Cape author draws on protective detail experience

Monday, May 12, 2008

Thomas A. Taylor of Cape Girardeau has served on the security staff of four different Missouri governors and later head of the Governor's Security Division of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, a division established by Sen. Kit Bond during his term as Missouri governor.

Protective assignments have taken him all over the world, and he served as president of the National Governor's Security Association for two terms.

In May 2006, Taylor's first work of fiction, "Mortal Shield," was published. In the novel, Taylor draws on his wealth of experience in protective detail work to weave a story centered around a terroristic plot to kill the Missouri governor. On Friday, Taylor shared the following information with the Southeast Missourian about "Mortal Shield" and his experiences in protective work.

Q. Describe your educational and professional background a bit for us.

A. I was born and raised in Cape Girardeau, and graduated from Cape Girardeau Central High School in 1969. My senior year, a member of the state highway patrol came to our school and gave a safe driving presentation. That got my interest piqued in the highway patrol, but you have to be 21 to apply. I went to Southeast Missouri State University, and on my 21st birthday, I drove to Poplar Bluff to apply for a position as a state trooper. There were 2,000 applicants and just 40 openings, and I was fortunate enough to be selected. I was assigned as a road officer in Kansas City at first, and joined the executive security unit when it was still in its beginning stages. All of the training was on the job, since it would be two years before I could get a place in the secret service training program. After the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, I served as coordinator on the highway patrol's anti-terrorism detail. In 2002, I hit 30 years, and decided that was about enough. After I retired, I was asked to join Gavin de Becker and Associates, a California firm that specializes in protection and threat assessment for high profile public figures.

Q. What are some of the toughest aspects of protecting a public figure?

A. You only have a few seconds during an attack. Public figure attacks happen in less than two seconds. The most important part of my job is in finding ways to cheat the clock and take time back from the attacker. Maintaining an alert stance over a long period of time and not getting distracted, staying focused when your mind wants to wander, are crucial, especially during long campaigns where there is not a lot of time to rest. In "Just Two Seconds: Using Time and Space to Defeat Assassins," my new book, I discuss ways to stay one step ahead of your opponent and keep yourself in the moment.

Q. What were some of the scariest moments you can recall during a protective assignment?

A. They have an event in St. Joseph, Mo., called Santa Caligon days, where everyone dresses in western garb for the festival. Half the people there were carrying guns. We've also been in some uncomfortable locations, rough neighborhoods. There was one time in Los Angeles when a governor wanted to a take a walk at night through a rough part of downtown.

Q. What was your inspiration for the plot of "Mortal Shield?"

A. What I wanted to do in "Mortal Shield" was pay respect to protectors by putting them in as difficult a position as I possibly could. I wanted to put the governor in a situation where he was very much at risk. The Phineas Priests are a real, dangerous terrorist group. All of the bad guys in the book were inspired by real bad guys. Most of the characters, or aspects of their personalities, were inspired by real people, people I've worked with at one time or another.

Q. What is one of the biggest myths about protection work that you'd like to see dispelled?

A. One is that a direct threat against a public figure will lead to an attack. When a governor gets a threatening letter, you beef up security, everyone gets tense and nothing is likely to happen. They have never found a single case of a direct threat leading to an attack. Studies indicate that the types of people who write threats are not the types of people likely to actually attack a public figure.

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