Una Riley rounds off her two-part interview with the California-based security man Gavin De Becker, with why he thinks the technology of assassination has really only changed in two substantial ways in probably the last thousand years.
De Becker continued: “I would say that the technology of assassination has really only changed in two substantial ways in probably the last thousand years. One being remote control explosives (technology) and the other communication. The way I look at this is that there has not been a profound sea change in protective technologies or strategies today versus a thousand years ago. The same applies to attack technologies, to which I would add quad-copters and other remote controlled aircraft and devices.” We went on to talk about this at length as I thought that statement couldn’t be correct but when you compare the ancient versus modern he is right. The same preventative measures have been in place for hundreds of years … they have just modernised over time. For instance protective clothing – from suits of armour to modern stab and bullet-proof vests, the comparison list is endless. The wider world of technology and communication are the game changers. De Becker went on: “There has already been a public figure attacked by a quad copter, not for the purposes of assassination but for the disruption of a speech. These little inexpensive devices make a huge change in the vulnerability of ‘at risk’ figures. They also make a huge change in the resource for protectors for fixed sites. Let’s just go forward a couple of years and imagine a five acre estate in Beverly Hills for instance and instead of responding with a guard to investigate what activated an infra-red beam … we would send out a quad-copter and that could follow people around. Pretty soon it could pick-up a package from the front gate. Amazon you may know are thinking of using them for deliveries. They are enormously sophisticated, you might have seen some today and some of the things we are doing. You will have seen the robot we are studying and modifying. We are already concerned about the helicopter drones … that’s an issue right now and the quad-copters are readily available commercially for anyone to buy. However, we already have a technology for addressing them although that is something I cannot discuss. But we care about them a lot in relation to public appearances, concerts and a wide variety of events where a person can have a big influence on what’s going on (on stage) without making a personal investment of tissue.”
I asked De Becker what did you mean by ‘investment of tissue’. He explained: “You see this is the thing … there is an expression ‘do you have any skin in the game’? If an assailant is willing to put skin into the game and they are willing to risk tissue damage, that opens a wide range of options to them. If they are not willing – their options go way down. If they are willing to put skin into the game then they have all kinds of options like blunt trauma or all kinds of physical violent options. However, it is different if the assassin wants to get away with it, which most assassins don’t by the way. In America and the western World, most assassins want to get caught and be identified with what they did. It is only the terroristic or certain types of idealistic attackers that would like to accomplish the deed and not get caught.” To some readers talking about assassination attempts may seem a little extreme but for GDBA agents this is a very real, day to day threat for many of the clients that they have to protect. There are no chances taken and nothing is left to chance. De Becker explained that conventional, close-in hand-gun attacks account for more than 85 per cent and happen within 25 feet. Meaning that the assailant and the victim are within 25 feet of each other although of course that was not the case with John Kennedy; in fact it was the longest distance assassination attempt in the United States. We continued to talk about various assassination types and the wealth of information and tactics that GDBA have amassed over the years to counteract attempts to harm the people they protect. I was aware of his interest in the subject of assassination but wanted to know when and how that turned into a business.
He said: “When I was 17 I got a job with the parents of a friend of mine in High School. The man was Stan Freberg who was a fairly well known satirist in America at that time and he was with a group of Hollywood people who were very interested in getting the Kennedy assassination re-opened and an investigation into it in order to establish if there was a conspiratorial element to it. As a result of that he had an enormous library on the Kennedy assassination and others and I just devoured everything. I met many of the people who were instrumental in getting Congress to re-open the investigation … since then there have been a further two or three investigations by Congress. So equipped with this treasure trove of information and ideas in my teens and moving forward from there at the age of 19 I got the opportunity to work for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. I guess young people today might not know so much about them as you might and I do. They were the most famous couple in the world. Whereas now there might be a thousand media figures at that level, in those days they were a big deal. So I got this opportunity to work for them as a fairly low level ‘gofer’ and over the course of the time that I worked for them almost everybody else above me had either got fired or had some other reason for not being there. Eventually at 21 I was called ‘chief of travelling staff’ – a very big title for a young kid who didn’t know what he was doing. One of my responsibilities was to arrange logistics and protection when we went to another city. For example we went to some hot-spots, we went to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and all around southern Africa in controversial times. We also travelled to London at times when the IRA was very active and made threats against the Burtons. Also to Israel during controversial times when Elizabeth was the most famous Jewish person as she had converted to Judaism. So we had crowds of thousands of people at these places and I remember landing in Jerusalem on a commercial flight from Switzerland with Elizabeth and Richard and just seeing thousands of people on the tarmac. I thought to myself ‘boy, this is a really disorganised country’ … I had no idea that this related to Richard and Elizabeth being on the plane … that is how naïve I was, that is how much I had to learn. So I got a lot of experience from then on with government protectors in the various places and a lot of experience with heads of state and also a lot of experience with hiring private protectors. Perhaps, most notably I began to keep files on people who recurred in their lives that were mentally ill. We would be in London and I would see a guy in the crowd and I would meet and talk with him and he would be the same person in a crowd in New York City and who had written four letters. So I began to keep all that data and that became a very important approach to public figure protection, to factor in every piece of information I could get and hopefully, occasionally may be able to identify somebody who had inappropriate ideation about the public figure and possibly be able to derail an encounter.”
Although I cannot talk in detail about the training and the establishment at GDBA I was particularly impressed by the reward and recognition scheme that is culture within the organisation right down to the fact that De Becker has created an instant food source for the protectors that has optimum nutrition and is in the form of a handy bar to pop into a pocket so that if they do not get chance to eat they will have a nourishing energy packed bar that will sustain them. With respect to compliance I wanted to know more about the culture of the company. De Becker started by saying: “I have a phrase that I use a lot saying ‘catch someone doing something right’. Typically supervisors think in terms of catching people doing something wrong … which is a teaching and we have an obligation to do that as well but we also have to remember to catch people doing something right. So I do believe strongly in recognising performance as a key component. At the end of the day salary and earnings are not the prime motivator’s … period. Millions of people every day play video games just to hear someone say, ‘Good job – you have got to the next level’. That’s all that happens and yet it feels good.” We went on to discuss in detail the human aspects of job satisfaction and how that related to the GDBA reward and recognition scheme and honour systems in place for recognition of its highly valued protectors. Although I cannot go into detail it is exceptional. What I allude to is SAM (Safety and Monitoring) for lone workers. But while I cannot fully illustrate the control room and the technology platform and methodology that has been created to make this a simple and effective solution for lone workers and their performance, I can say that it is a professional and fit for purpose way of providing reassurance to all involved from the protector to the protected. I was pleasantly surprised to secure an interview with the man Oprah Winfrey calls the United State’s leading expert on violent behaviour. I asked him why he had deigned to see me and he replied: “I was interested to meet a woman who had been in private security for almost 30 years which I found quite intriguing”. It was my privilege to meet with Gavin De Becker and I am happy to report that the organisation now has a London office and the ‘GDBA way’ has crossed the Atlantic.
Quote: “It is understandable that the perspectives of men and women on safety are so different–men and women live in different worlds…at core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them.” ― Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear.