Executive Protection Academy

Executive Protection Academy

Eight lessons learned from the murder of Fernando Villavicencio

Fernando Villavicencio, a presidential hopeful in Ecuador, met his tragic end on Wednesday, August 9 at 6:20 p.m. local time, following a campaign rally held at the Anderson School in Quito.

Immediately before boarding his vehicle, flanked by National Police escorts, Villavicencio, a 59-year-old journalist, was mortally wounded by gunfire. His assailants unleashed a hail of at least 40 bullets, and his protectors had no chance to save him. This event reiterates the urgency of addressing the conceptual and operational crisis affecting Executive Protection worldwide.

Despite the lack of information for a complete analysis, we can draw at least eight lessons from this tragic incident:

1. An operation based on armed escorts waiting to react is fatal.

2. Police officers are not suited to provide executive protection unless they have received specialized training. Police or military work and executive protection are distinct professions, and while some skills may be useful in both, Executive Protection is a unique profession with its own methodology and doctrine that requires highly specialized training. Including police officers in this operation without proper training was a dangerous improvisation.

3. Guns are very effective for attacking an executive, but virtually ineffective for defense. Although it is argued that since firearms are used in almost every attack, they are indispensable for defense, the facts do not support this claim, as demonstrated once again in this attack. Moreover, in a study of 132 attacks on prominent public figures in more than 60 countries over the past 123 years, firearms were only effective in defending executives in 3.79% of the cases. https://ivanivanovich.com/armas-de-fuego-en-la-proteccion-ejecutiva/ 

4. "Seams" remain the most critical points in an executive protection operation and must be planned and performed with the utmost attention. The seams are the times when a person is most exposed to a high-risk environment, usually when exiting or before entering a vehicle. These are the scenarios where the vast majority of attacks occur. We have analyzed it in more detail in this video:

5. Armored vehicles are essential to reduce risks to executives. These units reduce risks in transfers and can provide shelter and evacuation at critical moments. One of the key factors that saved President Reagan's life during the 1980 assassination attempt was the presence of an armored vehicle.

6. If groups that endanger the executive are identified (as was the case), intelligence on these groups is critical to prevent the attack. This measure, and not the weapons, could have saved the candidate's life.

7. You cannot fight an unconventional threat with conventional means. The attackers were camouflaged in the crowd, while the protectors were easily identifiable even in police uniforms, making them easy targets. In public events the application of shadow agents within the crowd is essential to reduce risks as I explained in this video:

8. The concept of close protection is ineffective and dangerous, because when it comes time to protect up close, all is lost. Counter-surveillance should have been implemented to detect hostile activities in advance and the locations from where potential aggressors would act around the "seams" should have been defined to monitor these areas in advance, alert and surprise the aggressors - instead of just relying on reaction which proved, as almost always - ineffective. This is why it is urgent to change the concept of close protection to anticipatory protection.

The executive protection we see in the movies is effective only if nothing happens, but it collapses like a house of cards in any real situation. Therefore, it is critical to change the way we conceive and operate our profession to make it safer for both protectees and protectors.