What happens when executive protection goes wrong?

handsome bodyguard standing and listening message with security earpiece on helipad

At its most basic, executive protection – or close protection – is a mitigative effort aimed at enhancing a principal’s safety.

Done correctly, it can greatly deter potential threats from causing harm. Done incorrectly, and the consequences could be fatal.


Executive protection is more nuanced than you think.

Despite a few, basic similarities, executive protection is not the same as bodyguarding. Security personnel tend to confuse the two, which puts the person they’re guarding in danger. Executive protection requires more than armed guards standing in the line of fire; it’s a multidimensional activity that necessitates good crowd control, rings of protection, screening, and more.

History is chock full of executive protection fumbles.

There’s no shortage of examples depicting times when executive protection went wrong. According to their sources, Wikipedia calculates that there have been 347 unsuccessful assassination attempts on world leaders and other, important individuals since 1842, 40% of which are from the last 25 years alone. Add the number of successful attempts to this tally, and the total skyrockets above 600.

The following are famous moments in time when protection details failed to protect their principals, and in turn, left a somber mark on history forever.

Robert Fico

In May 2024, Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot five times in the chest during a visit to the town of Hanlova. Reports suggest the attack was politically motivated, likely in response to the government’s efforts to disband public broadcaster, RTVS. This issue led to immense public outcry, and yet despite this increased level of risk, the gunman still managed to break through security teams. Experts claim that Fico’s detail had not boxed him in with the appropriate formation, leaving him vulnerable to attack.

Ronald Reagan

On March 30, 1981, former United States President Ronald Reagan was hit with a bullet while leaving his hotel. The shooter, John Hinckley Jr., insisted his reasons for attacking were not politically motivated. Instead, he claimed he was trying to impress popular actress Jodie Foster by recreating a scene from the movie, “Taxi Driver.” While a complete narrative surrounding the event are still somewhat unclear to this day, most security experts agree that more could have been done to control crowds and screen public onlookers before transporting the President.

Shinzo Abe

In July 2022, beloved Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was gunned down during a campaign rally preceding that year’s upcoming election. The assailant was able to seclude himself within a flow of heavy traffic directly behind the Prime Minister’s stage, from where he was delivering public remarks. Shinzo Abe’s immediate security detail was slow to respond when they heard the first shot fired and were ultimately unable to evacuate him before he took on further, fatal gunfire.

Yitzhak Rabin

On November 4, 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot and killed. After refusing to wear a bulletproof vest during a Tel Aviv peace rally of 100,000 people, he was met as he exited backstage by Yigal Amir, who fired off two rounds before being subdued. The event was especially tragic, given that the Prime Minister had died at the hands of a Jewish citizen. His security detail had planned for hostility from Palestinians, but never considered the possibility of an Israeli national; intel about threats from political extremists had been ignored. Additionally, the security stitch around his car perimeter had not been sealed.

Protection failures stem from a lack of planning.

In close protection situations, advance planning is everything. Accounting for both internal and external threats will increase an executive’s safety margin exponentially. Failure to cover all requisite bases is a life-threatening mistake that could cost a VIP their life.

The most effective executive protection plans examine a variety of vectors as a part of their strategic planning process, including electronic/ technological, human, logistical, and many others. However, protection planning doesn’t necessarily need to consider everything – but it does need consider all specific elements at play for the given scenario. For example, a presidential inauguration parade will almost certainly focus on a different set of risks than a campaign rally. Similarly, a high-ranking CEO’s media interview will warrant a different approach to planning than when that same CEO travels to a college campus as a commencement speaker. Knowing what to look out for and how to prepare will keep the principal safe and the security operation running smoothly.

Firearms don’t guarantee an executive’s safety.

One of the cardinal sins in executive protection is an overreliance on firearms. In fact, in most close-quarters assassination attempts, armed security is entirely useless at neutralizing threats before they can carry out their attacks.

According to the popular Tueller Drill, an assailant within 21 feet and wielding a weapon is likely to reach their target before that person (or their protection details) can unholster and discharge their own. What this means is that, in most situations where an assassin attacks a principal, they’ll be able to deal a fatal blow before anyone has a chance to react.

Instead of burying time and resources at the gun range, protection teams should prioritize efforts secure spaces, routes, and crowds, pre-event.

Strengthen your protection protocols.

Executive protection isn’t a walk in the park. It’s a demanding, highly technical practice that requires preparation and practice to get right. Chameleon Associates can help your security teams gain the skill and confidence they need before taking on their next assignment for a VIP. Reach out to our staff today at info@chameleonassociates.com for more information on how we can help.

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