Gov. Mark Sanford's decision to ditch his security detail and disappear on an excursion to Argentina shocked many across the nation. But the governor has a long history of giving his protectors the slip.

Sanford began talking about getting State Law Enforcement Division agents off his back almost from the moment he was elected in 2002. He even talked about cutting the security detail at first, questioning the expense and complaining that agents cramped his independent style.

"I think we can find better uses for these guys," he told The Post and Courier in November 2002. "My wife doesn't need a guard, and I don't either."

State officials eventually persuaded Sanford to keep the detail intact, explaining that protection was only part of the agents' mission. Being able to communicate crucial information to the governor in a timely fashion is deemed nearly as important.

Whether it be a tornado striking, a homeland security communique from Washington, D.C., or sensitive negotiations to bring jobs to the state, the governor needs to be in the loop on key matters.

Sanford drove off in a SLED vehicle last Thursday night and told his security detail to stand down, giving agents no clue as to where he was going.

When SLED Director Reggie Lloyd grew concerned and made inquiries, the governor's office told him to back off and that Sanford was OK, according to Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Columbia.

Through a spokeswoman, Lloyd declined to comment Wednesday on the episode.

State law does not require Sanford to have a security detail or to keep SLED informed of his whereabouts. But some security experts said it is highly unusual and potentially dangerous for a sitting governor to disappear off the grid for such an extended period.

"A person as important as the governor just can't tell the head of security, 'I'm disappearing for a week. I'll see you later,' " said security consultant Timothy Dimoff, an author and former Ohio police officer. "There still need to be some parameters set for his protection."

Sanford first shrugged off security on the night he was elected when he declined requests from SLED agents to drive him home after his victory party at T-Bonz restaurant in Mount Pleasant.

Once in office he reportedly snuck away on occasion to jog, bike or have some alone time.

His excursions gave SLED agents a bit of heartburn at first, but they gradually adjusted to his style and gave him some room.

When Sanford did his duty with the Air Force Reserve, for instance, a SLED agent often stayed at a nearby motel to be able to reach the governor quickly in an emergency. On occasion, Sanford also traveled to his family farm in Beaufort County unaccompanied by security, his wife has said.

Still, that is a far cry from a trip abroad, Dimoff said. "Going out of the country without security is a bad idea in this day and age for someone important like that," he said. "The more important you are in this country, the more desirable you are as a target."