Advertisement

Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at tampabay.com/coronavirus. Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

SPECIAL AGENT MAN // Detail knows to pay attention

Todd Ziccarelli may have looked like your average field hockey fan, but the wire running from his ear revealed he more likely was a man with a plan.

"Ready?" he asked as we slipped through the crowd outside Alonzo Herndon Stadium. "We've got to get into position."

Ziccarelli had just received word that Crown Prince Wilhelm, the heir to the throne of the Netherlands, was on his way to watch the Dutch Olympic team battle archrival Germany in field hockey.

The 31-year-old Boston man and other members of the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service had set up a perimeter around the rear entrance to the field hockey venue.

"Just stay close and hang loose," Special Agent Ziccarelli instructed. "We have to get him inside and make sure he makes it to his seat safely."

The Crown Prince of Orange was not a particularly high security risk, but his government had asked for protection and diplomatic reciprocity dictated that the 29-year-old royal be watched as closely as a visiting head of state.

Ziccarelli paced the pavement as he waited for the prince and his entourage to arrive. As the advance man, it was Ziccarelli's job to make sure the area was clear and ready to receive the foreign dignitary.

"They're here," he said, motioning to a colleague as a Georgia Highway Patrol car turned into the parking lot. Seconds later, a caravan of late model cars arrived; out jumped several men in sunglasses and khaki fishing vests.

The blond prince and a dozen associates appeared next, all clad in patriotic orange golf shirts. A special agent led Wilhelm upstairs to his seat and Ziccarelli followed.

The prince entered the bleachers, smiling and waving to his subjects as the crowd cheered.

"Now, we just stand by," Ziccarelli said.

+ + +

The day had begun 10 hours earlier at a hotel on the outskirts of Atlanta where the Diplomatic Security Service had set up a temporary field headquarters for the Games.

"Nothing personal, but normally I wouldn't even be talking to you," said Jeff Bosworth, the special agent in charge. "But the word from Washington is that I have to. So we'll show you what we do."

Most Americans are familiar with the Secret Service, which guards the President and foreign heads of state, but few know anything about the smaller Diplomatic Security Service (DSS).

"We might be called upon to protect a visiting royal, a diplomat or former head of state," Bosworth said. "In the past we've watched over Salman Rushdie, Yasser Arafat, Princess Diana."

The 650 or so State Department agents run more than 150 security details in 125 countries in an average year. The Secret Service, by comparison, has about 3,000 agents.

Security details are classified by the level of threat: low, medium and high. During the Games, DSS missions have ranged from the unenviable task of protecting a former Indian police official marked for death by Sikh extremists to the almost made-for-Hollywood job of guarding the teenage Princess of Sweden.

On this day, Bosworth had two details in the field. One group had been assigned to watch the vice president of Cuba. The other detail was assigned to the Prince of Orange, who kept it busy running to and from any event that had Dutch athletes participating.

"This evening the Prince is scheduled to go to field hockey and if his team wins, he usually likes to visit the Heineken House, where a lot of his countrymen go to celebrate," Bosworth said.

Heineken? The decision was easy.

"I'll go with the Prince," I said.

+ + +

Ten hours later, the unsung heroes of the U.S. protective services talked candidly about the rigors of their job.

"You might be sitting in your office one day and the next thing you know you are flying halfway around the world," Ziccarelli said. "It keeps you on your toes."

The DSS agents have gotten used to doing their jobs out of the limelight. People usually mistake DSS personnel for Secret Service agents or special agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

After all, because they usually all wear the same suits and sunglasses, the only way you can tell them apart is their lapel pins.

Even the media usually get it wrong. When Tom Clancy wrote Patriot Games, he had the Prince of Wales being protected by the Secret Service. When a DSS agent pointed out Clancy's error, the author corrected it for the movie.

"Of course at the end of the movie he has us all getting whacked," Ziccarelli said. "There are DSS agents lying all over the lawn. Thanks a lot."

But despite the inherent dangers of the job, DSS agents are proud to point out that they have never lost a person under their protection.

They try to anticipate trouble before it starts.

"If you have shoot your way out of a situation, you did something wrong along the way," Bosworth said.

+ + +

With the hockey game almost over, it is Ziccarelli's job to head back to the Prince's hotel and make sure the coast is clear.

"We'll just wait and see if he wants to go out after the game," Ziccarelli said.

Fifteen minutes later, he hears the Prince is calling it an early night. After two weeks of 16-hour days, Ziccarelli welcomes the chance to get some badly needed sleep.

"No House of Heineken tonight," Ziccarelli said. "We've never finished this early. You must have brought me luck."

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement