The Principal is always right?

Those who really know me, know I love philosophy. I can’t read enough of Plato, Kant, Ayn Rand, and others. I’m fascinated by how philosophy forces your mind into twisted thought exercises; I’m amazed by the way this often changes your personal truths irreversibly. I know, you’re already yawning right? What does this have to do with protecting someone you ask? If you have not conducted very many moral/ethical thought exercises in your life, protecting someone else’s life will force you to do that very thing, like it or not.

  I just read an article about Princess Diana’s death. In this article, her former Scotland Yard bodyguard places the blame for her death squarely on the shoulders of her recently-hired private bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones. The article outlines a series of errors in judgment made by Rees-Jones which directly caused, or at the very least allowed, the accident that claimed her life to happen. This includes allowing the Principals to be driven by someone he knew, or should have known, was drunk. My mind immediately went to the beginning of Plato’s republic, where Socrates is trying to answer the question, what is justice? To save you the torturous reading, if that type of thing is not your gig, a thought exercise ensues about giving back borrowed belongings. Would you give back your friend’s gun if you knew he had become mentally unstable? Would that be ethical? Moral or just? To bring it home, do you disregard the wishes of the Principal? Do you go so far as to prevent your Principal from doing something you believe will harm them? Where do you draw the line? What are the consequences? I remember the first time a protected person put me in this situation. It was not life and death, but it was a dilemma none the less. The General I guarded in Bosnia hated to wear battle rattle. (Combat gear for the uninitiated. Helmet, body armor etc.) He would not wear it in spite of a higher-headquarters directive. So what do we do? Can’t force him to wear it. Do we disregard the policy ourselves in order to dress commensurate? If we don’t, we are making him a larger target; if we do we run afoul of the directive, not to mention the leaving ourselves in a less protected state without ballistic head protection and so on.

  Another time at a formal social, the boss in a slightly intoxicated state, got into a wrestling match with another high-ranking officer, which turned serious. It was a silly game that got carried away, but we were momentarily dumbfounded, frozen by disbelief that this was happening. What do you do? Break them up? Fight the other officer on behalf of your principal? This episode forced the entire team into a thought exercise. How best to handle something like that should it happen again?

  If you talk to anyone who has done protection work, they will probably have at least ten stories like this; stories that leave you scratching your head, incredulous over the situation and it’s solution. Protection veterans can tell you if you do this job, your weird-crapometer will be pegged out from time to time, so it’s helpful to go through these “what-if” exercises. This will ultimately help you with the fight you have with yourself, in your own head, prior to responding to a situation and will enable you to respond faster.

  I think it starts with the Principal. I often say there should be a course to teach a VIP how to interact with their security; getting them to actually attend such a course is perhaps the problem. It is all too common for a person to hire a security person, or team, and expect them to work miracles. They place themselves in ridiculously dangerous situations, against the advice of their security, and ridicule or downplay their concern when nothing happens. In life, nothing happens until it does. Principals will continue to be upset when their security reacts. I know I sound like Mr. Miyagi, or Confucius, but don’t buy a guard dog if you can’t stand the barking. The reverse is also true. You probably shouldn’t take a job protecting someone, if protecting them always, is a problem for you. Even to the detriment of your job or more.

  Indeed, protective agents are constantly working through ethical/moral and tactical issues they probably never imagined existed. And the biggest issue is that there is no definitive answer. I think the best we can do is throw out some truisms; each agent will have to determine where his own line gets drawn in the sand. In the case of Diana, I think we can all agree, Trevor should not have permitted the drunk chauffeur to drive; job or not. He should have refused to give in to the wishes of the Principals. The agent has to make that career decision and be prepared to let the chips fall where they may; he has to be okay with the potential consequences.

  So what did I do in my examples? We analyzed the situation and realized the boss was not going to wear his gear. We determined it would be better for the team members close to the Principal to help him blend by dressing as he dressed. Ultimately in discussions with him we found he had a political reason not to wear combat gear to places where he was telling Bosnians it was safe. We mitigated by having more thorough outer cordon security. Lesson being: Don’t be reluctant to discuss these issues with the Principal. In the other incident we didn’t have to make a decision at all. Fortunately for us, both officers realized the spectacle they were making and stopped before my team could intervene. Each agent has to go through the exercise and determine his morals and ethics and have the courage to apply them in the face of pressure from the principal. That’s the job.