WASHINGTON -- Ross Perot may not want to be "separated from the people," as he's said in recent interviews when asked about Secret Service protection.
But make no mistake, the Texas billionaire doesn't want to be ruffled by them either.
Disturb the peace in the lobby of his Dallas business headquarters, and you could encounter not a scowling Kelly Girl, but the fiercest, sharpest, hungriest fighting man the U.S. military turns out.
You could encounter the Delta Force.
Mr. Perot will not discuss security matters, a spokesman for the expected presidential contender said. But the entrepreneur-turned-politician has privately acknowledged that some of his security is provided by former members of Delta, the U.S. military's SWAT team, its premiere counterterrorist and hostage rescue team.
It is a unit so elite it culls from the very toughest of the tough -- from the Green Berets, Army Rangers, Navy SEALs and other special forces -- so notorious it has been portrayed (with little apparent exaggeration) in two Chuck Norris shoot-'em-up movies, so supersecret the Pentagon won't even acknowledge its existence.
"We have no unit called Delta Force," says George Grimes, a spokesman for the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Fla.
He allows, however, that the activities of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-D closely resemble the activities of what is popularly called Delta Force. But he adds, "We do not discuss the missions or activities or composition of that unit."
Some of those activities -- including the unit's failed attempt to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran in 1980 -- have been laid out by Delta's creator and former commander, retired Col. Charlie A. Beckwith, in his 1983 book "Delta Force."
And more recently, Delta reportedly played a role in the U.S. invasions of Grenada and Panama as well as the Persian Gulf war.
The illustrious unit is comprised of men who not only pass rigorous physical tests, but also possess a different sort of gleam in their eye, according to Colonel Beckwith, who now runs a counterterrorist consulting business in Austin, Tex.
"The men were asked to reason and to think. We wanted to catch their values, find out what cranked their motors. We looked for loners, guys who could operate independently and in the absence of orders, men who had just half an ounce of paranoia," he writes of recruiting strategies.
"They read Machiavelli and explained what they thought he was about. . . . We drilled holes in these guys and it wasn't uncommon to have them break out in a sweat."
For his part, Mr. Perot, a former Navy lieutenant who sought but was denied an early discharge from the Navy partly because he was upset by foul language he heard, has long been a friend to the Special Forces community, the military arm that includes, at its apex, the exclusive Delta Force.
He's an honorary member of the Special Forces Association -- as was actor John Wayne -- has spoken at SFA conventions and been pictured on the cover of the SFA magazine as a "Great American."
Some in the SFA community trace Mr. Perot's interest in the Special Forces to the raid on the Son Tay prison camp outside Hanoi in 1970, thought to be a classic, textbook operation (even though itultimately failed because the prisoners had been moved).
Mr. Perot flew to Fort Bragg in North Carolina to meet the Son Tay raiders and later threw a celebrity-studded party for them in California. The leader of the operation, Col. Arthur "Bull" Simons, became one of Mr. Perot's heroes and the man he tapped to spearhead a mission to rescue two of his business executives from a prison in Iran years later.
"Ross Perot is impressed by certain actions, heroism and the absolute dedication of the Special Forces," retired U.S. Army Major Dick Bishop, former editor of the SFA magazine, said.
With Mr. Perot's close ties to that community, and with his knowledge of the rigorous training Delta soldiers undergo, it's no surprise that he would entrust his well-being to them, Mr. Bishop said. Many of them retire to private security firms.
Just like Secret Service agents, they keep a low profile and an eagle eye out. But they may be even quicker to thrust themselves into harm's way, says Mr. Bishop, "and even less inhibited about returning fire should that kind of situation arise."