- Win McNamee/Getty Images
- Facebook budgets $10 million a year to protect its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.
- When Zuckerberg first got executive protection, he had a habit of wandering off without telling his security team where he was going.
- Business Insider has published an in-depth investigation into Facebook’s corporate-security practices.
- There are rumors internally that Zuckerberg has a hidden escape passageway beneath an office conference room for emergencies – but it’s not clear what the truth is.
When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg first got 24/7 executive protection, there was a problem: He kept wandering off.
Sources said that in the early 2010s, the world-famous tech cofounder didn’t always keep his security team – initially just one person – in the loop on his plans. He might decide on a whim to leave the office, go for a jog, or to a bar, leaving his staff scrambling to keep up.
“He was in his mid-20s,” one source said. “He was developing a platform he truly believed was good. At the time he didn’t grasp the concept that there were haters out there.”
Since then, the billionaire exec has grown more accepting of the constant presence of executive protection, according to insiders. His closely monitored patterns of life now far more closely resemble a head of state than a typical 34-year-old engineer, with the stricter security practices mirroring the increasing fortification of Facebook over the years.
Business Insider spoke with current and former workers at Facebook’s global security organization and others familiar with the matter, obtained internal company documents, reviewed court documents, and surveyed publicly available information in a 5,000-word investigation into how Facebook handles its corporate security, which you can read here.
These sources described sophisticated logistical challenges in protecting tens of thousands of employees and contract workers every day, and an underlying struggle that the techie ideals of openness and engineer freedom have with the realities of protecting a high-profile and increasingly controversial multinational firm – as well as the challenges that come with protecting one of the world’s richest men.
They also shared stories of stolen prototypes, gang violence, state-sponsored espionage fears, stalkers, car-bomb concerns, secret armed guards, and more.
The rumored ‘panic chute’
Armed executive protection officers stand on constant guard outside Zuckerberg’s gated homes in the Bay Area, at least one of which also features a panic room. If he goes to a bar, his team will first sweep through to make sure it’s safe. They will vet any new doctors, and they will assess his instructors if he wants to take up a new hobby. He is driven everywhere, with the security team monitoring traffic and adjusting his route accordingly. (Back when he still drove, Zuckerberg was, in the words of one source, a “s—– driver.”)
During company all-hands meetings, members of Zuckerberg’s Praetorian Guard sit at the front of the room and are dotted throughout the crowd, just in case an employee tries to rush him. They wear civilian clothes to blend in with nonsecurity employees.
Zuckerberg doesn’t typically work in a cordoned-off office like a traditional corporate executive. Instead, his regular desk is on the floor of Facebook’s open-plan office, just like everyone. But executive-protection officers sit near his desk while he works, in case of security threats. Facebook’s offices are built above an employee parking lot, but it’s impossible to park directly beneath Zuckerberg’s desk because of concerns about the risk of car bombs.
He also has access to a large glass-walled conference room in the middle of the space near his desk that features bullet-resistant windows and a panic button. There’s a persistent rumor among Facebook employees that he has a secret “panic chute” his team can evacuate him down to get him out of the office in a hurry. The truth of this matter remains murky: One source said they had been briefed about the existence of a secret exit route through the floor of the conference room into the parking garage, but others said they had no knowledge of it. Facebook declined to comment.
A $10 million security plan
All told, there are now more than 70 people on the executive-protection team at Facebook, led by former US Secret Service special agent Jill Leavens Jones. In July, Facebook’s board approved a $10 million security allowance for Zuckerberg and his family for the year.
And with good reason: The billionaire chief exec lives an extraordinarily public life, with 118 million followers on Facebook alone (making him both an icon of Facebook’s ideals and, increasingly, a magnet for public ire after his company’s recent scandals), and the threats he faces are severe.
He receives numerous of death threats each week, and the security team monitors social media for mentions of him and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, to detect them. The pair also have stalkers, who alternately declare their undying love for the execs and harbor worrying vendettas against them.
Zuckerberg and Sandberg are the only two Facebook execs with 24/7 executive protection, though others may get it for specific occasions, such as during travel. The pair also have amusing security code names, which Business Insider is not publishing for safety reasons.
Such stalkers are classified as “BOLOs,” short for “Be On the Look Out,” a category of person barred from all Facebook property. If BOLOs use Facebook or the other apps the company owns, the security team may quietly use data drawn from these apps to monitor their location without telling them, CNBC previously reported.
In one surreal episode, someone turned up outside Zuckerberg’s house with a love letter scrawled across the side of their truck, a source said. Security officers initially assumed it was directed at the CEO – but it was actually for the benefit of one of the housekeeping staff.
Pranks and political stunts are another concern: High-profile execs make prime targets, as Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates infamously discovered when he had a pie thrown in his face in Brussels in 1998. Any time Zuckerberg goes out in public, there are concerns he could be mobbed, and his appearances at events are carefully planned.
People will also send unsolicited presents to his home – everything from cookies to a gift from a rabbi after the birth of one of his children. (These get sent to the security team for inspection; Zuckerberg doesn’t open them himself.)
In Facebook’s offices, things are less intense, but employees will still rush to get the seats at meetings closest to Zuckerberg. Executive-protection officers are instructed to be alert for employees and guests at the offices trying to take unauthorized photos of Zuckerberg, which is against the rules. Some employees, too, will try to give him gifts.
“If you’ve ever been close to his office, you’ll see there are big burly people sitting there staring at screens. They pretend to be software engineers, but everyone knows that they are security guards,” one Facebook employee wrote in a Quora post. “Once I was there at 7 a.m., and tried to take a picture of his office (he was not inside) to send to my family, but immediately, 3 of the men came seemingly out of nowhere and asked me to delete the picture.”
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