Photography by Kevin A. Roberts
At 25, Matthew Allen became August Busch IV’s bodyguard. Two years later, after 9/11, he left to start his own executive–protection firm, Intelligence Services. His career goals had taken shape at age 6: He saw a picture taken right before John Hinckley Jr. shot President Ronald Reagan, and it showed a police officer standing, relaxed, with his hands in his pockets, right in the spot where Hinckley came through. “He could’ve stopped him!” young Matthew blurted. He hasn’t put his hands in his pockets since.
What did you learn while protecting August Busch IV? What I call the 50–50/50–50 rule. When we walked into a place, half of the people would recognize him and half wouldn’t. And half of the people who recognized him liked him, and half of them hated him.
How could you tell? People will hold a gaze too long. The really crazy stalkers will never break; they’ll bore a hole through you. And there’s no such thing as coincidence. If you see them twice…
What do you do if somebody gets drunk and tries to take a swing at one of your clients? Once, I gently pushed the guy’s buddy into him. Later, he got drunk and tried again. I used to wear these black combat boots that I’d polished really high, so they looked like dress shoes. So I just used the toe. [He demonstrates, but gently, on my shinbone.] A lot of it’s simple dynamics. I’m not there to fight. Some people hire mixed–martial arts fighters—those guys are brawlers. When something goes down, they beat the guy into a pulp. Then you have put your client into a liable situation.
Do you act like a friend or hang back? It’s a balance. Some guys are overbearing—it’s an ego trip. You really have to learn to suppress that. If you’re with an executive, you come in like a junior executive. You can’t be too casual, because you want to be known as part of that group, in case you need to have some authority over a situation.
Do you work undercover? Well, a client in downtown St. Louis had a stalker, and I basically, for about a week, stayed outside as a homeless guy. [He shrugs.] I grew up hunting, and sometimes this job is just about hunting. You have to stay focused and be very, very patient.
What’s the longest you’ve gone without sleep? Fifty-eight hours. I’ll never do that again. He was a rich gentleman, and a bad woman had married him to divorce him. I had the personal pleasure of throwing her out of the house. But she had some very thuggish connections.
Bodyguards can look thuggish, too—those bad suits and indoor sunglasses… Unfortunately, a lot of bodyguards miss the point that they serve two functions for the client, the first being security and the second being status. In the Victorian era, the footmen of a large estate were very much a luxury item, and they were the best-dressed and most visible of that staff. The bodyguard, too, is an extension of the client. Where they go, you go.
Give us a few wardrobe suggestions. Rubber-soled shoes. Belts sturdy enough to carry a cellphone, radio, handgun, spare magazine, and extendable baton. Shirts with straight cuts at the bottom—that gives the casual look a more refined and intentional appearance, and it also helps to conceal a handgun. Three tailorable suits. If you carry a handgun inside the waistband, you can expect to add another inch to inch and a half. If you carry a pistol in a shoulder holster, you want the jacket cut a little more generously.
The main goal is to blend in? Exactly. Once, we were called into a business that was entirely Internet-based. My boss insisted we all wear suits, even though I pointed out that we were going to be overdressed. When we arrived bright and early Monday morning, we were surrounded by a pancake station, a big-screen TV with a gaming console, and a beer refrigerator. A worker walked out in shorts, barefoot, and stared at us for a minute kind of wild-eyed. Then he walked around the corner and said, “The IRS is here!”
Have you ever had a client who resisted having a bodyguard? A country-western singer. It was going to be a girls-only trip to Vegas, and I’d been hired by her manager. When we were flying out, she didn’t speak to me. But in the lobby of the Bellagio at 3 a.m., a very drunk young man pawed her. I grabbed him by the face and pushed him back. She actually laughed: “You grabbed him by the face!” Control the face, you control the body.
Does it bother male clients to need a bodyguard? Yep. Even if your client’s the most wimpish Woody Allen character, you are affronting his maleness, and no man wants to be perceived as weak. But having a bodyguard is also a status symbol. One client had me with him at a Playboy party, and there was no reason for me to be there. The bodyguard is like the jet plane.
Do you resent that? No, but it kind of takes away some of the fun. ’Cause I like a good threat.
Who’s been a fun adversary? A guy who had us trying to catch him for months. The client lived on 20 acres. I’d walk the perimeter; I’d put on camo and watch from the woods… First, the housekeeper noticed that the trash was gone—before the pickup. That’s someone gathering intelligence. Homeless people dig through the trash. If I steal trash, I now take plastic bags full of trash with me to replace it.
Right, me too. So back to the guy… I told my clients, “Tonight, when you guys go to bed, leave the bedroom lights on and the windows kind of open, but shut off the backyard lights.” When the lights went off, I could hear him moving through the brush. He was very methodical, not crazy, not impulsive. He was parking 2 miles away and hiking in—I know because I followed him back that night. It was kind of cat-and-mouse—he didn’t use a flashlight for the first 25 minutes. I stayed 50 yards back, listening, watching for moving trees. The farther he got, the faster he moved. I got his license plate and the make of his car and called it in.
Any other tricks? Convenience and security sometimes go hand in hand. In Key West, Fla., on New Year’s Eve, there was a little pizza place with a line around the block. My client said, “Hey, go get us some pizzas,” and gave me a couple hundred dollars. I walked past the line and said, “I’ll pay you $300 for the next three pizzas.” The guy at the front of the line said, “Hey, those are mine,” and the manager said, “No, those are mine.”
Do most of your clients have that kind of money? Yeah, executive protection in such a small market tends to be for the rich or the wealthy.
What’s the difference? Wealthy people have power and money. New money tends to be a problem, though. They’re too concerned with what other people think. They buy too much; they are not tempered. Sometimes you’re that tempering force, that conscience, that voice in the ear.
Being a bodyguard’s a weird dynamic, isn’t it? It is a role of master-servant, servant-master. Sometimes you’re a butler with a gun.
You once rescued a young man in Central America. He was about 23, a very smart kid, just went down there and started digging up dirt. I think he liked the danger, and I can’t say I blame him. He wanted to write about the connection between the Taliban and the drug runners. The cartel had figured out who he was, and he was on the run. He called his mom.
How did you find him? I wish I could tell you that I had all of these great intelligence operations in place, but I hit the ground and just started asking questions, piecemealing things together. I found the last hotel where he’d stayed and the expat bar where all of the journalists went, and some of them remembered him. I got asked, “Are you CIA?” I said, “I can’t even spell CIA.”
Where was he? Hiding out on an island. He had just enough money to buy silence from a widow. The cartel was already there, 20 or 30 guys going through the village with assault rifles, knocking on doors. A man came up and said, “You’re American. Are you looking for an American?” I thought, “Please don’t shoot me when I say yes.” He said, “Come with me.” We went down an alley, and he knocked on a door, and there the young man was. I said, “I’m here to take you home. I’m not sure how yet.” And he hugged me.
How did you get back? I paid a human trafficker to smuggle us out. Well, we hired a prostitute, is what we did, and said, “Take us to your boss.” Her boss said, “What makes you think I’m not going to take your money and shoot you?” I said, “I’m betting you have been misread most of your life, and always seen as the bad guy. I’m trying to get two guys home to their moms.”
Two? I’ve got a mom, too! And he bought it. I paid him roughly $15,000. I had American dollars duct-taped in Ziploc bags all over my body.
And you got through customs that way? This was right after 9/11. There were no visual scanners, and money doesn’t have a metal signature.
Have smartphones and YouTube made your job harder? Oh yeah. Say, for example, I’m with a client at a party, and an altercation occurs. You can guarantee cellphone video cameras are coming on. Ten years ago, you had to worry about it hitting the local news and maybe getting bumped up to the national news. Now, you only fear one word: viral. But the bigger threat is in what we call the inner circle. Someone in the entourage might get bitter over some slight or insult, or a boyfriend or girlfriend might quietly video a private moment to exploit someone later.
What about social media? There, it’s the clients. They fail to realize how something as simple as posting “Having dinner at…” is a road map for a stalker. You’ve just given him a location and a time frame. “Going to ___ for dinner tonight,” and the stalker knows that he has a few hours. “Having dinner at…” is in real time, and the bad guy arrives a little amped up, because the whole drive, he’s been hoping he hasn’t missed the object of his focus. Stalkers can see a tweet as a direct communication: “She wants me to be there.”
Somebody once tried to hire you to kidnap a dog. Why? Custody battle. I turned them down. But I got a horse back once. A prize racing horse. The judge had awarded the horse to my client. The ex-spouse had hidden the horse at somebody else’s barn and left the country. The great thing about family is, somewhere along the line there’s a middle child who has been maligned and hates everybody else and will talk to you. I found out where the horse was and walked the horse from the barn to a trailer in the middle of the night.
When you’re not recovering horses, you uncover industrial espionage—is there a lot of it? The world changed when the Berlin Wall came down: You had ex-KGB agents who had no job. Today, if you see technology replicated, it’s been stolen. No one sells a trade secret, ever, whether it’s the recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken or Viagra.
Companies have insurance against espionage, right? Larger companies do. But if somebody suddenly doesn’t pay that insurance bill…either they’ve been bribed not to, or it was a honeypot deal. An attractive woman will seduce a junior executive and maybe make $200,000 a year to sleep with the guy.
What trends do you see? There’s something that happens after every war: Not every soldier’s a hero. Some of these guys are just evil, and they want to keep the evil going. The trend we haven’t seen yet, and I think you will see, is IEDs in the U.S. Also, the Occupy movement has become the new PETA. They are very vocal and very disorganized. In some respects PETA was a better threat, because you could kind of get a read on them. Occupy attracts anyone who’s decided they’re angry. And there are fringes within it, and lone wolves.
You’ve been called a lone wolf yourself, you know. I’m not a lone wolf. Obviously, I have trust issues.
You once fired a cop who was moonlighting for you. I was working the Super Bowl. I said, “We’re coming out Point 2,” which is the side exit. Finally, he came rolling up. He’d been down the street getting something to eat. I fired him on the spot.
Seems like a police officer would be a natural as a bodyguard. Actually, not. People think, “Cops carry guns; it’s the same thing.” But cops aren’t worried about a client or the client’s reputation. Cops are trained to apprehend, so when they see a threat, they go toward the threat. A lot of times in executive protection, you have to leave.
What motivates criminals? The dark side’s very sexy—no rules. It’s like the black market: A true black market is ultimately the most free market.
So what keeps you from going there? I grew up on John Wayne movies and Louis L’Amour—honor and the American cowboy. It sounds cheesy; it sounds trite. But I literally meet people in their most desperate hours. I tell them, “You are going to trust me with everything you have, with your deepest secrets.” And I value that trust.
Doesn’t the responsibility terrify you? Early on, it did. Being 25 and having people’s lives in my hands—at 25, you have only so much experience. But after a while, you realize that people only differ in so many ways. Either they’re after power, they want money, they want sex, or they’re jealous. People are not complicated.
It’s almost disappointing. It almost is.