Dealing with the Principal

May 27, 2015

Came across this article that was sent out quite a few years ago written by Brian Bonfiglio, then VP of State Department Programs for Blackwater. It's a great read.


Why do I need all these men and armored vehicles? That's ridiculous! Do you really think someone would want to hurt me?

Within the protective field there are many widely used terms, acronyms and descriptive phrases, but none are more commonly heard than the questions and comments made by the Principal.

Each Principal has his own personality and disposition, likes and dislikes, habits and traits, but the most important factor concerning you is whether the Principal wants a security detail or not. If the Principal hires you, he most likely will treat you fairly as long as you meet his requirements. On the other hand, if you are hired, for example, by a company that has been contracted by a company or government agency, you may work for a Principal that prefers not to have a protective detail. This is not uncommon if contracted by a government agency or employed by a large corporation in high-risk environments. However, there are security personnel within companies and government agencies whose sole purpose is to conduct security assessments and then assign security details to high-risk personnel such as Ambassadors and Chief Executive Officers.

Sometimes those security personnel make it known that if the Principal wants an assignment in a high-risk environment he must also accept a security detail. You should not be under the impression that the security personnel who mandated this decision will support you in fighting a resistant Principal. The hostile Principal quickly becomes your problem.

Even when deployed to places such as Colombia, Liberia, or even Iraq, it is very possible that your Principal may not understand the potential for harm, kidnapping or assassination. You have to understand that many Principals do not see themselves as potential targets. These individuals are sent to certain locations because of their backgrounds, capabilities, career, business or economic achievements. Few will have an understanding of security. Do not, however, let his or her unfavorable attitude concerning security dictate how you perform, how the performance of your team is affected, or how you represent your company.


The tone of the detail is set by the initial interview. Do not pay attention to rumors or things that are said about your Principal before meeting him. Instead, you, as the Detail Leader, should set up an initial interview with your Principal. Utilize his staff and schedule a formal appointment. During this interview, you need to briefly explain how you and your team operate. Use proper English and terms your Principal will understand. Avoid acronyms and other jargon unique to security. Ask him if has ever had a protective detail in the past. Ask what he expects from you. Remember, if this is the first protective detail your Principal has had, he may have as many questions as you do. Understand that this is a tremendous lifestyle change for the Principal, and they may not feel completely comfortable with a protective detail. Make it clear that your intent is to keep security as transparent as possible. Tell your Principal that you understand the freedom level he's used to, and that you do not intend to impose extreme changes on him. Emphasize that you are there to support him.

Explain that the word "No" will never come out of your mouth until you have looked at all the options when trying to satisfy the requests made by your Principal. This will show that you are willing to go to great lengths to work with, not against, him.

If circumstances occur that are out of your control and you find it necessary to tell your Principal "No", take the time to explain why you advise him not to follow through with his request. I do not know of any senior Government official or Fortune 500 CEO who takes kindly to being told "no" by anyone, so chose your words carefully and respectfully. In the end, your Principal may still decide to do as he wishes, but at least you have done your research, your team is well aware of and prepared for any possible threat, and they have taken as many safety precautions as possible.


I had just been assigned to a new Principal and begun to update my information for the initial interview before he arrived. I thought about what I was going to say, and picked the time and how I would approach this interview. After my team and I picked up the Principal at the airport we proceeded to his residence as planned. Not more than ten minutes into our trip, he asks, "Do we really need two vehicles (follow and limo) while in the city?" I was not completely surprised by his question, but it certainly set the tempo for the next few days. I answered, "Yes Sir", and before I could say anything else, he asked, "Why?" My initial interview started right there in the limousine on the way to his residence. I did not give him a lot of information at this point because I did not want to overwhelm him. He had just arrived, and I was certain he had a lot of other things on his mind. My intent was to follow up this conversation with the initial interview in the next day or two.

After arriving at his residence, he dismissed the other staff who were present to assist him, pointed at my Shift Leader and me, and said "Now I want to talk to you two." He initiated the interview, in fact, even directed it. I answered his questions concerning direct threats and threats on the institution that he would be working in, along with outlining to him my personal assessments.

It occurred to me that my depth of knowledge concerning threats, past and present, was being tested. I would suggest that during your initial interview; make sure you know the criminal element names, groups and organizations that are known to be active in your operational area. Have documentation ready to present to your Principal if he asks. Your sources need to be reliable and trustworthy, and your information provable. Be careful not to mix hearsay with factual accounts. Make it clear to your Principal what information is third hand or rumor.

After discussing threat information with my Principal, his line of inquiry changed to more personal issues such as whether he could drive his personal vehicle alone after work. He began to ask such questions as: "How many team members will be with me during walks with my wife?" "How many at the movies?" "Do I have any time to myself or when I am with my wife?" His questions were not meant to imply that he was against security. Instead, his questions were based on a lack of knowledge of personal security, how the team operates and what was expected of him.

If your Principal has a wife or other family members with him, you need to take them into account. If your Principal likes to spend time out of his residence, for example, going for walks with his wife, you need to suggest some nice, yet safe places and give them the space that the situation will allow. Do not feel that just because you are in a high-risk environment you need to be one step behind your Principal and his wife at all times. You need to look at a lot of other factors including:
1. Are you time and place predictable?
2. Have there ever been any other problems along this walking route or close by?
3. Are there other security, police or similar agencies patrolling this area, or close by?
4. Are there known individuals or groups that travel this route that would find your Principal a target of opportunity?


If you are fortunate and work for a Principal that wants security, is personable, agreeable and treats you well, you must still maintain your professionalism. This includes respectfully distancing yourself from him. Be cordial and friendly, but do not get drawn in because of feelings of friendship. When you work for someone over an extended period of time, it is common to become close to him or her, especially if they go out of their way to be nice to you. It is important to remember that you are not there to be his or her friend; you are there to do a job. Respect your Principal, but do not get too relaxed around him. If you allow yourself to become too casual, it is inevitable that you will say or do something that will be offensive and inexcusable. It is only a matter of time until this happens.

Never use adverse language around your Principal, even if he does. Be careful, do not make jokes - they might be perceived as offensive. If you are protecting a woman, or around women that are traveling with your Principal, be careful not to say something that could be misinterpreted as a sexual comment or sexual harassment. In light of this, it is preferred that you, and members of you team, do not fraternize with your Principals staff or other women that work within your office building. It is best not to have any relationships with the opposite sex, outside of professional relationships, while deployed on a protective detail. It has been my experience over that past fifteen years that if you mix your work with your social life while operational especially in a high-risk environment, you will find yourself in a situation that could ultimately see you removed from that detail, and possibly fired from your company.


If you end up working for a Principal who is not security friendly, you could find yourself dealing with unbearable situations. I have been privy to situations involving a certain Principal's behavior toward his detail that went far beyond insult.

On one occasion, there was not enough room on an elevator that transported the Principal, his Chief of Staff, and two guests from the 7th floor of an office building to the ground floor. The Detail Leader ran down all seven flights of stairs as fast as he could but, when he came to where the motorcade was supposed to be parked, the vehicles and the Principal were gone. Upon entering the limousine, the Principal had ordered the driver to leave. The driver knew it was wrong to leave the Detail Leader behind but was somewhat afraid of the Principal and drove away. The Detail Leader was left to walk back to the Principals office.

As another example, during a border crossing motorcade movement into a country that had reached a recent end to horrific fighting, but was still plagued with ethnic hatred, the Principal ordered his security detail not to cross the border with him. The detail leader had no choice but to comply, especially after the Border Police were told not to let the detail pass. The Detail Leader tried to explain why it was not safe for the Principal to proceed without the detail, but his words fell on deaf ears. Determined to do what he could, the Detail Leader got the Principal to agree to take a security driver with him. The Principals vehicle then crossed the border unescorted, with only a security driver. Once across the border, the Principal ordered the security driver to stop the vehicle, and then told him to get out. The Principal found it funny, laughing as he drove away, leaving his driver on the side of the road in a foreign and very hostile area.

If you have a Principal that acts in this manner, you have two choices: either get reassigned, or stick it out and do the best job you possibly can. However, do not let the working conditions affect your professionalism. The more the Principal tries to make your life miserable, the harder you should try to get him to like you. Do not engage with him in an adversarial way. Do not say or do anything that is disrespectful. If you are the Detail Leader, do not let the team see that you are affected by his harsh behavior toward you. Keep the team together by masking your anger and frustration. If the team sees you being affected, they will succumb to their own anger. Once this happens, your team will not be able to function effectively. The harder it gets to keep your motivation, the more you need to reinforce that you have a job to do, whether your Principal supports you or not. You need to keep openly supporting him so that your team does the same, which leads to my final point.


Although you are hired to provide a protection service, the operative word that you should remember, even more than protection is "support". Each threat environment, each situation, each Principal will require you to support differently. Learn each Principals needs and requirements, likes and dislikes, and support them. Remember what you were told in your initial interview - this is what the Principal expects from you. The meaning of support can be illustrated by the following example. If your Principal cannot get out of the office for lunch because of his work requirements, ask him if he wants anything to eat. Then, you or one of your team members can carry out this task, or arrange for someone else to do it. One of your obligations to your Principal is his health, so making sure he has the opportunity to eat properly is your responsibility.

I am not suggesting that you pick up his dry cleaning or walk his dog. Those sorts of needs are your Principal's personal matters and responsibilities. There is a difference between what type of tasks would be considered support and what would be exploitation.

There is another important point to make about the definition of support. Too many unprofessional detail members think that their only purpose in this field is to holster a weapon and walk around with the Principal. Some detail members develop a type of savior complex and feel a great deal of self-importance. Do not start to believe that you are more important than your Principal. I have seen many individuals fail because of this attitude. You are there to support him- he is not there to enhance your career.

If you are starting to think this is a lot to consider, you have just begun to realize your responsibility as a professional Detail Leader or Detail Member. With each Principal comes a wide spectrum of conditions in which you will be required to work. Everything that you do will be based on one person: your Principal.

I would like to leave you one more suggestion.

During the initial interview, and through the first few weeks of working for your Principal, there is an old proverb that I have found to be helpful. "Be slow to speak and quick to listen." Let the relationship build. Get to know him, gain his trust and you will be successful.

In closing, all that I have written concerns the relationship between the Principal, Detail Leader and the protective team. The information presented applies equally to Director of Security or a government Agent in Charge, which at times can be just as difficult. In some cases you may have more operational experience than he and that could translate into a situation where you are feared because of his lack of expertise and know-how. Stay the course, Do the Work, maintain your professionalism.

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