This article is offered to enhance understanding of the first key stages of a kidnap and ransom negotiation and your role in the event the unthinkable happens.
Whether an Executive Protection officer or security advisor for a High Net Worth client and family you should prepare to deal with the early stages of a kidnapping.
It may happen when you are not even responsible for the client and least able to prevent it – when your client is alone and most vulnerable.
Kidnapping is a significant weapon of influence and source of funding for criminals and terrorists from South America to Southeast Asia to Africa. Kidnapping is the unlawful seizure and detention of a person usually for a ransom. That latter part of the definition, “usually for a ransom”, is the beacon of light the skilled negotiator homes in on and exploits to accomplish the mission – the safe release of the victim.
The international kidnap phenomenon is a “good news, bad news” scenario. The bad news – kidnapping is a burgeoning crime flourishing in countries where police and prosecutors are unable or unwilling to address it. Consequently, the kidnapper perceives his plans as low risk, high gain. The good news – the captor’s motivation in most kidnapping is money. The kidnapper’s purpose is monetary rather than bringing harm to the hostage. Therefore, hostages retain their value while they remain alive. This critical dynamic provides the negotiator with the leverage and influence needed to liberate the hostage.
Although money remains far and away the most common kidnap motivation, political demands including publicity, release of prisoners and request for welfare items have also been used as ransom criteria. Nigerian groups have taken hostages to force oil companies to provide economic assistance to local villagers.
Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl was captured and later beheaded as part of a plan to pressure the Pakistan government not to support the United States. While a financial motive may indicate better odds for a successful resolution than with political or religious motivation there is always hope if an expert negotiator is inserted early. In all cases, the kidnapper’s goal is to force a third party to do something; usually to pay money. Holding the hostage and threatening harm empowers the kidnapper. Nevertheless, victim companies and families have control and influence since they control what the kidnapper wants – money. The overriding theme a negotiator messages is, “If you harm the hostage you won’t get what you want.”
As a protective professional you should have a crisis management plan that includes a kidnap response protocol for each of your clients. Your plan must be well integrated with the crisis plan of your client’s company or family and should always include primary and alternate K&R consultants to immediately respond to that call you hope to never make.
The Early Hours:
The initial stages of a kidnap are marked by both limited and conflicting information. You will normally have more questions than answers when your client’s whereabouts are unknown. You may be nowhere near your client nor directly responsible for their welfare when you get a call indicating your client is missing. Therefore, your priority must be to confirm that a kidnapping truly occurred. Security professionals who maintain viable tracking and locater technology enjoy a significant advantage here.
Immediately engage a pre-selected K&R professional who you or your client’s company have already vetted.
These seasoned professionals frequently come from federal law enforcement where they were extensively trained as hostage and crisis negotiators and have successfully resolved dozens of ransom scenarios, extortion demands, and barricaded subject incidents. The negotiator will need your help to prepare the client’s company and family to decide who should take the abductor’s initial and subsequent ransom calls. The negotiator will explain the essential traits this person needs to possess including calm demeanor, loyalty to client’s company or family and their policies, non-confrontational, and with limited decision-making authority.
The role of the communicator is that of a mouthpiece for the victim family or company and to act as a conduit to the kidnapper. The communicator has limited authority and must project subordination to the final decision makers when conversing with the captors. Following company or family objectives and gathering accurate information are important aspects of the communicator’s duties.
When helping to select a communicator remember that the person must be willing to accept coaching, loyal to your client’s company and its policies, emotionally stable and an excellent listener. The communicator is not a debater, but more of an influencer and persuader, who conveys honesty and resolve while trying to avoid confrontation.
The ability of the communicator to maintain a low key, calm and patient business-like demeanor is imperative. One of the communicator’s key tasks is to establish a window of contact with the kidnapper. The communicator can exert a degree of control and minimize the necessity of being continuously available by arranging a specific time frame for contacts with the captors. If the captor attempts to make contact outside of the arranged time, the communicator must not acknowledge the contact thereby using a classical conditioning approach to influence the captor to abide by the agreement.
Prior to a scheduled contact the communicator will prepare and rehearse under the supervision of a trained K&R negotiator. Objectives are set out for each contact. The communicator must be prepared to play both defense and offense. The communicator will be coached on how to respond (defense) to anticipated topics the captor may broach. At the same time, the communicator will be armed with three or four key points (offense) to work into the conversation. The conversation will be scripted with key words and phrases prominently posted on situation boards in the negotiation operations center (NOC). You can facilitate this operation by acquiring and securing a NOC that is quiet and convenient for all.
Once a decision is made as to where and who the initial call will be directed to the key messages must be readied. Your K&R professional will help draft a message for the company or family that is designed to convey three things to the captor: 1) A willingness to communicate; 2) The need for proof of possession/proof of life; and 3) A requirement for a reasonable delay. You should prepare the communicator for what’s coming – A high financial demand, a deadline, threats, and a warning to not involve law enforcement.
Understanding and preparing for those first few hours following an abduction will help you stay engaged, add value to the process, and contribute to a successful resolution.
My Client is Missing: Kidnap and Ransom for the Protection Professional
By: Steve Romano & Frank Figliuzzi
Steve Romano and Frank Figliuzzi help lead ETS Risk Management, Inc. They consult with global clients on Crisis Negotiations, Kidnap, and Workplace Violence. Steve was the FBI’s Chief Hostage Negotiator and a Vice President of Control Risks. Frank was the FBI’s Assistant Director for Counterintelligence and a Fortune 100 corporate security executive. Frank also works as a National Security Contributor for NBC News.