The Millions Amazon Spends to Protect Jeff Bezos
From retired Marines to a bulletproof office, Amazon pulls out the stops to keep the world’s richest man safe.
Earlier this year, Amazon installed bulletproof panels in founder and CEO Jeff Bezos’ Seattle office, perched in a glittering high-rise on the company’s urban campus.
Designed to withstand multiple shots from a military assault rifle, the inch-and-a-half thick fiberglass panels meet the highest level of bullet and blast resistance, according to the manufacturer.
Started last spring, the project only cost Amazon $180,000, according to building permits filed with the City of Seattle, but it demonstrates the lengths Bezos is willing to go to guard against real or perceived threats as his public profile grows.
An Amazon spokesman declined to comment.
Amazon spends $1.6 million a year protecting Bezos when he’s outside company facilities and not traveling for work. It’s among the largest personal security budgets that public companies report paying to protect their CEOs, according to proxy filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Apple spent about $310,000 on personal security services for CEO Tim Cook last year, while Oracle set aside just over $1.6 million to protect CEO Larry Ellison.
Facebook’s executive security budget has swelled as “negative sentiment” toward the company has grown. The social networking company dropped $9.6 million on CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s protection last year, plus a $10 million pre-tax allowance to cover any additional costs related to the tech chief and his family’s security.
“These numbers are certainly justified knowing the climate of our world today and especially with our technology and social media advancements,” said Arnette Heintze, founder and CEO of Chicago-based risk and management consultancy Hillard Heintze, whose clients include Fortune 500 companies. “But I will tell you that [in the case of Bezos] a budget of $1.6 million is a drop in the bucket for the security challenges these executives are confronting.”
But Bezos has challenges most other executives don’t—mostly notably from hostile tabloids and foreign powers with sophisticated intelligence services.
The Saudi Arabian government unleashed a torrent of social media attacks on Bezos after Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in a Saudi consulate in October. The Bezos-owned Post exhaustively reported emerging details that pinned the murder on an assassination squad ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In January, the National Enquirer joined the public assault, exposing Bezos’ then-secret love affair using text messages from his cellphone.
After the Enquirer’s story broke, Bezos gave his longtime security consultant Gavin de Becker a blank check to find out how the tabloid had obtained his compromising photos and racy texts.
The Enquirer’s parent company, AMI, soon found out about the investigation and threatened to blackmail Bezos with the release of additional revealing photos if the Amazon chief and de Becker didn’t publicly state that they had “no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”
De Becker concluded that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia pilfered Bezos’ private information.
Much of Amazon’s security operations that protect Bezos aren’t broken out separately in SEC filings.
Amazon has in recent years started beefing up security for Bezos’ top lieutenants, Worldwide Consumer chief Jeff Wilke and Andy Jassy, who heads Amazon’s cloud business.
The Seattle company spent about $75,000 to protect Jassy and Wilke outside company facilities and business trips last year, more than double their security expenditures in 2017.
Last year, Wilke’s office was outfitted with bulletproof glass, blast-resistant doors, and panic buttons as part of a $3.4 million high-security renovation project.
An elite group of guards known as Executive Protection Agents is charged with protecting senior executives.
Current agents, who have backgrounds in the Marines, U.S. Secret Service, and on SWAT teams, execute security and logistical plans when senior executives travel or make public appearances, evacuate them during workplace crises, and maintain a database of communications and personnel who pose potential threats to the executives, according to a recent job posting for the position.
Bezos and his ex-wife, MacKenzie, were shadowed by a brawny guard with an earpiece at the grand opening of Amazon’s terrarium-like Spheres building last year. Similar-looking men flanked Bezos after Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting a few months later.
Amazon’s more than 45,000 corporate employees in Seattle rely on an army of low-level security contractors paid to protect them and the more than 10 million square feet of office space they occupy.
Bill Pola, a former Amazon security contractor, managed a team of the guards posted at the entrance of every building. He investigated incidents like theft, vandalism, and occasional violence on the campus using video surveillance of employees scanning their name badges at turnstiles, elevators, and other secured areas equipped with card readers.
“In addition to those first-line folks, you’ve got roving response teams to provide backup to any incidents,” he said.
The contractors are restricted from certain parts of the buildings, including the floor on which Bezos works in the 37-story Day 1 tower, he said.
In addition to office safeguards and security personnel paid for by Amazon, there are transportation and home protection costs that likely come out of Bezos’ own pocket.
Bezos travels on a Gulfstream G650 private jet, valued at $65 million, which he purchased through his holding company Poplar Glen in 2015.
His Seattle-area home is worth nearly $80 million, according to the King County Assessor’s office, and Bezos paid $23 million for the former Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. Securing these properties and Bezos’ numerous other estates can be costly.
“You’ll find that many individuals with significant wealth like that don’t even cross the threshold of trying to get the corporation to pay for it,” Heintze said. “They just pay for it outright.”