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Part 2: Vetting Security Companies & Their Principals February 15, 2012

Posted by Chris Mark in Risk & Risk Management.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

As I read Kevin Doherty’s questions for vetting security companies, I felt compelled to add some additional commentary.  It is important to really do your due diligence on the principals of security companies.  It is the leadership that will define the ethics, and attitude of the organization.  If the owner is prone to dishonesty or misrepresentations then the staff is likely to follow their lead.  Unfortunately, in the high risk world of maritime security (and other security) the fallout can cost more than money. In a very real sense, lives can be lost.

According to reports, over 53% of candidates lie on their resumes.  Nearly 80% show some form of misinformation or are misleading.  Within the security arena (maritime, physical, data) it seems that one of the most common areas to embellish is that of military experience.  The security arena attracts a significant number of former military members.  There is a often temptation for ‘one upsmanship’ in an attempt to make a sale or secure a client.  It is an unfortunate reality that there is often what I call a ‘cool factor’ associated with certain roles in the military.  I remember walking into an interview with a senior executive from a large company and he cut the interview off and simply said: “I want to hear some stories from your military days.” I got the job.

While not common, it does happen.  It is important when you evaluate a security organization that claims extensive military experience that you verify the actual experience.  In my own professional career I have worked for several people that have fraudulently claimed military experience that was non existent.

I worked in the security industry for a person that claimed extensive special operations experience.  Among his claims included serving with elite units, being decorated for combat action, and being wounded in combat.  He also claimed to speak 4 different languages.  During my interview, he regaled me with stories of his adventures.  At first blush, it sounded accurate and legitimate.  Based upon my experiences people who are committed to lying about their military experience seem to get enough of it right to fool even those with legitimate experience….for a short while, at least.  In my example, it was the 2nd and 3rd discussion with this person where things started to not add up.  Dates and units were wrong, awards were wrong etc.  When questioned the inevitable response was: “it was top secret so I can’t tell you more” or something to that effect.  When things really went downhill is when we were to meet with a foreign representative who spoke one of the languages this person claimed and during the discussion it was glaringly apparent that he had little more than a passing familiarity with the language.  The foreign representatives were not amused and we lost the deal.

Here is a tip.  There is very little that is so secret that aspects cannot be disclosed.  I will say that in the UK the operational security is much more strict due to the proximity of adversarial parties and the different types of jobs performed but in the US, the “top secret” excuse is a big red flag. Another red flag is when information starts changing or disappearing.  Linkedin profiles are suddenly deleted etc. The unfortunate part of this story is that the  person to whom I am referring used his ‘experience’ to sell our services to unsuspecting clients.  There were a number of companies that signed on at least partly due to their belief that he was a special operations war hero.  While nobody would blame anyone for using legitimate experience to gain a competitive advantage, those who fabricate military experience to compete should be ashamed.  With the increasingly competitive landscape in the maritime security industry, it is inevitable that we will see more of this behavior.

As stated previously, all US Military records are public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  You can request military records (DD214)  from the US Archives at this link.  While the records may be redacted, it will show units served, dates, awards, schools, and other relevant information that will allow you to verify what you are being told.

So remember the old adage about information: “Believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see.”  Conduct due diligence.  Talk to former clients, get references.  Ask people in the industry, and conduct Internet searches.  Making the wrong choice in maritime security providers can cost your company more than money.

BTW: the person to whom I am referring passed away in 2007.


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