BPI Security Interview of J. Lawrence Cunningham, USSS (Ret)- pt.2

Today is part II of the interview with Larry Cunningham.  As I mentioned over the last 2 days Larry is a competitve triathlete.  While serving in PPD with the USSS, agents on the east coast competed against agents on the west coast on a run to the Reagan ranch.  The record was held by a west coast agent, however Larry’s east coast boss pushed him to run the route.  Larry ran on the hottest day of that time and smashed the record.  The event was such a huge competition that they used local police and USSS cars to follow him and keep the roadway clear.

Some time after the race Larry was back in Washington, DC when he received a call from his boss to go to the Blair house to meet with the President.  Larry told me that he thought it was a prank [most law enforcement personnel are always pulling pranks].  When he arrived at the Blair House, he was met by VP George Bush, Caspar Weinberger and CIA Director William Casey in the lobby of the Blair house.  Shortly thereafter President Reagan came into the room and handed Larry one of his [Reagan’s] medals in which he had it engraved for Larry breaking the race record.  The bottom 2 pics are of the race.

6-You’ve already told me but inform my readers where you were assigned when President Reagan was shot and what were your immediate duties after he was transpoted to GW hospital?

While assigned to the Office of Training, teaching an In-service class, the President had been shot (March 1981). All available agents assigned to Training were immediately dispatched to GW hospital to set up security posts since no formal security advance had been conducted. (As a result of this, all major hospitals nationwide were formally advanced to include the specific identification of a Presidential Suite, Security Room, Press Room, Command Post, specific security posts, meeting rooms and others to facilitate an organized security system during a presidential or vice-presidential hospitalization).

I was sent to the surgical suite where the President was being attended to along with Tim McCarthy and James Brady.  Was specifically assigned to the adjacent OR rooms of McCarthy and Brady. Needless to say it was a very long day and night. In retrospect, I was struck by the confusion and disorganization of the entire scene. There was no real order to things, i.e. the access/egress of medical personnel, security personnel, the press, hospital staff, the public and a whole entourage of White House personnel and related entities. Since no ID system had been devised, it was anyone’s best guess who was who other than the obvious “hospital garments,” badges or other uniforms identifying police, press, etc.

The other concern, which could be felt by most who were there, is that there was a real tension in the air…firstly the unknown of the President’s status but also the nervous tension of the medical staff at the hospital and USSS personnel, particularly the shift agents who had lived through the assassination attempt—the strange mix of their stress and angst was palpable. They were still on-duty and were showing signs of disorientation, etc. yet they felt compelled to “cover” that President and maintain a secure environment at the hospital.

7-When you left the service did you have a plan?

My general plan prior to retiring was to utilize the unique skills I was fortunate enough to have developed with the help of many associates and former colleagues I had the privilege to work with over the years. By virtue of my assignments to Training, PPD and San Jose (Silicon Valley), I developed unique investigative and protective skills that were immediately marketable. Certainly after 9/11, the application of my USSS career became instantly marketable and in demand. In particular, the security advance skills, EP skills Cybercrime investigative experience and the ability to develop security strategies and plans were put to use. This background led to a variety of business opportunities to include training and expert witness consultancies.

8-How did you wind up working at Vance international and what were your duties there?

My association with Vance International as well as with The Academy Group, Inc., AGI is the direct result of working with former agents in a variety of assignments while active in the USSS. I was more or less recruited. Agents I knew at these security firms had contacted me to survey facilities, train security personnel, establish security best practices for organizations and develop security plans for dignitaries. I am honored to have been chosen by them.

9-Can you explain the differences you’ve found in your transition into the private sector?

I can tell you that one’s working life is much different without the benefit of an established office staff, infrastructure and built-in network. In the Secret Service, I had the benefit of a large office staff, including agents, clerical personnel, IT personnel, equipment managers, vehicles, computers and a commensurate budget. There was even a psychiatrist available to help assess threat cases as needed.

In the private sector…well in a word; let’s just say you have to be a Houdini to be on top of things to be truly successful. You have to be able to market yourself and your company, network, respond to and write proposals, perform the assignments, write the reports and continue to hone your skill set to remain current. You have to be “scalable” to adapt to the ever-changing security arena. One of the special challenges for anyone in the security arena is to be competent in the technical aspects of security, which changes almost daily.

You have to be supremely self-sufficient and adaptable to be a successful independent security consultant.

The other critical thing I found is that in the private sector, as a security consultant, I needed to learn a new way of integrating with local law enforcement, private security and, of course, the federal side. I needed to learn their rules, guidelines and perspectives to make my efforts understandable and functional. I am now required to have a more in-depth knowledge of their respective missions and legal authorities.

10-I am constantly dispelling the over zealous push of weapons being the primary tool in protection. Can you explain why, although important, that weapons are not the primary to for protection?

The discussions surrounding the use of weapons in protection is a very interesting, albeit a controversial one. Having worked numerous details both in the outer and inner perimeters of security details, I can tell you that the philosophy differs. To fully appreciate the dilemma of whether or not to solely rely on weapons, one has to step back and assess the specific responsibilities and expected responses of security personnel assigned to these two areas,

When a security agent is assigned to the inner perimeter, the expected response in an attack or threatening situation should be to “alert, shield and evacuate…” the protectee in some measure to ensure shelter from injury or attack. The security personnel assigned to the outer perimeter are charged with neutralizing an attack with aggressive action–lethal if warranted.

The problem with aggressive responses from the inner perimeter is that they will distract the protective agent from the shielding and evacuation of the protectee. Further, using weapons in the inner perimeter will draw the fight into the area you are trying to protect and potentially harm your protectee and security personnel. There are assassinations in history that bear this out. If you are assigned to the inner perimeter with a weapon, the mindset on its application and use needs careful consideration and rigorous training.

11-Can you tell the readers some of your accomplishments in the private sector?

After retiring form the USSS, I established Essential Security Strategies, LLC and began conducting security risk assessments and surveys, EP seminars, security training and a variety of fraud investigations for public and private organizations worldwide. Assessments include the evaluation of and the formulation of effective security plans, the development and implementation of security best practices and associated security training for a variety of clients. I have provided these services to the following organizations: Exxon/Mobil, Harvard University, NASCAR, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, The Bush-Cheney Presidential Campaign (2000 & 2004), The International Monetary Fund, The American Battle Monuments Commission, The George Washington University, U.S. Airways, Gate Gourmet, The United Arab Emirates Royal Family, HARPO Studios, The Jordanian Royal Family, and other international companies. I also serve as a security expert in premises liability cases and provide testimony in associated litigation.

Additional security consulting efforts include conducting senior crisis management seminars, as an international security expert, for cabinet level and ranking military officials of foreign governments with the U.S. State Department.

I am a DHS certified instructor and an adjunct faculty member of the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium. I serve as a lead subject matter expert and faculty member for The National Center for Biomedical Research & Training – Academy of Counter-Terrorist Education at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA. I Periodically serve as course developer, course evaluator and lead instructor in the following Seminars: Executive Seminar: Prevention of, Response to and Recovery from Campus Emergencies, Prevention & Deterrence of Terrorist Acts, Terrorist Threat Guidelines, Critical Thinking & Analysis Methods and The Instructor Development Workshop.

A significant part of my security efforts include collaboration with BPI, in conducting the wide-range of security services described above for internationally known clients.


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