- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2001

Much has been made about the need for increased security since the terrorists attacks on New York and the Pentagon. But Charles Vance has sung that song for quite a while and it shows in his business.
Mr. Vance runs Vance International Inc. (VI), a multipart security firm based in Oakton that specializes in executive protection, uniformed security, investigations and consulting services, strike security, due diligence investigations and contingency planning.
But then Mr. Vance is no stranger to the business of protection. His talent for management, for action, has been honed by experience.
In early 1972, Mr. Vance was an agent with the U.S. Secret Service, heading an 11-person advance team for Vice President Spiro Agnew, who was making a goodwill tour of the Middle East. He was en route to Morocco when news came of a failed assassination attempt on King Hassan II as part of an apparent coup.
Upon arrival, Mr. Vance realized immediately that this state visit would be particularly challenging for the Secret Service. Soldiers and gun emplacements lined the streets of Rabat, the Moroccan capital, to safeguard the Hassan regime. Tensions were high. But the U.S. ambassador downplayed the threat, Mr. Vance remembers, despite the fact that officials had been killed during the attempted coup.
Everything was under control, the diplomat assured. Mr. Vance didn't buy it. He said that he would advise the vice president to bypass Morocco unless there was an escape plan. A contingency plan, according to Mr. Vance, that would involve U.S. helicopters and warships waiting off the coast to receive Mr. Agnew in case there was trouble.
Such a move would reflect badly on the king, argued the ambassador. But Mr. Vance was more concerned about CIA reports that tied the regime's minister of defense, Gen. Mohammed Oufkir, to the apparent coup. More troubling was the fact that Gen. Oufkir, described then as the most feared man in Morocco, would be responsible for local security for Mr. Agnew's visit.
It was an enormous, career-threatening gamble for the young agent. But Mr. Vance convinced Washington that such a plan was needed. An aircraft carrier and flotilla of warships were sent for Mr. Agnew's one-day visit.
Despite the fact that all went smoothly, the young agent came under fire from superiors who thought his escape plan was expensive, logistically difficult and unnecessary.
But months later, there was a second failed attempt on King Hassan's life when a Moroccan fighter strafed the king's plane. Reportedly, Gen. Oufkir also was the mastermind of this coup attempt. When the general was later found dead in the palace, official reports said he had committed suicide. But that account has been disputed by Gen. Oufkir's oldest daughter, Malikaher, in a new book, "Stolen Lives." Mr. Vance felt vindicated.

Global reach
Today, VI employs about 2,200 people and has offices in New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Mexico City and London. VI also has affiliations with other security companies in South Africa and Argentina. Ultimately, VI hopes to acquire some of these foreign security firms.
For 2001, the firm has pre-September 11 projected revenues of $100 million. While no specific earnings were offered, Mr. Vance expects profits for this year to increase between 50 percent and 100 percent over 2000 earnings. Which isn't bad for a company that started in 1984 with only $32,000 in seed money and five employees.
In a recent interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Vance was asked the obligatory question about whether the tragic events of September 11 spiked his already-successful business: "Yes. But it was more of a case of our existing clients expanding their security needs dramatically, particularly government agencies."
The level of security at both public and private institutions always spikes following a tragic events like the Oklahoma City bombing and the attacks on the Pentagon and New York's World Trade Center towers, Mr. Vance says. "But the interest tapers off in time."
"The difference this time is that security protection will remain high even after things become more relaxed," he says. "People have finally gotten the message that security should be an ongoing budgeted item."
People also have gotten the message that security isn't cheap. Mr. Vance remains unapologetic for running the Rolls-Royce of security firms. "We're a bit on the high end," he concedes. "But you get what you pay for."
Such a philosophy has cost VI jobs, but Mr. Vance believes the lets-go-cheap crowd will change its tune, particularly now. Businesses are clamoring for qualified uniformed guards, he says.
The difficulty comes in keeping them. Because the market remains stable in Northern Virginia, the wage base has gone up substantially. This trend is likely to continue, despite some grousing from clients, Mr. Vance says.

Security buildup
Following the terrorists attacks, VI's uniformed protection division went from providing around 54,000 guard hours per week to 66,000. In addition, requests for assessing security of businesses increased from four to 32 per month. Currently, VI is conducting 16 on-site surveys, which, when completed, will include security-enhancement recommendations.
Although 65 percent of the business comes from uniformed security, VI's executive protection division is what put the company on the map initially. In fact, the company started as an executive-protection firm.
Clients have included the Saudi royal family, four children of the late King Hussein of Jordan one of whom is the present King Abdullah visiting dignitaries and a host of executives from Fortune 500 companies.
One reason that VI can command high fees for executive-protection service: the agents are unobtrusive and discreet, qualities Mr. Vance learned well as a Secret Service agent. All are trained according to U.S. Secret Service methods.
Occasionally, the firm will guard entertainers, but it is very selective because "there are too many variables involved," Mr. Vance says tactfully. "We prefer the corporate world."
Which is another way of saying that with entertainers, you sometimes get drugs and clingy groupies.
Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and singer/songwriter Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds are two clients that passed VI's litmus test. Years ago, VI provided on-site security for the MTV awards in Germany. But those jobs are rare, he concedes.
For the most part, VI's executive protection involves guarding corporate execs while they travel abroad. But, with September 11 still a smoldering reminder to Americans, corporations have shown an increasing interest in protecting its executives domestically, according to Mr. Vance, who sees this as a "real growth area" for the company.

Calming labor disputes
The Asset Protection Team (APT), which accounts for 15 percent of VI's business, is another successful unit that is expected to grow, Mr. Vance says. In 15 years, VI has provided asset and personnel security for businesses during 800 strikes. Some of those labor/management disputes were very volatile. VI has been front and center for strikes involving coal miners, dock and paper mill workers. It also provided asset protection for the highly contentious strike years ago at the Detroit News and Free Press. In all those years, VI claims that it has never had one of its APT team arrested. And APT has resorted to violence only once.
It was during the lengthy, sometimes violent Kentucky coal miners' strike in 1985. The incident occurred on the West Virginia border near the Kentucky coal fields. Mr. Vance, who was present, remembers the event this way: VI's security team was positioned on a bridge when they were confronted by a union leader with a ballpeen hammer in one hand, a Bowie knife in the other. A VI agent rapped the striker over the knee, backing him up. And that defused the situation.
"That was the only time and I'm very proud of that fact," Mr. Vance says. Good story, but how does VI avoid being labeled a company goon? "We don't take sides," he adds. "We are there to protect people, property and document photographically incidents of violence. Period."
The Washington Times was unable to obtain a comment from various unions on how VI's security force conducted themselves during the strikes. But one source, who knows Mr. Vance personally, doubts he would allow his people to turn into thugs.
Part of VI's labor disruption security and contingency planning requires security personnel to undergo instruction in National Labor Relations Board regulations and the identification of unfair labor practices. Another reason VI personnel have a near spotless record: All APT teams come from outside the client's region to reduce the potential for violence and to avoid the situation of conflicting loyalties, according to the company's circular.

'My first protectees'
After 14 years, Mr. Vance says he's less intense about the business and looks forward to the day when he can spend a lot of time at his Jackson Hole, Wyo., home, now being built. His office is filled with mementos and photographs of his current and previous career. Photos line the wall: President Gerald Ford and wife Betty, Vice President Spiro and Judy Agnew, Vice President Hubert and Muriel Humphrey, "my first protectees," says Mr. Vance proudly. Also featured are the "private sector protectees:" Lt. Col. Oliver North, the Rev. Billy Graham, Imelda Marcos and Henry Kissinger.
Mr. Vance has come a long way since he was a lanky child in Stockton, Calif. Growing up, he had no aspirations of becoming a Secret Service agent or even being connected to law enforcement.
But President John F. Kennedy's assassination in November 1963 changed all that. Upon graduating the following year from the University of California at Berkeley, Mr. Vance worked for the Oakland Police Department. It was a time of considerable unrest in the United States. The Vietnam War was escalating. Civil rights marches were commonplace.
The country was changing. During that time, the Warren Commission, which was charged with investigating the assassination of Kennedy, concluded that the Secret Service was understaffed at 350 agents. Almost immediately, 300 college-educated agent wannabes were hired. Among them was 23-year-old Chuck Vance.
Within seven months, the fledgling agent flew through two security-related schools at the Treasury Department and Secret Service academy. A year later he was assigned to the "Humphrey detail" in Washington. A brief stint at the Honolulu field office was followed by a tour with Vice President Agnew.
Surprisingly, Mr. Agnew was a favorite among Secret Service agents and their families, Mr. Vance remembers. After Mr. Agnew was forced to resign, Mr. Vance transferred to the San Francisco field office. Following President Nixon's resignation, he returned to Washington to protect President Ford, a move that would prove to be a pivotal one in the agent's life.

'Untenable' position
Back in Washington, the 31-year-old Mr. Vance found himself in hot water when it was revealed that he was involved with the considerably younger first daughter, Susan Ford. The couple married eventually. But Mr. Vance says he resigned from the Secret Service in 1979 after it became apparent that his position was "untenable." The couple are now divorced. Today, Mr. Vance, 60, is remarried with a 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.
After leaving government service, Mr. Vance set up an executive-protection service in Northern Virginia with a couple of buddies from the Secret Service. He used his $16,000 lump sump retirement fund from the government to set up the business. Although promising, Mr. Vance sold his share of the business and immediately started VI with the proceeds.
Mr. Vance's expertise in security and terrorism has made him a favorite among the news media, having appeared on more than 300 news programs.
Occasionally, Hollywood called. He was asked to be a technical adviser for the movie "Guarding Tess," starring Shirley MacLaine and Nicolas Cage, but declined because the commitment was too time-consuming.
Mr. Vance also has garnered his fair share of awards over the years. In 1997, he was given the Metropolitan Washington Executive of the Year Award and the Distinguished Leadership Award from Joe Gibbs' Youth for Tomorrow organization.
Over the years, Mr. Vance has noticed a marked improvement in the makeup of security-related organizations.
"Years ago, you had retired local police officers that had a good relations with the community," he says. "Now, businesses have gone to a whole new level, picking former agents from the Secret Service and FBI, and military special forces-trained individuals as executives of these firms. With the September 11 attacks, the quality of security should get even better."

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