From Basra to Spennymoor

The Northern Echo: A DIFFERENT FRONTLINE: Michael McCabe, whose training and experience is giving him a head start with his recently launched risk management business A DIFFERENT FRONTLINE: Michael McCabe, whose training and experience is giving him a head start with his recently launched risk management business

MICHAEL McCABE, 30, from Spennymoor, County Durham, is taking his experience of safeguarding troops in war zones to provide cutting-edge security services to companies.

HOW did you get started in this industry?

It began when I was studying theology at Liverpool University. To make a bit of money I worked for (security firm) Showsec. I then became part of a four-man team doing security work for Shimon Peres, the president of Israel, when he came to talk at a theatre in Blackpool. If anyone heckled Mr Peres, it was our job to ask them to leave.

I later worked on behalf of the Saudi royal f a m i l y , doing close protection ( b o d y - guard work) for one of the princesses, who was living in Paris. That was the impetus for me joining the military.

TELL us about your military career.

I took a Barb (British Army Recruit Battery) test and it came up with a list of jobs I’d be suited to. One of them was intelligence operator.

So, I was part of the intelligence corps for five years.

My first posting was Catterick Garrison – counter intelligence.

You are surveying the site to ensure that everything is in place to safeguard the g a r r i - s o n and its assets. I also did security investigation. If someone from the military was going to a country such as Russia or Israel, where special security regulations applied, we would brief them before they went, to make sure they were safe and risk free.

In 2006 I was sent to Iraq. It was getting quite tasty in Basra at that time. I was part of a security team doing exactly what we had done in the UK, making sure the correct security measures were in place at our bases. We would investigate espionage, terrorism, sabotage, that sort of thing. There were stories about people linked to various militias, who were spying on us, so part of my job was to investigate them.

WHAT did your family think of you working there?

It is my trade. A builder goes where he can to build houses.

I went where they needed intelligence work. I left Iraq in March because I want to settle down and have a family and I’m now trying to make a success in the North-East.

If I have to, I will go back out there, but my parents and my girlfriend would rather I didn’t.

HOW dangerous did things get in Iraq?

It’s a very difficult environment.

When I was there with the military, every single base was getting hammered with rockets and mortars. At one point I was at Camp Al- Amara, which is where Johnson Beharry won his Victoria Cross for saving his unit from ambushes. There was one time when rockets were raining down and we were all lying on the floor. I was praying they wouldn’t hit me.

DID you feel like you were doing an important the job?

I did a seven-month tour of Iraq. You go there with the mindset of trying to help a downtrodden society and come away a bit jaded. You ask yourself, was it really worth it?

I later went back there working for a private company and did not see any difference.

In fact, I think we had made it worse.

After finishing with the military I knew I wanted to continue on the same lines.

I was offered a job with Aegis, in Iraq. I worked as an intelligence analyst in Anbar province, for a US Department of Defence contract with the Army Corps of Engineers.

They were creating schools, police stations, water treatment plants in places such as Fallujah.

Aegies was providing protection for the soldiers and my job was to carry out the risk ass e s s - ments and tell them which routes not to use, where not to go. I later worked for Olive Group as the firm’s Iraq intelligence officer, working in Basra. We monitored the whole of Iraq. There are a lot of areas which have oil, which businesses want to keep an eye on, so we’d make threat assessments – what is going on in an area, who are the key tribes, the leaders and the political situation.

There is a big difference between working in the military in Iraq and then working for a private company. I made friends in Basra and they still phone me now. These guys are massively impoverished yet, when I left, they gave me a nargila pipe as a gift, which was such a touching gesture.

Working there as a civilian you see a totally different side to the country. The people are very warm and friendly.

TELL us about your business, Durham Specialist Risk Management.

I’m using the skills learnt in the military and bringing them to the business world.

I have about 80 close protection guys on my books. We get asked to do security work for celebrities and for rich business people sending their kids to the North- East. We do private investigations, such as tracing people who owe debts.

There is also the intelligence aspect to what we do.

To survive in the business you need to know what your competitors. We offer information gathering, monitor the market place, what new products, suppliers and distributors are your competitors using? Companies put a lot of information on the internet, so you gather a lot from there and also from talking to people.

You can use intelligence in an offensive and a defensive way. Clients want to protect their assets – what would their competitors be trying to find out about them and how can we protect it? This is the new way of looking at security consultancy.

You have the old school idea of the castle structure, whereas firms should be looking more t o w a r d s human resource risks and reputation management. These are the things we are looking at.

We are a very forward thinking firm.

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