Personal Security Details (PSD) and Close Protection details (CP) both have the same purpose: to protect the client or Principle. But they generally work in different environments and use different Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures. If you’ve ever considered getting into either field, it is a good idea to know how each of them works. And in reality, understanding how they work can also help us keep ourselves and our loved ones safe in our everyday lives. I’ve worked in both PSD and close protection, and while they have some of the same aspects, they are very different in other ways.
Maybe the best way to emphasize the differences is to describe two assignments I worked on—one on a PSD team and the other on a Close Protection detail. In the article, I may refer to the people being protected as either the client or the Principle. Both are accurate, and they mean the same thing.
A Personal Security Detail Mission
The year is 2005, and I was a member of a PSD team working on a U.S. government contract in Iraq. It was my first mission with the team. We were to take several American contractors to the Iraqi Ministry of Water in Baghdad. Our Principles were engineers working on water infrastructure projects as part of the Iraq Reconstruction program funded by the DoD. Our job was to get them to their meeting, keep them safe while they were there, and get them back to their compound. Preferably alive and uninjured.
The route was well known as the teams had made numerous trips over them in the past weeks. The team was running the standard three-vehicle convey. It consisted of an up-armored Suburban in the lead, the client vehicle, a B6 class fully armored Ford Excursion, and another up-armored Suburban bringing up the rear. Up-armored vehicles are standard SUVs that have armor plating installed in the doors and bodywork. All of us were kitted up with body armor, tactical vests, and AK47 rifles. I and a few others also had Browning High Power pistols.
Because it was an urban environment, all three vehicles ran close together to prevent any vehicles from getting in between us. If it were out of town, there would be more spacing between vehicles. Downtown Baghdad is always busy, and there are no traffic signals, nor were there any police around. That makes for a tense trip. But today, the trip to the MoW was made with no issues, and we entered the walled compound. There were armed guards and towers manned by Iraqis with Russian-built 12.7mm machine guns on each corner facing the street.
As we approached the building entrance, the first vehicle pulled past the doors and stopped at an angle to block any traffic entering the drive from the other direction. The client’s vehicle stopped in front of the doors but was well off to the right side of the driveway. The trail Suburban pulled up and parked partially between the left side of the client’s vehicle and the doors. That way, the clients would not be exposed to the doors or any open areas as they exited the left side of the vehicle.
The Team Leader rode in the front passenger seat of the client’s vehicle. Everyone from the team except the drivers and the tail gunner in the trail vehicle dismounted and did local security. The Team Leader and three other team members got into a diamond formation with the clients in the center and escorted them into the building. The Team leader accompanied them to their meeting while the rest of us moved the vehicles to a waiting area and waited for the meeting to end.
About 20 minutes after we arrived, there was an incident on the street. There were several explosions, probably from RPGs and some small arms fire. As dust and smoke drifted over the wall, we all got into cover where we had clear fields of fire until we knew what was going on. The machine gun in the nearest tower ripped off a couple of quick bursts, but it was evident they either couldn’t see what was going on or they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves. Since we didn’t completely trust the Iraqis around us, a couple of us kept an eye on the tower in case they pointed their big machine gun in the wrong direction, but they continued to watch out onto the street.
The explosions ended, and we waited for whatever would happen next. After another hour or so, the client’s meeting was over. The Team Leader radioed to say they were done and asked about the situation outside. Our operations center, which had a direct line to Coalition Headquarters, told us there had been a bit of a firefight between some insurgents and the Iraqi security folks outside the Ministry, but it was all calm now. That didn’t mean they weren’t still around somewhere, waiting for a target to leave the compound.
We pulled back up to the building entrance and met the clients when they came out to escort them back into their armored vehicle. The trip back to their compound in the Green Zone went without incident. When we were back, Reuban, the Team Leader, an American of Panamanian descent and a former Special Forces NCO, slapped me on the shoulder and said, “Welcome to Iraq!” I grinned and said I was glad to be there.
A Close Protection Assignment
Fast forward eight years. I was working a long-term security gig with a large civil rights organization headquartered in Maryland. It was the 50th Memorial of a civil rights activist who was murdered in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1963. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and there was going to be a memorial service there at the Old Memorial Amphitheater on the anniversary day of his death.
It was going to be a very high-profile event, and there would be many people there who would make inviting targets for a certain segment of the population. These included the leadership of the civil rights organization, the family and descendants of the slain man, former President Bill Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, a couple of Congressmen and Senators, the Governor of Mississippi, and others. To top it off, because Arlington National Cemetery has the status of a National Monument, patrons visiting the cemetery could not be excluded from the grounds or even the immediate area of the ceremony. That meant that people would be walking by the ceremony all day.
I did an advance visit to Arlington Cemetery the day before the event to walk the ground and coordinate with the person managing the event. I looked at access and egress routes, emergency services, and normal security for the site. I also coordinated with the other CP details that would be there. As a former POTUS, Bill Clinton had a team from the Secret Service. Attorney General Holder’s team was from the FBI. I had off-duty and former police officers to provide close protection for the senior people of the organization I worked for.
The event was taking place in a very uncontrolled environment. Fortunately, the ceremony site was accessible by car, so we could get people in and out without a lot of walking exposure. Attorney General Holder’s team was especially uptight as he was a very unpopular person. They didn’t want anyone sitting directly behind him and would have an agent there to occupy the seat and keep people out.
The event was held on June 12. It was a typically muggy, hot summer day in Northern Virginia. Many guests and dignitaries were in suits. Dark suits and sunglasses were the uniform of the day for all the security people. We all got to stand in the heat, sometimes in the sun and sometimes in the shade. There were lots of speeches.
Since the site could not be cordoned off, I spent time circulating around the periphery of the pavilion where it was taking place, talking to tourists and making sure they kept moving. Talking to them when they slowed or stopped to see what was going on was the best way to check them out. There were no weapons of any kind in sight.
When it was all over, we worked together to manage the flow of people. The dignitaries went first so they wouldn’t be left sitting in after-event traffic for any length of time. After they were gone, everyone else went off to the after-event activities at the gravesite and receptions. There were no problems or incidents. It was essentially a hot, boring day mostly spent standing around, like 99.9% of all close protection gigs.
One thing to understand when you do security work is when you take a contract, differences in politics, race, background, or anything else mean nothing at all. This is your client or your client’s guests, and if need be, you will put yourself at risk to protect them, whether you like them or their politics or not. Along with the people I’ve already mentioned, I’ve done security at events that included such polarizing personages as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and even the president of Haiti. Oddly enough, the nicest person I ever worked around was Jesse Jackson. He’s the only one who ever actually came around to every close protection person in the immediate area to shake their hand and thank them for watching over everyone.
The more polarizing the client, the greater the risk. It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle they’re on. At least half the country doesn’t like them. It’s a draining job. You have to consider every client as having a target on their back and every person around them as being a potential assassin. Before big events, I’ve had to clear every sound and camera technician out of a large auditorium so the bomb-sniffing K-9s could come through and check the area.
A Word About ‘Bodyguards’
The term “bodyguard” usually brings to mind a big, muscular guy in a T-shirt who walks around with pop stars and celebrities. They use their size to push crowds of fans and autograph seekers aside and intimidate the media. There have been numerous instances of them getting into physical altercations with the media, especially camerapersons.
These guys often fail to maintain a professional relationship with their clients and are generally referred to as “buddyguards” by professionals in the security industry. At one point, they hopefully went through a close protection training program, but after that, many of them don’t keep their training up. They hit the gym frequently and rely on their size and strength to resolve situations and on their contacts and social media pages to find work.
Don’t get me wrong, some bodyguards are well-trained and very professional. Others want to be celebrities and crave the attention they get by being seen with pop stars and jet-setters. By the same token, there are two types of clients: those who need protection and those who want it because it makes them feel important.
Personal Security Details (PSD) vs Close Protection (CP)
Now that you better understand the differences between the two types of security, let’s compare them in more detail.
PSD teams and CP details generally work in different environments, although CP details have more crossover than PSD teams.
PSD teams normally work in high-risk, non-permissive environments. Along with dangerous conflict zones like Iraq or Afghanistan, you will also see them in Latin America, where drug cartels are almost unchallenged in some areas. They are also prevalent in many parts of Africa where the rule of law is weak. PSD team members are used to rough living and harsh conditions. When they get the opportunity to stay in a nice hotel, it’s a cause for celebration.
CP details may also work in non-permissive environments. Most often, however, they work in more permissive settings. I have a friend in Germany who is a former member of the French Foreign Legion. He runs a team of security folks who work in both environments, permissive and non-permissive. I have another acquaintance here in the U.S. who provides CP for members of the Saudi royal family when they visit the U.S. Nice hotels, airports, and big cities are all very familiar to close protection detail members.
What is a Personal Security Detail (PSD) team?
A Personal Security Detail or PSD team is usually anywhere from 6 to 9 individuals. They may be a little bigger at times but seldom smaller. PSD teams specialize in vehicle travel in high-risk areas. They can also do security and direct CP duties at the beginning and end locations of a trip or any time the team makes a stop.
PSD teams normally use SUVs because they offer more room for gear, are more survivable in the event of an incident, and can easily negotiate barriers like curbs or rough terrain off the side of the road surface to get out of an ambush zone. An SUV is also much more capable of smashing its way through a barrier of vehicles or running another vehicle off the road if the need arises. A PSD team driver is trained that their vehicle is their most effective weapon. I know this from experience.
Some PSD teams prefer to go low profile and use nondescript automobiles rather than SUVs. I’ve seen teams use this tactic successfully in Iraq, but their only defense is not being noticed in the first place. If something does happen, they are at a disadvantage compared to an SUV-mounted team.
Personal Security Detail Skills
PSD team members are experts in many types of small arms. These include assault rifles, submachine guns, and handguns. Prior military experience is a desired qualification for most employers. Tactics include both dismounted combat and fighting from vehicles.
All team members have at least a combat lifesaver level of emergency medical training. Most teams also include a qualified and certified first responder-level medic, such as a combat medic or EMT.
Drivers are trained in tactical driving skills such as high-speed backing, J-turns, PIT maneuvers, and incapacitated driver drills. They are also trained in driving B6 armored SUVs. A B6 Ford Excursion like we used weighed 10,000 pounds. That makes them handle a lot differently than a standard SUV weighing between 5,000 and 6,000 pounds.
PSD teams generally do not make an effort to be unobtrusive. Their convoy of SUVs normally stand out enough that being unobtrusive isn’t possible. The team members themselves frequently wear a uniform and are openly equipped with body armor and a tactical vest. Weapons like assault rifles and submachine guns are carried openly.
What is a Close Protection Detail?
Aside from normally working in lower-risk environments, CP details have some other differences. For one, although they commonly include a trained tactical driver, CP focuses more on protecting the Principle(s) when they are out of the vehicle. At home, at meetings, hotels, and events.
A CP detail can be a couple of people, or it can be as many as 6 or more. Generally, a CP detail is smaller than a PSD team, but that’s not always the case. While all team members can usually do every job as well as the next team member, with the possible exception of tactical drivers, they are often assigned specific roles. These can include:
- Personal Escort Section – These are the people who stay close to the Principle to maintain the outer cordon, the safe area surrounding the client.
- Residential Security Team – If the assignment extends to the client’s home, it’s the RST that covers it.
- Advance Team – If the client is traveling, whether it’s across town or across the country, the advance team will go out a day or two in advance. Their job is to check out the route to look for potential problems. They also check the hotel or other accommodation. Finally, they gather critical information such as the locations of medical services, any areas where there could be a problem, and what, if any, information is being released to the public about the Principle’s visit and itinerary.
Close Protection Skills
One of the most critical skills for a CP detail member is observation and counter-surveillance. The best time to respond to an incident is before it happens. Prevention is preferable to reaction. This includes both observation when the client is out and about in a crowd and counter-surveillance at stationary locations such as hotels and venues.
CP detail members are well-trained in weapons, although when they are armed, they generally only carry handguns. Some locations will not allow them to carry firearms, such as states and cities with strict gun control laws for team members who do not have local carry permits. If it is a private CP detail, as opposed to a government detail, they are also subject to No Gun Zone restrictions. In these cases, they must rely on other means.
For example, in Great Britain, CP details cannot even carry pepper spray or less-lethal weapons of any kind. CP detail members are well-trained in unarmed combat and restraint techniques.
One major difference between CP details and PSD teams is that CP details are very good at being unobtrusive. They must be able to do their jobs well while staying very much out of the spotlight. They are excellent at positioning themselves so they are not easily noticed but still capable of reacting to a threat. Business casual and suits are the uniform of the day.
Because CP details mainly work in low-risk areas, much of what they do is facilitation. They ensure that travel arrangements are sound and focus on getting the client where they are supposed to be with the least disruption and drama possible.
That’s not to say they can become complacent. The world is not a safe place, even in supposedly safe places. There is always the chance that a deranged stalker or a more professional threat will take advantage of a situation and attempt to make a hostile move.
Advance Teams and Route Reconnaissance
Advance teams are a crucial component of both PSD and CP work. A good team never goes into any situation or location with their eyes closed. Advance teams do route reconnaissance, look for potential problems or choke points, do a survey of any buildings the Principles will be entering, and assess risk and emergency services along the route and at the destination.
Sometimes you have to be creative. Once, while working PSD in Iraq, we needed to do a route recon in an area we had never been to before. Because we knew there were elements in the area that were hostile, we needed to be as unobtrusive as possible. We acquired one of the little Hilux pickup trucks that are ubiquitous in the Middle East. Then we bought a goat and tied it to a ring in the truck bed. Finally, two of us dressed in dishdāshah (the long dress-like clothes Arabs wear). Arabs don’t generally wear ball caps or sunglasses, so we didn’t either. We completed our route recon without incident.
Advance teams are also facilitators. They ensure that all the arrangements are made before the arrival of the client. This includes things like airport arrival, hotel check-in procedures, seating at venues and restaurants, and pick-up and drop-off areas. It is a very thorough process right down to small details like the locations of AED (automated external defibrillator) stations in airports and public buildings.
Protecting the client when they are on foot is a key component of both CP and PSD TTPs. Establishing and maintaining the cordon is as much an art as it is a science. There are established formations, such as the Diamond and Box formations, for when you have multiple detail members, but they are not always possible or appropriate.
A lot depends on the Principle. Businesspeople and the wealthy usually want to be left alone, so establishing a cordon around them is done with their support and cooperation. On the other hand, politicians and celebrities generally want to have a connection with the people who come out to see them. They often want to be able to get into the crowd to shake hands or allow people to touch their hands. In these cases, the protection detail has to adapt by either staying close to the client to watch what is going on or by watching unobtrusively from a small distance.
Once, when President Michel Martelly of Haiti was visiting Haitian-American communities in 2013, he invited all the people in the crowd to come up on the stage to meet him. Martelly had been a popular music star in Haiti before being elected president, and the crowd surged up onto the stage to the horror of his CP detail. They had completely lost control of the situation, so there was nothing they could do but try to keep an eye on everything that was happening.
One critical foot procedure that both PSD and CP details train on and practice is getting the Principle out of the area in the event of an incident. The technique does not involve gentle persuasion. Here’s an example of one of the techniques both CP and PSD team members are trained in.
In the event, you need to get the client out of the way, bend your left arm at the elbow and place it across the client’s shoulders. Apply strong downward pressure to bend the client’s upper body at the waist, keeping his head down. Do not let them stand upright during the evacuation. Use the right hand with the palm facing up to grab and secure the belt. If they are not wearing a belt, grab whatever part of their clothing you can. Stay low and steer the client to safety. If he falls, get him up quickly, but do not allow his feet to leave the floor.
Sounds kind of like tough love.
One Day in Kabul…
As you can imagine, Kabul, Afghanistan, is a non-permissive environment for Westerners. Our clients there lived and worked in fortified compounds. But people go stir-crazy if they don’t have at least a few opportunities to get out and maybe buy some snacks or souvenirs.
Since they couldn’t just wander around on their own, we worked out a system to take a couple of them at a time to parts of the city where there were some small general store-type shops so they could do a little shopping. Flower Street was always popular because it had shops and even cafes where expats could unwind, always under the watchful eyes of their security team. The security team was essentially a close protection detail drawn from the PSD teams.
On one occasion, a female client was in a small shop buying something when there was gunfire and an explosion out in the street. The CP detail member literally threw himself at her, hitting her in a flying tackle. He took her to the floor and covered her with his body just as the window blew in, showering everyone and everything with glass and debris. He stayed on top of her for almost a full minute until he was certain it was safe for her to stand up so they could evacuate the area.
She suffered some bruises and scrapes from being tackled, and he suffered some cuts from flying glass, but they were otherwise uninjured. She probably barely knew his name, and he knew nothing about her except that she was his Principle and, therefore, his responsibility.
One of the most critical procedures for a security team is transferring a client or clients from a disabled vehicle to another vehicle. This is especially important for PSD teams that travel in convoys in high-risk environments. It is less critical for CP details because they don’t usually travel in high-risk environments or in convoys.
If the client vehicle has been disabled through an ambush, IED, or even just a traffic accident, the number one priority is to get the client(s) into another vehicle and out of the danger zone. This isn’t as easy as just having them get out and walk to the next vehicle. There could be gunfire or danger from another explosion to worry about. Even a traffic accident could simply be a ruse to stop the convoy and allow attackers to get at the clients.
There is a set procedure that goes something like this.
The Prinicple(s) may be in the first vehicle or the second, but they will never be in the last vehicle. For this example, let’s say they are in the second vehicle. If the client vehicle is disabled, the lead vehicle immediately stops, backing up if necessary to get closer to the disabled vehicle. Everyone except the driver dismounts and sets a security cordon in an arc around the front of the vehicle.
The trail vehicle pulls up to the side of the client vehicle, away from where the attack came from. The driver and the tail gunner (the PSD team member set in the back of the vehicle to cover the rear of the convoy) stay in the vehicle. The other two team members of the trail vehicle and the team members riding with the clients get out and get the clients out of the vehicle on the side away from the known danger and sheltered by the trail vehicle and get them into the trail vehicle.
Then, everyone gets back in their vehicles and gets out of the kill zone or threatened area. The whole process can be completed in under 2 minutes. If there are injuries, the team will stop down the road in a sheltered spot to stabilize them before proceeding to a safe haven.
If the client vehicle was disabled in an accident, the process is essentially the same. The only difference is that one team vehicle may stay behind to deal with the accident while the other gets the client out of the area and on to their destination. Either way, the priority is to get the Principles moving again and to their destination.
How Does This Relate to Us in Private Life?
CP and PSD tactics, techniques, and procedures can apply to us in our personal lives every time we go anywhere. We may not travel in vehicle convoys in environments where we have to worry about roadside bombs, but we can find ourselves in situations involving criminals and psychopaths.
Being observant of your surroundings, looking for anything out of the ordinary, keeping track of your loved ones, and being alert and ready to react to any situation are all skills we should cultivate. Children are abducted, people are assaulted, and active shooters suddenly start blazing away on a regular basis, even in America. CP details and PSD teams are the ultimate sheepdogs watching over their flock, and we should follow their example.
When Elisjsha Dicken stopped an active shooter at the Greenwood Park Mall in July 2022, he used the same tactics a CP detail does. He observed the threat and pushed his girlfriend (Principle) behind him and told her to stay down. Once she was out of the line of fire, he fired 10 shots from his handgun at a range of 40 yards, hitting the gunman 8 times.
He was observant. He kept track of his Principle. He was alert and ready to react to the threat. A CP detail member couldn’t have done it any better. CP details and PSD teams do not go looking for trouble, and neither should we. They will avoid it every chance they get. But they are always ready to react to the threat, preferably by getting out of the danger zone, but by taking action if necessary. We should have the same mindset.