Threat-led approach to executive protection reduces the unpredictable
Surprising news in Acapulco highlights the necessity of a threat-led approach to executive protection
Ah, Acapulco, the famous gateway for tourists looking to escape the daily grind. In its heyday it was frequented by Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra. Sinatra even sang, “Acapulco Bay, it’s perfect for a flying honeymoon, they say” in his hit song “Come Fly With Me.” Fast forward to the present day and Acapulco has been designated as “Level 4: Do not travel” by the US Department of State due to the high levels of violent crime; government employees are forbidden to travel there, and US citizens are highly encouraged to stay away. It was also the destination of a major convention where my colleagues in our Mexico City office had requested my support as team leader for an executive protection detail.
A few days before the project, I started gathering intel: reading our analyst reports, scouring new sites looking for previous criminal incidents and comparing them to a map of our itinerary. I had a good feeling that this protection task was manageable, and the risk could be mitigated. I know Acapulco well and have a personal connection to the city in addition to a network of local contacts that I trust. Before I left for the trip, I arranged lunch with some of those contacts to catch up and get the latest information regarding the situation on the ground. Little did I know I was in for a surprise.
When I touched down in Acapulco days later and took my phone off airplane mode, I immediately received several pictures and videos taken by the Mexican Marines and other local law enforcement agencies as they were raiding the local municipal police headquarters, alongside a text from a contact that said simply, “Bienvenido. No lo vas a creer.” (Welcome. You are not going to believe it.) I headed directly to lunch with my local contacts where I learned that military, federal and state law enforcement agencies had completely disbanded the entire municipal police force and arrested two of their top commanders for murder. It had all happened while I was in the air.
At that time news channels had begun to pick up the story and less than an hour later the government issued a press release outlining the details. Thanks to one of my contacts’ connections to the Mexican Marines, we were able to receive a real-time briefing by phone from a local top-ranking military official who had participated in the raid. He was able to provide valuable information and after the call I knew that my original security plan was still viable. I just needed to make some changes to address the current situation on the ground.
I finished my lunch with my contacts, thanked them and went to meet the executive protection team to start conducting the advance reconnaissance. I briefed them on the latest—they had just heard the news—and we started our work. I also made sure to quickly call the client and let them know that the situation was under control and that we were on top of it.
A few days later the service was completed successfully. The client was happy and, most importantly, safe. After returning home, I reflected on the fact that an entire police force had been disbanded and now would be subject to investigation. It just underscores the level of corruption and violence that is prevalent in parts of Mexico. This experience highlights the importance of ensuring that our protective details are threat-led and are not subject to knee-jerk reactions that breaking news can cause. I later learned that people had considered canceling trips to the convention due to the raid.
It’s never a good sign when your protective detail starts with the news that we faced when I landed in Acapulco. However, due to our threat-led approach, experience operating in Mexico and ability to source reliable intelligence from local contacts, we were able to understand the new context, adjust our plan and move forward with a successful protective detail that allowed our client to be not only safe, but productive.