A bodyguard (or "close protection officer") is a type of security guard or government agent who protects a person—usually a famous, wealthy, or politically important figure—from assault, kidnapping, assassination, loss of confidential information, or other threats.
Most important public figures such as heads of state or governors are protected by several bodyguards or by a team of bodyguards from an agency, security forces, or police forces (e.g., in the US, the United States Secret Service or the Bureau of Diplomatic Security). In countries where the head of state is a military leader or dictator, the leader's bodyguards may also be part of an elite military unit. Less-important public figures, or those with lower risk profiles, may be accompanied by a single bodyguard who doubles as a driver. A number of high-profile celebrities and CEOs also use bodyguards.
Bodyguards often examine a premises or venue before their clients arrive, to determine where the exits and entrances are, find potential security weaknesses, and meet the staff (so that a would-be attacker cannot pose as a staff member). As well, some bodyguards do research to be aware of potential threats to their client, by doing a thorough assessment of the threats facing the principal, such as a protest by a radical group or the release from custody of person who is a known threat. While escorting a client, bodyguards have to remain alert so that they are able to react quickly to threatening situations. In some cases, bodyguards also drive their clients, which means that they have to be aware of suspicious vehicles and prepared to practice evasive driving techniques.
Depending on the laws in a bodyguard's jurisdiction and on which type of agency or security service they are in, bodyguards may be armed with a non-lethal weapon such as a baton, stun gun, pepper spray, or a Taser, or with a lethal weapon such as a pistol. Bodyguards from government security agencies protecting heads of state may even carry a fully automatic machine pistol or a mini-submachine gun concealed under their clothing or in a briefcase. US Secret Service agents wear body armor.
Bodyguards often have backgrounds in the armed forces, police or security services, prison guard services or martial arts, although this is not required. Bodyguards must be physically fit, with good eyesight and hearing, and they need to have a presentable appearance, especially for close protection work for dignitaries and heads of state. However, bodyguards protecting celebrities or pop stars may be able to have tattoos and facial piercings. A drivers license is usually required, so that the bodyguard can double as a driver. In the UK and some other countries, bodyguards have to have a license or certification, which involves identity and criminal record checks. To be a bodyguard in an agency protecting a head of state, a bodyguard will have to undergo extensive background and loyalty checks.
Bodyguards need to be observant, and retain their focus on their job, despite distractions such as fatigue. As well, they need to be able to work as member of a team, with assigned tasks, or be able to act independently, and adapt and improvise an appropriate response if the need arises. Bodyguards need to be able to recognise potentially dangerous situations and remain calm under pressure. Since bodyguards often have to collaborate or coordinate their protection with other security forces, such as local police or other private security guards, bodyguards need good interpersonal and communications skills. Since bodyguards accompany their client throughout their day, the bodyguard will be privy to the private life of the client, which means that a bodyguard has to show discretion and maintain confidentiality.
In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, most bodyguards are former or current police officers, or sometimes former military or other government agency personnel. In countries where the head of state is a military leader or dictator, the leader's bodyguards may also be part of an elite military unit. Such was the case with the Schutzstaffel in Nazi Germany, the former Iraqi Special Republican Guard, or the Praetorian Guard in the Roman Empire.
In India, VIPs are protected by NSG (National Security Guards), an organization under the Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India. The President and Prime Minister of Pakistan receive close protection teams from the military's elite Special Service Group unit. President Pervez Musharraf, as civilian head of state, was due to have this withdrawn after retiring as Chief of Army Staff, but the Pakistan Army has retained his close protection unit. In 1984 Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her security guards. In France, in the early 1960s, Major Lucien Ott recruited from French special forces veterans to protect President de Gaulle from assassination by the Organisation de l'Armée Secrète (OAS). In Turkey, the President is protected by both the Karşı Saldırı Timi'nde (KST) and the Cumhurbaskanligi Muhafiz Alayi Komutanligi. The KST is a counterattack Team which provides Close Protection of the President and the First Family. The Cumhurbaskanligi Muhafiz Alayi is a military unit which protects Presidential palaces and members of his family.
In the US, the United States Secret Service safeguards the lives of the President, his family, and other executive officials, including former presidents and vice-presidents. Another agency, the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, is responsible for protecting U.S. missions and their personnel overseas, as well as selected dignitaries in the U.S., including the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, the Secretary of State, and visiting foreign dignitaries below heads-of-state level. While the US Secret Service's close-protection role is its most visible, its historic role as agents of the United States Treasury (although they are now agents of the Department of Homeland Security) made it unusual internationally, as usually "official" bodyguards are part of general police forces.
In the UK, the Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Department of the Metropolitan Police is responsible for the security of the Sovereign. In the Vatican, the Pope and other senior Vatican officials are protected by Swiss Guards, Swiss mercenary soldiers who act as bodyguards, ceremonial guards, and palace guards. After the May 13, 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II by Mehmet Ali Ağca, the guards were given enhanced training in unarmed combat and firearm use.
The brave and fiercely protective bodyguard who is willing to die to protect his master has long been depicted in fiction. The character of the Scottish hero Quentin Durward appears in stories as the bodyguard of the king of France. The character Charles d'Artagnan appears in stories as the bodyguard of the French crown. The character Atticus Kodiak is a professional bodyguard who acts as narrator and protagonist in a series of novels by Greg Rucka. Bodyguards also appear in Usagi Yojimbo - Stan Sakai's anthropomorphic-rabbit samurai based upon Miyamoto Musashi and in the Artemis Fowl series of children's books.
Bodyguards are also depicted in a number of films. Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's film Yojimbo depicts a samurai bodyguard in Japan. The Bodyguard is a film about a bodyguard who protects a celebrity singer. Gogo Yubari is O-Ren Ishii's bodyguard in the film Kill Bill 1. In the science-fiction/fantasy Star Wars films, MagnaGuard is General Grievous's bodyguard. In the film Lord of War, the main character's brother protects him while he makes arms deals in war-torn countries.
In the film Man on Fire, John Creasy (Denzel Washington) is a burnt-out ex-CIA officer and counter-insurgency operative who grudgingly becomes the bodyguard of a young girl (played by Dakota Fanning). When kidnappers attempt to snatch the girl, Creasy is severely wounded in a gun battle. The film depicts his perseverance in attempting to continue to protect the girl despite his gunshot wounds, until he becomes unconscious. Several films have been made about the Secret Service's role in guarding the President of the US, such as In the Line of Fire and The Sentinel.
Bodyguards are also depicted in television shows, comics, and other media. Bodyguard is a Japanese television series starring Reiko Takashima. In the UK, Bodyguards was a late 1990s UK television series about a specialized Close Protection Group that protected members of the UK government. In the Mortal Kombat fighting game series, Sheeva is the personal protector of Sindel. Suki is a Japanese manga about a relationship between a teenage girl and a 32-year old bodyguard. Kevin Nash is Shawn Michaels' bodyguard. The Human Target is an American comic book and television series about a bodyguard.