The Fine Art Of Facilitation Reduces Risk

by David L. Johnson

After three-and-a-half years of savage war that killed over 250,000 people and dislocated 6 million more in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the warring parties of what was known as the Bosnian War met in Dayton, Ohio to negotiate a peace.  On December 14, 1995 in Paris, they signed the Dayton Peace Agreement.

Four days later U.S. Ambassador Robert Frowick, was named Head of Mission of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Bosnia and Herzegovina to implement the Dayton agreement.

As Amb. Frowick prepared for his assignment, credible threat information was developed to the extent that, for only the second time, the U.S. State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security issued a private sector contract to provide diplomatic security services overseas.

Shortly after that, I was contracted to form a personal protective team and serve as Detail Leader for Amb. Frowick, an engagement that would last for the next 17 months.

In my own preparation, I learned that the Ambassador had never before had a protective team, so we met for a desk top briefing.  I told him what we could do, what we could not do, and what we would do.  In a wide-ranging discussion we talked about the process, his likes and dislikes, and other ways we might be able to assist him.

He told me that one of his most troublesome problems was that some of the people he had to meet with were trying to delay the agreement implementation.  To avoid him, they would play a shell game.  He would schedule a meeting, arrive at the appointed time and place, only to learn that the person he was to meet was not there.  He would be told, “Oh, she thought you were going to meet somewhere else.”  He would go to that somewhere else and hear another dodge.  “She heard you were at the other place and went there.”   He said that shell game wasted a lot of time and delayed important discussions.

“We can fix that,” I said.

“How might you do that,” he asked.

“I got a Mickey,” I explained.

“A Mickey.  What is that?”

“Mickey is my advance agent.  We’ll send him to your meeting site ahead of time to find which shell the pea is under.  When he does, he will stay glued to it.  He will call us, and we can get you to your meeting.  You won’t be wasting any more time running around playing hide-and-seek.”

He liked the idea, and it worked; Mickey found the pea every time.  After three or four more attempts to avoid the Ambassador failed, they gave up and met with him at the scheduled time and place.


There is much more to protective security than just threat assessments, intelligence gathering, conducting advances, and location movement.  There is another dimension that I call “Facilitation.”  It is the difference between basic and advanced.  Good and great.  Amb. Frowick told us that he appreciated how we got him to his meetings because it allowed him to manage his time much more effectively.  He was better able to accomplish his mission.

Facilitation is not simply a “feel good” add-on.  Experienced protective agents know the value and benefits of protectee facilitation.  They know it enables their protectee’s activities…and reduces risk.  Those agents stand out.   The good news is that you can learn facilitation skills quickly.  Simply include facilitation in your operational plans, and then build relationships.

To illustrate this, let’s return to Sarajevo for another real-life example that contrasts the vast difference between basic and advanced measures.


The Dayton Peace Agreement was a huge international effort that included representatives from several official agencies including the United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina headed by U. S. Ambassador Jacques Paul Klein.  Amb. Klein also had a protection team.  The OSCE and UN worked together in the area.  The principals had frequent meetings, traveled together and, as a result, my team occasionally worked in close proximity to Amb. Klein’s team.

To attend a meeting in Vienna, Ambs. Frowick and Klein arranged to take the same commercial flight from Sarajevo.  Amb. Frowick would be accompanied by both his Executive Assistant, and Public Information Officer.

The day before their departure, I asked the Assistant and the Information Officer to bring their luggage, passports, and airline tickets, to work the next morning and give them to me.  We always kept a stock of customs forms on hand, so I asked them to fill those out after they packed and give them to me in the morning.  The Executive Assistant had been around for a while and she was on board with my request because she knew the benefits of doing this.  The Public Information Officer was new to the job and resisted a bit.  I told him that it was his choice, but that if he chose not to do what we were asking, he would have to fend for himself at the airport and I hoped he didn’t miss his flight.  I suggested that he chat with the Executive Assistant before he made his final decision. Later that night while driving Amb. Frowick home I asked him if he could have his luggage and papers ready when we picked him up in the morning.  He knew our process and said yes.

When we arrived at his home the next morning, his bags were ready to go.  His residence was in a walled compound that did not have a garage or driveway, so we had to park on the street.  I stayed inside with the Ambassador while Mickey loaded his luggage in the vehicle.  While waiting for Mickey to give us the all-clear to mount up, the Ambassador and I exchanged pleasantries and he gave me his ticket and documents.  When we arrived at the office, Mickey and I went to the Executive Assistant and Information Officer.  It was apparent that the Assistant was a persuasive woman; along with her luggage and documents were those of the Information Officer.  Mickey gathered them up and was off to load the cars.

From there I went to the transportation office to confirm that we had the extra vehicle and driver I had requested.  The Executive Assistant could ride in the Ambassador’s vehicle, but the Public Information Officer was going to ride in another vehicle – NOT in my Chase Car.  The OSCE drivers knew the drill and they worked very well with us.

When the time came for the advance to start, Mickey had all the luggage, tickets, passports, and customs forms stuffed into his car and headed for the airport.


During our work in Sarajevo we liaised with lots of people to solicit their assistance.  And we got lots of that because we were professional, polite, and helped them understand that by helping us, we could often make their job a wee bit easier when the diplomats were there.

When Mickey got to the airport, he met with the policeman in charge and got permission for our motorcade to park at the terminal entrance to dismount and remain there until we left.  This is something that was normally prohibited at the time.

Then he got a luggage cart and went to the airline check-in counter where he met with the manager who helped him check all the luggage, get claim checks, and seat assignments. He put those documents in each passenger’s travel packet along with their passports.  He confirmed that the flight was on time and asked how far in advance our three travelers should arrive at the airport.  He got the normal, “No later than one-hour prior,” answer and said thank you.

He then went to the customs guys and arranged to facilitate the passport and customs process.  They agreed to expedite our three, and told him that if there was a line, just jump ahead to the front.   The customs officers were, however, firm on one issue: Non-traveling people would not be allowed to enter the customs zone, not even armed agents.  But they did concede to allowing one armed agent to wait outside the customs zone on the tarmac inside the airport security zone so he could escort the principals to the airplane.  There were no jetways at Sarajevo at the time.  It was a walk to the plane and climb the stairs situation.

When Mickey was done, he called me to say that we should arrive 20 minutes prior to the flight departure time, and that all was good.  Mickey was a fire and forget kind of missile.  I called the Executive Assistant and told her what time we were to depart the office and asked her to inform the Ambassador and the Public Information Officer.


Sure enough, upon entering the airport grounds, Mickey was standing curbside at the front doors next to a police officer who waved us in.  We dismounted and walked straight to the flight departure area.  Along the way, Mickey handed each traveler their documents packet.  Instead of going to the check-in counter, we took a right and headed directly to customs.

It was then that we noticed Amb. Klein standing in line, holding his own luggage in his hands and his ticket between his teeth.  He was surrounded by his protective team in a nice tight diamond formation.  They were all wearing Level-4 body armor, chicken plates and all.  Under their vests they were wearing their OD green t-shirts, indicating they were all likely veterans of some kind.  They accessorized their attire with Banana Republic Photographer’s Vests and baseball caps, a wardrobe not common to your average Bosnian.  My team was dressed to the level of our protectee, in business suits.

Whereas the Klein team diamond was well-formed, none of them were watching their sectors.  They were all fixated on the attractive women behind the ticket counter.   When Amb. Frowick turned the corner toward customs, he spotted Amb. Klein and said, “See you on the plane Jacques!” and kept going.  Well, wonder upon wonder, when Amb. Klein turned around, so did every member of his protective team.  Amb. Klein put down one of his suitcases and waved back.

There was no line at customs, and the official there, rubber stamp at the ready, began pounding out his seal of approval on the customs slips and passports.

About that same time, our agent on the tarmac radioed that he was in place ready to pick up Amb. Frowick when he cleared customs.

Having gone as far as allowed, my team and I went to the coffee shop for Coffee Slogum and pastries.

From there we watched Amb. Klein get to the desk and check himself in.  The diamond guys never watched their sectors but did not lose sight of the women.

We observed something else too.  When we walked past the check-in area, with Amb. Frowick, there was no indication that any other passengers even noticed us or recognized the Ambassador.  But it was obvious that the Bosnian’s in the area were wondering what was up and asking each other some questions about the Banana Republic entourage:

  • The war had been over for nearly two years, so who are those guys and why are they wearing full body armor?
  • That must be an important person with that much security surrounding him.
  • Do those security guys know something that we don’t? Is there trouble about to happen here?  With the finger pointing at Amb. Klein and the obvious discussions among the other travelers in the area, it was clear that the protective team was drawing lots of attention to their protectee.

When Amb. Klein got his boarding ticket, he and the diamond headed for the customs zone. “No!” the customs officer told the point man.  “You cannot go in there if you do not have a ticket.”

It was obvious that there were a few moments of disagreement between the team and the customs officer, but Amb. Klein was the only one permitted to enter the customs zone, alone.  It’s only a guess, but I doubt that there was an agent outside on the tarmac to escort him to the plane.


The plane gets buttoned up and takes off into the wild blue yonder.  We are sitting in the coffee shop enjoying the wait time and the local cuisine.  Why, you might ask, are we still hanging out at the airport?

If you are not familiar with executive and dignitary protection, or well trained in it, we stayed at the airport because if something happens to an aircraft before it reaches what is known as the point of no return, it will turn around and come back to where it took off.  After it passes the point of no return it will divert to another airport capable of handling an aircraft of that size.

If the point of no return is 10 minutes away, then our protocol calls for us to hang out for 20 minutes before we drive off with the people and vehicles we need to support our protectee.  For clarity, that is 10-minutes to get to the point of no return and 10 minutes to get back here.  If we leave before the point of return time and our principal returns to his departure location, he will be stuck there unprotected until we can get back to him!


None of Amb. Klein’s team joined us in the lounge, but one of them approached Mickey and asked him how we managed to do what we did. Mickey brought him over to our table and told him to ask me that question.  My first reaction was that I was not responsible for training their team.  But diplomatic Mickey reminded me that we were all American’s who sometimes swim in the same pool.  I said ok and asked Mickey to walk him through the advance process and introduce him to our contacts. I did give the young man one stern warning.  If he alienated any of our contacts, there would be repercussions.  He got the picture and when Mickey finished his tutorial, he thanked us for the assist.


  • Facilitation of your principal’s movements not only allows them to better manage their time as in the case of the Ambassador’s meetings, it reduces their exposure. At the airport, Amb. Frowick was exposed to unscreened, uncontrolled people for about one minute – the time it took to walk from the airport entrance to the secured customs zone.  Klein was exposed for nearly 30 minutes!  It is obvious that in an uncontrolled, unscreened crowd, you will not know who those people are or if they are potential adversaries.  It is worth noting that that the people in the check-in area would not go through airport security screening and metal detectors until later in the boarding process.
  • In these situations, there are three risk circumstances:
  1. A planned targeted attack.
  2. A target of opportunity.
  3. Being an innocent bystander because either 1 or 2 happens in your space.

Because we moved Amb. Frowick through the unsecured area so quickly, no one showed any sign of recognition.  You can see signs of immediate recognition on people’s faces when it happens.  Have you ever done a double-take look when you recognized someone?  It is an involuntary reaction.

There was no correlation of movement nor discussion between people in the crowd when we passed by.  Amb. Frowick was on TV all the time as he worked to set up elections. If Circumstance 1 was in play, we moved too fast for it to be executed.  If Circumstance 2 was in play, no one with criminal intent recognized him, and Circumstance 3 just simply didn’t happen.

On the other hand, if Amb. Klein had been the target of a planned attack, his attackers would have had plenty of time to execute.  With none of his protective team watching their sectors, their first clue of an attack would be the sound of gun shots.  Since they were apparently not in a condition of being aware of their surroundings, it would have caught them off guard and it is very likely that the flight or fight syndrome would have kicked in and further delayed an effective response.

If there were an activist in that crowd who wanted to thwart the peace process, even if he didn’t recognize Amb. Klein, the standout posture of his protection team would have drawn the attention of that potential adversary and then game on with a high probability of success.

  • Obviously, someone taught those other guys about a diamond formation. However, their training fell short by not burning into their minds the importance of watching their sectors.  Trust me, if there are opponents operating in your area, that shortcoming will be detected easily through rudimentary surveillance and that vulnerability will be exploited.
  • Somewhere along the line someone taught them that executive protection agents should never have anything in their hands. They learned that really well.  However, that rule – which is a legitimate rule – applies to the agents in the formation should they need to counter a close quarter attack with their bare hands.  It does not apply to agents such as the Advance Agent who can and should have things in their hands at times.  Apparently, their training did not include that distinction.
  • If that team advanced Sarajevo for Amb. Klein, I have no idea what they did. I can only hope they got better at it.  I do know that our contacts there never stopped supporting our efforts, so it seems likely the young agent that Mickey tutored passed along my warning.
  • I am absolutely sure that during their flight together, Amb. Klein asked Amb. Frowick how the heck was he able to bypass all the check-in hurdles. Frowick never mentioned that to me.  So how would I know that?  Giving away my age, decades of experience tells me that principals talk to one another, and everyone likes the easy way.
  • If one team flies under the radar and the other team draws attention, which one is likely to experience a problem? I will leave that for you to answer.

I have been teaching protective security advance techniques and methods since 1980.  I even authored a book on the subject.  I almost always use the above experiences and other examples to illustrate real-world situations and opportunities to stimulate creative thinking in students.  Inevitably, two questions arise.

Question No. 1.    Can what we did in Sarajevo in the 90’s be done for protectees who are not Ambassadors, Presidents, Cabinet members, Generals, and other high-ranking people?

My answer is always the same: Yes.

Granted, if you are protecting someone who has a high-level social status or political title, the job is easier.  Fortunately, the same techniques will work for any protectee.  The common denominators are liaison and coordination.  Make friends.  Be nice to people.  You can do this job without alienating others and especially without making demands.  If you fall into the demand trap, it is not likely you will get what you want.  If you do make friends, and positively influence your points of contact, the odds favor you getting the help, support, and cooperation you seek.  Do nice things for nice people.  Here is an example of how that works.

While working with the U.S. Army Protective Services Unit, I was sent on a mission to Sarajevo long before peace in that region was even being discussed.  Our Secretary of Defense wanted to go there for a photo op and some chats.  I was accompanied by the Secretary’s Special Agent in Charge (SAC).  We were to fly commercial from Washington, D.C to Frankfurt, Germany and from there take a Kevlar lined C-130 to Sarajevo.

When we got to the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport I watched as the SAC went to the counter and asked for a woman he knew at United Airlines.  He spoke with her for just a minute, they laughed a couple of times, and he came back with two first class upgrades.  Trust me, the Army doesn’t often buy those.  I asked him how he did that.  He told me that he once had a problem with a United flight and that she resolved the problem and got him on his way.  In return, he wrote a nice letter to the president of United Airlines recalling all the nice things this woman did for him.  She, in turn got formal recognition from United.  She never forgot, and forever appreciated what he did.  Thereafter, every time he flew out of Reagan, he got an upgrade.

It works.  People appreciate recognition and thoughtful consideration, especially if it comes with a bonus or other considerations from their boss.  Also, it is amazing how much help you can get with a simple autographed photo, an ink pen with someone’s name or logo on it, a challenge coin, a patch, a ball cap, or nearly anything else people like.  Handing them out may well lead to them recognizing that you appreciate their efforts.

Question No. 2   Can you still make that Sarajevo magic, post-9/11?

Again, yes.  Re-read my answer to the first question for guidance.  There is, however, another special circumstance that might influence the outcome. If you are with a high-risk/high-profile protectee or someone who is the target of a credible threat, if you can safely share that information with the chief of the airport police department or chief security officer or even the airport manager, do so.

First, they will appreciate that you shared that information.  Second, they are more likely to grant your request because they don’t want any bad stuff to happen at their airport. Third, they may actually give you more support than you ask for because they want to get you and your protectee out of their area as quickly as possible!

Not every location is the same, but I’ve done this all over the globe in some 83 nations, including communist countries.  I’m not sure I could pull this off in Venezuela right now but if you don’t ask, you can’t do it.  If you do ask, the worst they can tell you is no.


PSC member David L. Johnson has over 40 years of Dignitary and Executive Protection experience mostly garnered with the US Army, as a State Department Diplomatic Security Contractor and as private sector business owner. He has coordinated Presidential, Cabinet, Ambassadorial, and Senior Executive level protective programs in threat environments ranging from negligible to that of imminent assassination attempts by state sponsored terrorist organizations, conditions of Coup D’état and ultra-nationalism. He has conducted multiple high threat or politically sensitive assignments in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia-Herzegovina and contract management in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr. Johnson developed multiple training programs on a global basis and conducted executive level consulting for a wide spectrum of clients. Mr. Johnson’s awards and honors for his efforts include the DoD Meritorious Service Medal, five US Army Meritorious Service Medals, and US State Department recognition. He is currently semi-retired but serves as Supervisor and Emergency Management Coordinator for Pine Township, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.  He is a member of the PSC Advisory Council.   He is author of the book,  ADVANCE: The Guide to Conducting a Protective Security Advance, available from Varro Press.

Contact David at:  [email protected]



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