19 November 2011

Executive Protection

Elizabeth Zelvin

At a recent dinner meeting of the New York chapter of Mystery Writers of America, the speakers were the founders of an outfit called Management Resources Ltd of New York. A temp agency? Nope. Human resources consultants? Nope again. Robert H. Rahn, a retired NYPD lieutenant and homicide detective, and Kim Anklin, also a retired cop with a background in crime and intelligence analysis, gave their private investigation firm a bland name because their corporate clients didn’t want the information that they’d hired PIs to spread all over the company. They’re not completely undercover, though: their website is http://www.nysleuth.com/.

While Management Resources is a full-service investigations firm, they came to MWA to talk about one of their specialties, executive protection. That’s motorcades and bodyguards and everything the Secret Service does for the President and A-list visiting heads of state. Lesser lights—such as the numerous members of the Saudi royal family—as well as celebrity actors and athletes—make do with private firms like this one. The amount of protection that they get (from a single bodyguard to an eight-person team or from a single car to a mini-motorcade of four) depends on both the level of threat and the client’s budget.

When a client hires them for protection during, say, a three-day visit to New York, the firm starts by getting a detailed schedule and sending out an advance team of two or three operatives to analyze, measure, map, and if possible photograph the details of every venue the client expects to visit, especially the approaches: the principal, as the subject is called, is most vulnerable when entering and leaving the venue. The team that protects the principal during the visit is thoroughly briefed beforehand. Unscheduled stops are strongly discouraged, though if the principal insists, the team adapts. As someone pointed out during the Q&A, the kitchen where Bobby Kennedy was shot was an unscheduled stop.

According to Rahn, the way protection teams work changed significantly as a result of the shooting of President Reagan. When it happened, only one bodyguard got the President into a car and away from the scene, while all the others converged on the shooter. Nowadays, it’s the opposite. In Reagan’s case, the bullet seemed to have breezed under his armpit, leaving no apparent wound. The car was headed back to the hotel when a bloody froth at the mouth, which the protector luckily recognized as indicating a collapsed lung, sent them to the hospital instead.

 After explaining how it works, Rahn called on eight volunteers, including me, to perform a demonstration. I had the right front position in the formation, which made me the person who would tackle the attacker, if trouble came from the right. All the rest would converge on the principal, whose safety is the team’s priority. (Principals who want them to walk the dog and pick up their laundry—actors are the worst offenders--get nipped in the bud.) Rahn admitted that he and his staff, all retired law enforcement, have had to unlearn their instinct to go after the guy with the gun. What impressed me as a participant was how broad the range I had to keep my eye on was, even though I had to cover only one quadrant of the space around the principal.

The National Arts Club, an immense old mansion on Gramercy Park with multiple approaches to every room and plenty of shadows and hiding places, made a great demonstration venue. Waiters and bartenders came and went. (On a job, they would have been investigated in advance.) At one point during the role play, a door on the left opened unexpectedly, and a brand new staff person appeared—fortunately not packing a gun.

Everybody agreed that the audience had more questions for the speakers than at any other talk in recent memory. I’m always interested in whether novels, movies, and TV get it right. I was interested to learn that there’s no personal contact whatever with the principal, except to direct him (“Come this way, sir.”) or respond to requests (“He’s a friend, let him through.”). In other words, Kevin Costner definitely should not have slept with Whitney Houston.


  1. Very interesting. One of my favorite MWA-NW speakers was a Secret Srvice agent. He said their favorite event of the year is the UN opening cause all the SS agents show up.

  2. Thanks for all these details, Liz. Very useful!

  3. What an amazing group of writers. I keep learning new things all the time!

  4. Yeah, but did you learn not to sleep with Whitney Houston? I somehow doubt it.


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