I would like to take a few minutes of your time to address my thoughts on a recent attack on a VIP. Although I haven’t written on my blog in a while due to training and operational reasons, I felt I needed to start writing again and this was as good a time as any. This recent situation where the famous Terminator and former Governor of California was drop kicked from behind at an event in South Africa has the internet in a storm and has me thinking. Let me share with you my thoughts and I’ll let you and the rest of the internet do the rest.
When I first saw this video I was amazed at how someone was able to run up and drop kick Mr. Schwarzenegger from behind. I mean he was at what appears to be a relatively low key event and he had VIP Close Protection Officers in place to protect him. Like many people my instant reaction was to judge the quality of the people protecting him and potentially begin ripping apart their tactics. But I digress, as I like to think that there’s potentially more to it. Before I get into it, have a look at this video which is the first one I saw that got my heart rate going and my mind a fluttering.
There you have it, Mr. Schwarzeneger is filming a Snapchat video at one of his events and out from behind a youth comes running up and drop kicks him in the back. Immediately the nearest Bodyguard pounces on the attacker. So this is where the internet goes wild and starts calling out the protection team. They start calling them incompetent and untrained goons (a little creative paraphrasing there). The fingers get pointed and the key board warriors amass with ridicule. But perhaps there is more to it than that?
After watching the above video I too had some of those thoughts. However, I never want to outright blame a protection team as the video only shows one element of the situation. I did keep asking myself, how did this happen? How could this happen? He has bodyguards right? Then I found another video that showed a different angle and a much better view of the Close Protection members before, during and after the attack. Have a look and then read on if you choose to keep an open mind.
What Went Well?
When you watch the above clip (sorry for the format, it’s the only way I could get the video) you can clearly see the Close Protection team before, during and after the attack. Now I’m not going to dissect the video frame by frame and rip apart the tactics like a true Monday morning quarterback or keyboard warrior. But for a minute lets focus on what the Protection team did right as well as the folks that hired the security.
- Clearly Mr. Schwarzeneger or his staff felt there was as a need for security and they hired more than one. In fact it looks like at least 3 dedicated Bodyguards were employed.
- Two of the Close Protection team were in very close proximity to their client, which is a useful tactic when dealing with crowds and protection. I mean they do call it close protection for a reason and I don’t think anyone would argue that these guys were not close.
- One of the three team members appeared to be at the back of the crowd. Again, another great tactic for protection of VIPs as one never knows where the attack would originate. Logic might also suggest that where there is a greater number of people there is a greater likelihood of one of them being an attacker, using the crowd to hide or using the selfie line to get close. Having a member at the back could potentially allow for another angle to observe and interdict an attack. At least that member might be able to read some social deviations on a would be attacker or behavioural warning signs and could potentially have prevented an attack from that area. Being behind a crowd, scanning their hands and watching their behaviour is a very effective tactic.
- If you watch the second clip you can actually see the one Bodyguard is watching for threats and he’s trying to cover all angles (perhaps too many however). He’s watching behind himself, he’s watching behind Mr. Schwarzenegger and he’s watching the individual’s hands who is taking a selfie with his client. He is clearly in the moment and aware of his surroundings. In fact at one point he even stops what looks like the attackers first attempt at getting to Mr. Schwarzenegger.
- A final point, is that the Bodyguard also instantly reacted after the attack. Some may say too little too late and they might be right. But I have seen many people hesitate in similar situations (although I’ve never seen a drop kick from behind).
What Went Wrong?
With all those positives and things that were done right, there clearly was an attack, so What Went Wrong? Well again, I’m not going to break it down clip by clip. I’ll leave that for the google scholars. In my opinion it was a simple lack of division of responsibility or trust by a team member. To me it appears as if the two closest Close Protection Officers were watching the same area of responsibility. Arguable not unjustified pre-incident as that was the area with the greater number of people. And again logic or math may dictate that where there are the most people there are the greatest number of potential threats. Unfortunately in this situation it left the client’s back open to an attack and provided the attacker an opportunity to make his move. Why they left this area open we will likely never know. Perhaps it was a math or logic based decision or perhaps it was a lack of trust in the other team members abilities to recognise and react to a threat. Or perhaps they felt it was covered or that area was not a threat. Perhaps there was no reason.
A Note on Context
Right, wrong or otherwise the attack happened and there is no disputing that fact. Were mistakes made, absolutely. Could it have been done better, of course is could. But one thing that we are all missing, including myself; is that of context. None of us know any context behind the team, the VIP, the event or the situation? Context is the one thing missing from every video on the internet. With that said, here are some general examples of how context MIGHT have played a role in this attack. Think about these if you are at all involved with VIP Protection or VIP Operations, because right, wrong or otherwise, many factors contribute to the context of a situation.
- What level of training do these Protection Agents have? If they have little to no training, then who’s fault is that? The individuals? The organisation that hired them? The Client? All of them?
- How long have they been on the clock? Have they been working for a few hours and were rested up until then? Or did they just get off a 14 hour flight after working 10 days straight travelling around various regions and countries? Should it matter, no? Does it matter, yes?
- Did they have time and resources to advance the event and set up a proper protection plan or did they just walk in cold and have to do an “Advance at a Glance” in order to make it work. (Yes Chuck Randolph I’m perpetuating that phrase)
- How well did these team members know each other? Have they trained or worked together before? I mentioned trust earlier as a possible contributor to doubling up on areas of responsibility. Do you think there is greater potential for trust or lack therefore when teams have time to gel in training or on operations? Have they all been trained they same? Maybe they have trained and worked together before, but one of the guys is just a thud? Does that have an impact?
- Did the event organiser make statements ahead of time that they didn’t want security to be seen or in the video footage? Should that matter, no? Does it matter, yes?
- What about the client or the clients staff? Did they make any comments at the event or previously that they don’t want security to be in the pictures or obviously close? Do you think that being worried about losing ones job for being too close or in the pictures might create a clouded mind in that of a protection agent and could potentially create unwanted gaps in a protection plan?
Those are just some examples of possible context that may have contributed to a gap in the protection plan. They are not meant to be excuses but more points to consider in your VIP Protection teams or operations. The internet is one of the greatest tools out there and a major reason we are in the age of information. But without context, most of what we see is not what is and we must always consider not just the big picture, but the entire picture; large and small. The human factor may seem small, but can have a tremendous impact on everything.
A Point on the Size of Bodyguards
Before I wrap up this rant and let the internet takeover, I wanted to make a point on the bodyguards size in this situation. There are so many discussions in the Executive/Close Protection community about large Protection agents and their effectiveness. This is largely due to the fact that for many years celebrities and other clients have hired large, muscular and often untrained friends or associates to be their bodyguards. Now while I agree that this is still a huge issue (the lack of training piece), I would like to remind everyone that you can’t judge everyone on their image alone. I know many people in the industry of VIP Protection that are extremely large in stature and have muscular builds. These gents are just as capable of doing a detailed advance, talking to clients, defusing hostility and every other aspect of what we would consider today to be a professional protection agent. Now I’m not one of those guys with lots of big muscles, but for the sake of the entire community stop judging everyone, everything and every situation on what you first see. Get to know the person, look into the incident and try and get some context. Or at least give them the benefit of the doubt and perhaps start using the internet more for good instead of evil. (Not everyone of course or I would be guilty of over generalising and judging as well).
I must say that I am disappointed to see this attack on Mr. Schwarzenegger, not because of what the Protection team did or did not do, but because he is a senior citizen, just out trying to do some good. What bothers me more is that so many in the Protection community instantly jumped online to criticise instead of support their fellow agents. I would suspect that most of us in this industry are on the side of good, yet so many good people use the internet for evil. Instead of looking at this incident as an opportunity to point fingers and nit pick the shit out of it, let’s try and learn from it so it doesn’t happen again or to one of our own clients. Let’s use this to recognise the value of training, team cohesion, hiring practices, stakeholder relations and so many other valuable points that contribute to a protection operation. I’m sure every one reading this has all made mistakes in their careers both in training and operationally. I know I sure have and those mistake are what have made me better. I’m just lucky that my mistakes have not resulted in situations like this and are not plastered all over the internet (knock on wood).
Thanks for reading. Now let’s see where the internet takes this. You’re move; comment, like and share for good or evil?
With that said, I really would like to know your thoughts on the situation or feedback on what I’ve written. Please feel free to comment, I just ask that you keep it professional. Or not, it’s a free society (depending on where you’re reading this).