.

Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, known as Aspergians, may suffer from several social impairments and challenges with motor skills. For example, Aspergians have difficulty with communication in a variety of ways. In addition, they may have self-imposed rules or patterns that are usually very restrictive.

The human complexities of executive protection that we must always bear in mind.

According to Applied Behavior Analysis, Asperger’s Syndrome is one of the disorders that is generally considered high functioning on the Autism spectrum.

The World Health Organization has estimated that as many as 44 million individuals globally have elements of Asperger’s and about 1 in 270 people have ASD. While there are varying degrees of Asperger’s, don’t think for one minute those with this syndrome are not successful or functional ― often, it is just the opposite.

Asperger’s and ASDs affect all walks of life: politicians, actors, entrepreneurs, athletes, musicians, academia, writers, artists, and others. In some cases, their unique characteristics help them focus on the very things that make them highly successful.

Aspergians may exhibit one or all of the following ten characteristics, according to Applied Behavior Analysis:

  • Intellectual or artistic interest,
  • Speech differences,
  • Delayed motor development,
  • Poor social skills,
  • The development of harmful psychological problems,
  • Detail-oriented,
  • Persistence,
  • Not socially driven,
  • High integrity,
  • Masters of routine.

Because Aspergians tend to be highly intellectual, functional, creative, and focused individuals, many of the world’s most successful people (some of the wealthiest too, as many have their place on the Forbes World’s Billionaires List) are known or rumored to have Asperger’s. Musk is just one high-profile example.

In my experience, I have had the privilege to provide protection and assist in building programs for many successful people. Some of them may fall into the category of “rumored or confirmed” diagnoses of Asperger’s.

human complexities of executive protection
Jessica-Jane Applegate, swimmer

Clarified: Human Complexities of Executive Protection

As someone in the EP profession, you can see from the list of characteristics above that there are more than a few traits that could cause concern or create challenges when protecting those with this syndrome.

I would recommend learning more about this syndrome. In some cases, perhaps seeking professional advice from a qualified clinical psychologist on how ASDs can affect your protective approach and even communication between you and your principals.

I shared this article on the human complexities of executive protection with a couple of highly respected and experienced security professionals. I wanted to get their perspectives before going public and did so as I recognize the sensitivity of the content. Both acknowledged that this is an essential and appropriate topic of discussion.

We can see many outward physical challenges a principal may have (wheelchairs, walkers, poor eyesight, etc.) that pose their own sets of tactical difficulties. However, when we need to protect a principal with an undisclosed ASD, situations may arise that pose a greater risk to the protectee.

This issue can get even more complicated with family details undergoing similar challenges. Close protection enters a space of intimate proximity and knowledge, and ― when combined with human interaction ― mutual trust is required by all involved.

Being entrusted to “protect” our principals and clients also includes their privacy and personal information. So this editorial is NOT meant to be an open forum or invitation to talk about specific clients or principals who may have some form of ASD or other conditions, but more broadly on the topic of protecting and building programs around those who do.

In Conclusion

It’s in education and understanding that we find the path to improvement. This leads to enhancing our ability to support our principals with appropriate and individualized close protection. No two principals are the same.

We must address the many aspects of this syndrome. Or, for that matter, any other mental or physical health concerns related to our ability to protect our principals. But, more dramatically, even from ourselves in some cases.

Enter the super dynamics and human complexities of executive protection that I write about in The Protected.

Musk has bravely and publicly acknowledged something very personal and private. And I hope it might help shine a positive light and foster meaningful conversation on the topic for everyone. Not just the rich and famous.


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