AN INCIDENT IN MOSCOW
While conducting a protective service advance, and subsequently serving as the protective detail’s shift leader while employed by a U.S. government investigative/security agency, I found myself in a highly precarious situation that required nimble thinking and adherence to the basic tenets of protective service. I was assigned to protect a U.S. government official visiting Moscow, the Russian Federation, and of course during my advance work, I liaised with the U.S. Embassy’s Assistant Regional Security Officer for Protection (ARSO), who in turn arranged for the Moscow Police to provide law enforcement, traffic control, and motorcade escorts for my protective detail. When I met with the officers who would be supporting our detail, I briefed them that one of the primary functions of their support was providing a lead police vehicle that would escort our motorcade from venue to venue while the American VIP in our charge made his official visits. I explained that the philosophy of protection as viewed by my agency was to ensure we avoid any and all potential dangers, including encounters with demonstrators, individuals that would be prone to cause our principal harm or embarrassment. Other areas we discussed was their knowledge regarding the location of the nearest trauma center, any known or projected demonstrations (political or otherwise) during our visit, and time lines in terms of how long it would take to obtain operational assistance, for example, a Medivac helicopter, should that need arise. The briefing went extremely well, and the officer in charge of the contingent of Moscow officers assured us that his unit would place our principal’s safety as number one on their list of priorities from the time of his arrival to “wheels up” four days later.
Well, per usual there are always small snags that come up that you as a shift leader or agent in charge must deal with during a protective service mission. But as I had advanced the trip in addition to serving as the detail’s operational supervisor upon the principal’s arrival, I was certain that these would be kept to a minimum, and indeed except for a few very minor incidents. that were so minute that our protectee was completely oblivious to them, the detail progressed smoothly and on course. Until the last day!
While en route to the airport via the motorcade’s follow-car, I observed in the distance what appeared to be a large crowd of demonstrators carrying protest signs. I also witnessed a small fire ablaze that I later learned was the burning of a Russian flag. I asked that State Department representative who was in the follow car’s rear seat what did the police officer in our lead vehicle think he was doing getting us so close to the demonstration, he replied: “the protest is targeted at Russian policy in Chetznea, and the officer probably just assumed that the demonstrators would not be concerned with Americans.” I replied: “The officer is driving a marked police car and the protestors will recognize him as a representative of the government they are demonstrating against, and secondly, how will they know we are Americans. Finally, he was told not to drive us into dangerous situations!”
At that point, I used my portable radio to contact the principal’s limo, specifically, the Agent in Charge (AIC) seated in the right passenger seat, and advised we immediately break off our secure package from the rest of the motorcade (in government protective security vernacular, a secure package is composed of the two to three vehicles that generally carry the principal and his or her protective agents ONLY. Usually, this will be an agent driven lead, limo, and follow or chase car). I proposed that we then proceed to the airport without police escort, adding we use an alternate route. The AIC agreed and I informed the State Department representative of our plans, at which time he expressed his concern about the diplomatic flap should we desert the remainder of the cars, some of which were transporting Russian officials. So, using his cell phone, he contacted our police liaison who dispatched the two police motorcycles accompanying the motorcade (used to secure side streets so we did not have to stop and signal lights) to move to the front of our motorcade (now decreased by one less wayward Moscow police vehicle) and escort us to the airport. Basically, we veered off from the flawed proposed route, leaving the patrol car originally escorting us, and proceeded via a few side streets and then on to a major highway arriving at the airport with “wheels up” right on time. Our principal was only aware of the demonstration; however, because the transition was performed so efficiently by the Moscow motor officers, he was unaware that we were heading for a potential confrontation with a demonstration that could have attempted to block our motorcade, and placed all involved in what would have been determined to be a completely avoidable dangerous situation.
What I hope this article illustrates is that in the world of protection, you must often rely upon your wits, be prepared to adapt, and be expeditious in your actions. Yes, if we had found ourselves in the midst of a group of angry protestors throwing rocks or beer (in this case, vodka) bottles at us, I would have called for more aggressive evasive, or possibly offensive vehicular movements that would have resulted in serious injuries to the demonstrators. The second, probably more important point I wanted to bring forth was that in this situation we had the time to remain true to the basic tenets protective service: EVADE, COVER AND EVACUATE, your principal from danger and/or embarrassing situations.
James A. DeVino