Andy Costa: "A security contractor must be reliable, not a gun addict"

(To Giusy Federici)

"This text talks about a sector, or world as some have defined it, which is largely obscure and certainly known very little (and badly), even by journalists who often deal with similar topics. All this is due to the lack of development of the Security sector in Italy, which currently recognizes few professional figures (security guard, analyst or security manager) and which, however, hardly understands their peculiarities, capabilities, and above all the need for trained and qualified figures in the various roles... ".

The sentence just read is part of the preface of Andy Costa's book, Security Contractors – what no one has ever explained to you, self-published and purchasable on Amazon. Andy is a long-time security contractor, a credible professional.

Veronese, 45 years old, citizen of the world since 2008, having always traveled for 8, 9 months a year. A past in the rgt. Lagunari, he discovered the world of security contractors with the death of Fabrizio Quattrocchi. He has worked in many parts of the world where there are conflicts and instability, from Libya to Afghanistan to Iraq, the Middle East as well as South East Asia, Eastern Europe, the Indian Ocean. Specializing in close protection, enterprise risk management, loss prevention and intelligence, today he works as a "senior risk advisor" for various European security risk management companies.

The book is very interesting, well written and even ironic in certain points, which doesn't hurt at all, especially because it's something you don't expect from a security contractor, but only as a matter of pre-judgment...

I didn't want to have it corrected, I took full responsibility and wanted it to come out as a book "for the people", that is, for everyone and not for the "educated masses".

I believe that - especially for those who work in a profession like mine - irony is fundamental. You often find yourself in places and situations where if you lack irony you risk becoming depressed, not to mention that it is good to have it when dealing with the client, because in any case the client who likes you for your way of doing things, as well as The safety approach makes his days happy: you also take care of the psychological part of being in a disadvantaged place and far from his family. Knowing how to deal with people is almost an added service.

In those moments, in those places, you are the family.

Oh yes, then let's say that the protection of the person is not only linked to the physical issue but also to the mental one. However, psychological trauma is damage suffered by the client and it is your responsibility to try to avoid it.

Being professional, in my opinion, also means taking great care of the psychological part, something that many people take for granted, thinking that safety is only weapons, helmets, etc.

You specify well that doing security is not that, it is not necessary to come from the special forces nor, much less, to be the phenomenon of the situation, all weapons and testosterone, because you only do damage. We need balance, which is something else...

If we want to refer to other situations, this is also what is looked for in members of special departments. You know some of them, I also have friends who have been in certain departments and, in the selections to enter, they don't want war patients but balanced people, because balance is the basis on which to train professionals. Of course, there's always the exception to the rule, but generally those get kicked out.

I would also add that, in my work, there is a need for great ethics and to know what confidentiality is.

But why did you feel the need to write this book?

In reality it was not a need but a "creative" period of my profession during the covid era. I had spent 6 and a half months straight in Libya for a Private Security Company, covering 2 positions due to force majeure: that of operations manager and project manager, often leading me to work 7 days a week from 7 in the morning to 6 in the morning. .

When I almost started forgetting my name (of course I say this ironically), I realized it was time to ask the company for a break. Six months in a row at certain rates were starting to get tough.

Once I returned home, I was able to follow my things, also because we were closed at home due to Covid. From there I opened a website where both myself and other colleagues started writing articles and, by chance, I started working on a book which, initially, had a "manual" style approach. Then, thanks also to some friends who had read some ideas already jotted down, I was advised to make it more narrative, in order to lighten the technical part. Which I did, also including personal experiences and considerations.

It was a book written slowly, over two years. This year I realized there was enough material and decided to publish it, on Amazon. All because, since I started exposing myself on social media, I have always had many people asking me lots of questions and, in addition to that, also your journalist colleagues, who have come out with articles like "the mercenary Andy Costa" for which I had to call the editorial staff and ask for rectification (it can be done in an instant online) and change the wording, so as to avoid any complaints. Calling me a "mercenary" is like calling me a murderer and I am neither one nor the other.

The difference between security contractor e mercenary it seems not yet clear even to those who deal with this at various levels (including institutional ones), often out of ignorance and sometimes in bad faith. So, let's specify: what does a security contractor do?

As you read in the book, talking only about contractors, without indicating the relevant industry, is wrong, because the term "contractor" indicates a project contract, a This is for all jobs, from waiters to plumbers to those who drive a bulldozer and so on.

In Italy we have identified with the word "contractor" those who provide paid paramilitary services but, fundamentally, this is not the case. What we do, myself and other colleagues, is the "security contractor", that is, a professional who does security in one of the roles of this industry, with a fixed-term project contract. This is the simplest technical explanation.

Obviously, within the security industry, there are many roles: from the paramedic, a person who provides medical support to those like me who are deployed in certain areas, to the project manager, who does investigations, intelligence and so on. This profession is very varied and ranges from the most well-known figure of the "close protection officer" to very technical roles linked to consultancy.

If we want to use the image of the cinema, which perhaps gives a clearer idea, let's think of Russell Crowe who in "Proof of Life" is sent to a South American country to give advice on situations of kidnapping and ransom to a family whose father , manager in a multinational company, was kidnapped. I tell you this to reiterate that in this world there really is everything and more and the variety of roles in this sector is enormous.

Unfortunately, what is most identified and desired by the masses is the role of those who do "close protection", perhaps because it is the role most linked to the world of weapons.

It's a bit like keyboard lions: by going to a range or taking a shooting course, they think they're Rambo.

I agree. Many consider this job only because it is linked to the world of weapons. For me, being "tough" should never be judged by how you use a weapon but by the reliability you give it. Security is reliability, this is why the customer trusts you and not because you are the Rambo of the situation.

Many people ask if you are afraid to work in certain places: the truth is that you don't think about it, you work in such difficult conditions that your problem, perhaps, is finding a bathroom or, sometimes, a clean bottle of water.

Many times national laws do not provide for the use of weapons, so do you have to go around unarmed?

It always depends on the legislation of the place where you work. Many think it's all Iraq or Afghanistan, but that's not the case. I have also worked in Pakistan and Libya and expatriate staff cannot possess weapons, as it is not permitted by local laws.

Weapons are relative: there is a whole discussion about safety culture, planning of operations, preparation of personnel. I prefer someone who knows how to handle the medical part very well for me, if I have to choose, than someone who feels like Tex Willer. It has only happened to me twice to find myself in the middle of a firefight while I have had the need for medical support many more times, from the lightest to the most demanding.

Even that of the "close protection officer", the role from which many start, requires skills that go beyond knowing how to use weapons: from planning skills to knowing how to read a map, to knowing how to carry out reconnaissance, where you must know how to detect and obtain the necessary information and how to plan it, you must know how to move in low profile, you must know how to take useful photos for reports, you must liaise with local personnel to have valid information, you must know how to shape the reconnaissance report, use online maps, plan roads to travel (primary and alternatives), identify safe-havens, etc. So, it's not just taking a gun, getting into a vehicle and following someone.

You must know how to use GPS navigation systems, understand how your armored vehicles work, which are not exactly simple and you may find yourself having to get your hands on them. There are many things that anyone who works in this profession needs to know.

Sure, I know how to shoot very well, even if there are others much better than me, but we are not asked to be snipers or to change magazines in milliseconds, we are not asked to be paid killers with an infallible aim . On the contrary, we are asked to do everything possible and impossible to avoid a firefight, to know how to communicate with a client and to know how to present yourself because with certain clients, especially diplomatic ones, you enter certain environments and you cannot be the badass on duty. And it is also obvious that the more you move up in role or type of client, the more you have to specialize.

In light of your experience, how much longer can Italy remain without a legislative solution that recognizes and regulates the figure of the "security contractor"? Many Italian companies have to rely on foreign agencies and in between there is also the security of national information.

It's certainly not good for us - and I'm speaking as an economy - because it involves (significant) capital that leaves our country and enters the pockets of others. Despite everything, many Italian companies always refer to British or French agencies when it comes to the protection of their assets in medium or high risk areas.

It seems absurd that we always arrive millennia later but I think this is due to the fact that the Italian security sector, as in many other departments and industries, is always linked to elephantine bureaucracy and people who do not look favorably on changes and improvements and he prefers everything to stay the same.

Even Germany, for years now, has started to have private close protection teams that follow the diplomatic staff of its embassies. Let's say that there is probably an underlying flaw in judging these things, linked to prejudice.

Let's ask ourselves why all the developed nations of the world are subcontracting these jobs to private and not publicly held companies. Maybe because there are advantages to doing so!

In Italy they don't want to understand it. We continue in the other direction. Among other things, by straining the personnel of the Armed Forces and Police Forces, which are now exhausted, due to the various cuts suffered and the continuous request for coverage of countless services.

If we manage to make this sector evolve in the right way in Italy, we remember that it would also be possible to provide work to that enormous quantity of volunteers who have not managed to reaffirm themselves in permanent service or who have left the Armed or Police Forces for other reasons.

I refer to what you write at the beginning of the book, when you decide to leave the Armed Forces because you are disappointed by the lack of meritocracy and then you are struck by Fabrizio Quattrocchi, his dignity and straight back in facing death...

I have always believed very much in the uniform and above all in the brotherhood that unites the people who wear it, something that is very difficult to find in private life and I still miss it. However, even there, you find yourself in situations where you realize that whoever manages you, as in every sector in Italy, is playing politics.

Obviously these are borderline cases. I found myself in the middle of a particular situation and decided to leave. I have always missed the uniform and I have found it a little in this environment.

One day I found Fabrizio Quattrocchi on TV. I knew nothing about this world and I had done a year as a security guard in Verona, but it wasn't my path. After that tragic event I learned about this industry and thought it was the closest thing to the world I was in before, with the uniform. So I started to find out.

It took me a long time before I was able to get in, it wasn't that simple and the first responses were negative: I was only 5 years old in the Lagunari and for many people "I wasn't suitable", without even knowing me. But I've always had a character where the more you try to limit myself, the more I insist.

After 4 years of research, a former colleague sponsored me to a company that was looking for a security consultant who also spoke Italian (in those days this industry worked more through sponsorship than today, where qualifications and recruitment processes count much more). recruiting). I took the opportunity and from there I found myself, in less than a month, in southern Lebanon working for this company. This way I had the opportunity to improve my English and grow professionally, also starting to develop the network. It's true that at the beginning you enter based on your qualifications, but in this job you can only progress if you manage to build a network. What does it take to build it? Let's go back to what was said before, we need reliability, the key word of this work. If you know how to deal with people, if you're reliable, you get called back.

Are there women in the security world?

There are few of them and they serve in specific roles. I also worked in India and, for example, for the families of some billionaires, they wanted female executive protection for one of their children. In other parts, such as the projects of international organizations, however, "close protection for women" is requested because the organizations themselves have quotas of female staff. If you are in an environment where the gender difference is very felt, such as in Islamic countries, if you are dealing with local ladies, it is still good for you to have women in the team. This helps to have better communication and is important to mitigate cultural risks.

In my experiences I have never met any Italian who did this job, they are mostly British, French and Irish.

I ask you for a consideration: many nations train their citizens for emergencies. Italy is a country perpetually at risk also for attacks. In your opinion, it would be appropriate to do something like this ourselves and have it managed by us security contractors?

In my opinion the main problem is not doing one thing but how you decide to do it. Because unfortunately, in Italy, we always go for certain figures who are not qualified and trained according to international standards. It is not enough to be a former general of the Carabinieri or of the Army or Police, which among other things have roles that are more "strategic" than tactical and operational. The problem is that they should have this sector developed by those who really know it at an international level and have comparison parameters already tested by other nations and unfortunately, in Italy, these figures are not many.

There is also a lack of real planning capacity on this topic. What is missing is a vision that is realistic and feasible, which leads to a long-term result, not things thrown away by someone who has given up his career and now wants to sell himself without experience in the field of civil security. We should have the humility to admit our shortcomings, go abroad and learn from the English, French and Americans, who have already made their mistakes in the past in the private security sector and copy what they are doing well, maybe improving it.

I prepared myself with the British: they are at the basis of today's "security risk management" and have gained all the experience in a sector that still has flaws, which is saying something.

Let's learn from others and take the positive sides, otherwise we will find ourselves with a sector started now that is like theirs 20 years ago, where the cure is worse than the disease, as happened with anti-piracy.

Reference should be made to figures who have effective knowledge of a given sector, rather than going to please the usual "friends of" who want to resell in the private sector.