The world is full of important world leaders, or at least world leaders who think they’re important. Almost any major world leader worth his or her salt knows which car of the giant motorcade to sit in, and has at least some idea about how huge their security detail is. But which famous leader has the biggest, strangest and craziest security setup of them all? Let’s find out!
10. Turkey’s President Erdogan
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey, might not be the most heavily guarded person on this list, but his security detail is certainly one of the most hardcore. Erdogan has a loyal 60-man bodyguard detail known as “The Mustacheers,” and yes, the name absolutely means they are all burly men who boast fearsome mustaches. The Mustacheers are so wholly unconcerned with anything that isn’t immediately related to their leader’s safety that in 2017, they thought nothing of kicking the snot out of several American citizens who were protesting Erdogan in Washington, D.C. Seven bodyguards were charged for the attacks, but the charges were later dropped. As a mysterious coincidence, this happened just before Erdogan’s meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Fearsome as the Mustacheers may be, they’re far from the only weapon in Erdogan’s personal security arsenal when the need arises. During the President’s historic visit to Greece in 2017, the 60 mustache-men joined an estimated 100 other Turkish security officials, along with over 3,000 Greek snipers, agents and cops positioned all over Athens.
9. Shinzo Abe
As one of the leading, uh, leaders of the world, Shinzo Abe is accompanied by bodyguards even when he visits a shrine, and his foreign trips have been known to require a security staff of 9,000 people.
A wonderful example of Abe’s polite, yet extremely dedicated security detail: In 2016, the prime minister’s motorcade was on the road when it needed to merge in the traffic of a highway. Instead of, say, closing off a portion of the road beforehand, the security staff leans out of the car windows, hanging half out of the moving cars while calmly gesturing to other cars with their white-gloved hands, with zero assurances that the incoming traffic will stop in time instead of, say, ramming directly into their flailing torsos. The motorcade never even slows down. This is what Abe’s detail is willing to do just to change a lane. Imagine what they’d do if someone actually attacked the prime minister.
8. The President of Guinea
Alpha Conde, the awesomely named first democratically elected President of Guinea, is doubtlessly a powerful man within his country, but his inclusion on a list of most heavily guarded world leaders comes as a bit of a surprise. However, there’s a very good reason for his security focus: In 2011, political opponents attempted to assassinate him in his own home, and though his security detail managed to fight back the attackers, a two-hour battle that involves several hostile gunmen and a grenade launcher can make a man think about his personal safety — especially as just a few hours after Conde addressed the nation about the first attack, his Presidential Guard had to fend off another one.
While Conde’s security detail is clearly sturdy and hard — after all, the President is still alive and in power — they have been known to be extremely hostile against the media. In 2013, they committed a wave of violence against independent journalists, and as recently as 2016 these “Red Berets” beat up a reporter because he took a photo of Conde as he was leaving an assembly.
7. Queen Elizabeth II
The Queen’s security forces are impressive, yet something of a mixed bag. The most visible and famous line of her defense, the iconic, tall-hatted Queen’s Guard, are mostly known for their elaborate marching spectacles and unflinching poker face during guard duty, but they’re actually far from the joke some tourists take them as and are perfectly able to mess you up if you overstep. Then there’s the security personnel that guards the Buckingham Palace at all hours, who are more conventional than the Queen’s Guard and their toy uniforms, but on the other hand have been known to nearly shoot the Queen on one of her late night strolls.
However, when you really, really need to keep Her Majesty safe, you go to the Royal Protection Squad. This elite Scotland Yard squad was formed in 1983, and reportedly consists of up to 185 SAS-trained officers with various degrees of James Bond -ness. The RPS is responsible for providing around-the-clock security for the Queen, along with the rest of the royal family and London’s diplomats.
The RPS is so effective that some experts say they might have been able to prevent Princess Diana’s death — Lady Di dismissed the unit’s 24-hour surveillance after she divorced Prince Charles, which experts think left her exposed. Still, it must be mentioned that a survivor of Diana’s fatal crash, security expert Trevor Rees-Jones, was a former RPS member, so who knows?
6. Xi Jinping
As the main man of China, it’s no surprise Xi Jinping comes pretty heavily guarded. He and the other higher-ups of the Communist Party are protected by an elite guard unit called Central Security Bureau, which is a notoriously secretive organization. To this day, the most public appearance of its leader, “His Excellency Wang Shaojun“, came in 2015 when he attended a White House banquet, and we only know his highly classified day job because the official guest list casually mentioned his job title. Major General Wang holds a very influential position within China, as the Central Guard Bureau has thousands of elite troops that are tasked with protecting the country’s top brass and their families, and because Xi Jinping personally promoted him to the task in 2015, it’s probably pretty clear where the Bureau’s loyalties lie in the constant turmoil of Beijing politics.
Still, it’s not until Xi makes a trip aboard that the true extent of his security needs is revealed. During a 2017 visit to Hong Kong, a “massive security blanket” enveloped the area. Parts of the city were shut down, as 11,000 police officers did their level best to keep the President safe with peacekeeping tools such as helicopters and movable six-foot barricades.
5. Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salban of Saudi Arabia has been rumored to be on bad terms with his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. While it would normally be easy to read a sentence like that and assume that the Crown Prince’s security has actually lowered, in Mohammed bin Salman’s case the opposite seems to be true. Middle East Eye has observed that the Prince has reacted to a potential diminishing (or even being forced out of office) by creating a massive security network around himself. He has spent over a year increasing his influence on Saudi Arabia’s security agencies and the military, ensuring promotions to young officers who are loyal to him and arranging matters so that even the higher-ups report directly to him.
At the moment, the commanders of the Saudi Royal Guard, armed forces, land forces, air defense, air force and navy all report to the Prince, and with a rumored 800 new officer appointments planned by the end of 2019, it would probably not be a bad bet to say that if Prince Mohammed bin Salban is not the person with the most massive personal security network on this list yet, it’s only a matter of time.
4. The Pope
The Pope is on the side of the angels by his very job description, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need a few people who can put the hurt on people should the need arise. The Pontifical Swiss Guard have a goofy name and an outfit to match, but don’t let that fool you: In reality, they’re a lethal guardian force comprised of the best soldiers Switzerland has to offer. They are perfectly capable of disabling a wannabe assassin with the seemingly ceremonial polearms they carry around alone, but it’s not like they’d actually need to use such old school technology — the Swiss Guard actually have one of the most advanced collections of firearms in the world.
The Guard is the world’s oldest standing military, and incidentally also pretty much the smallest, seldom numbering more than 125 soldiers at a time. Although any Swiss ex-military man of good standing who’s Catholic, under 30, over 5’8” and has a diploma can apply, the tryout process is a brutal combination of special forces training and education requirements. The few who pass the bar are sworn in by the Pope himself, and go on to guard the Vatican, protect the Pope (and the College of Cardinals during papal transition), and accompany him on his travels.
Apart from having his own army of Swiss John Rambos at his side at all times, the Pope’s travels also often feature the legendary Popemobile. There have been many Popemobiles over the years, but the premise is pretty simple: A (usually) white vehicle with a platform at the back where the Pope can stand and wave, see and be seen. Sometimes, he’s encased in bulletproof glass, other times he’s pretty much out in the open.
3. Kim Jong-Un
When North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un visited Singapore in 2018, he was accompanied by a spry guard detail that seemed a lot like the U.S. Secret Service. However, North Korea is notorious for its overkill, and Kim’s bodyguards are no exception: While the Secret Service has less than 7,000 employees, its North Korean version has an absurd 100,000. This elite unit is called the Guard Command, and they essentially serve as Kim’s highly trained personal army that reports directly to him.
The absolute best of the best in the Command become members of the dictator’s personal protection unit, and you’re unlikely to ever see them unless something goes seriously wrong — the bodyguards seen running beside Kim’s limo are a separate offshoot of Guard Command, and the truly dangerous members tend to blend in shadows. We realize this sounds a lot like Kim has an array of North Korean ninjas at his disposal, but hey, at this point, who knows with that guy?
2. Donald Trump
The President of the United States is always at the top of many a hit list, which is why the security procedures around Donald Trump are among the very best in the world. Most people know the Secret Service and their daily efforts to keep the POTUS in the land of the living, but the grumpy men in black suits and earpieces are just a tiny part of the President’s security detail. The two Air Force One planes Trump uses for air travel are among the most secure aircrafts in the world (yes, there are actually two of them, and there’s also a fleet of helicopters called Marine One).
The presidential motorcade is an even stranger beast, and it’s not just because the President’s pair of bomb-proof limousines are literally nicknamed “The Beast.” The motorcade is a carefully constructed array of custom and occasionally rental vehicles that varies with the task at hand. The presidential limousine is the focus of the motorcade, and is always accompanied by one or more “spare” limos that are identical right down to the plates. While the motorcade is in motion, highly trained limo drivers constantly and subtly change places, so the location of the true Presidential limousine and the spares constantly change in an automobile version of the shell game. Helicopters are also close by. As you can imagine, it takes several heavy USAF transport planes to move a motorcade to the desired location, and several motorcades are often needed, depending on the President’s travel schedule.
When you put all of this together, you get a truly insane level of security. When Trump visited the United Kingdom in 2018, he was accompanied by 1,000 members of staff, a full motorcade and helicopters. The whole visit was carefully planned for weeks by security teams of both countries, and an estimated 150 Secret Service agents arrived in advance to oversee a massive security operation that included a “Ring of Steel” — a massive barrier erected around the property Trump visited. Oh, and this was just a two-day, comparatively informal working visit instead of a proper state visit.
1. Vladimir Putin
Russia has more than its share of secrets and secretive agencies, but one mysterious security force towers above all others: the Federal Protection Service. FSO, also known as “Putin’s People,” is an enigma. No one knows precisely how powerful the agency is, but it’s assumed that its power is roughly on par with how secretive it is, which is “very”. There’s no real public data available about this multi-purpose agency and its operations, and pretty much the only thing known about its current leader, Dmitry Kochnev, is his name.
Like China’s Central Security Bureau, FSO is responsible for the safety of the country’s political elite, but its ultimate priority is to keep “Body Number One” safe. That body is, of course, President Vladimir Putin, and the FSO has the power to go to absurd lengths to keep him safe. The agency is not exactly short of resources to do this, either: It controls several millions’ (perhaps billions’) worth of assets, and its people have the right to do pretty much anything, from assorted operational and investigative activities to detaining people, confiscating cars and search homes at will. As such, the rumors about the FSO’s antics are both wild and common. One of the most persistent ones is that they have at least one body double of Putin, and that they deploy their fake Putin to do all those cool but dangerous stunts real Putin is known for, such as fighter jet stunts and submarine dives.