Every security professionals’ job is preparing for the very worst, and for most, that means that your client has been kidnapped or killed, which means you must necessarily plan for your ultimate failure.
If you are a security professional with significant high-threat worldwide protective services experience, you know that depending on the client, it may not be a matter of if your client or a family member is kidnapped, but when. You also understand that it is likely that you may not even be directly providing protection for the client at the time it happens and unable to prevent it, especially when they are alone and most vulnerable.
Knowing what to expect and how to effectively respond during the first few hours immediately following a kidnapping can be critical to the safe recovery of the client. It will allow you to provide essential leadership and advice to help you resolve the situation. This article is intended to give you an understanding of how kidnap and ransom negotiations work, your role in the incident, and provide knowledge and techniques you can use to resolve a K&R incident successfully.
Over the last thirty years, In South America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Mexico and even parts of the United States, kidnapping has become a significant and common tool of influence used by criminal and terrorist organizations to fund and further their illegal operations and strike fear in citizens all over the globe. Simply put, kidnapping is the unlawful seizure and detention of a person usually for a ransom. The “usually for a ransom,” part is the sole glimmer of hope that a skilled negotiator will focus on and exploit to achieve the safe release of the hostage.
Kidnapping is an ever-increasing crime flourishing in countries where police and authorities are unable or unwilling to address the crime, and as a result, the kidnapper likely views the crime as low risk, high reward. The good news for the negotiator and the client’s family or employer is that the captor’s motivation in most kidnappings is financial gain, and nobody ever gets paid for a dead hostage. With the goal being financial gain rather than harming the hostage, they (the hostage) retain their value only if they remain alive. This critical element provides the negotiator with the leverage and influence needed to affect the hostage’s freedom.
The most common motivation for kidnap is financial gain, though other criteria such as prisoner exchange and political demands have also been used. Whether their goal is to force a corporate entity to provide economic assistance to local villagers, or something far broader, like pressuring a government not to support a foreign ally, in most cases, the kidnappers are trying to force a third-party to do something they were not likely to do. Typically, this means paying some amount of money. By taking and holding a hostage and threatening harm, the kidnapper(s) feels a sense of empowerment. That said, the victim’s company and family maintain control and influence over the kidnapper since they control what the kidnappers really want, money. For that reason, the K&R negotiator will work from a position of “If you harm the hostage, you will not get what you want.”
The First Hours of a Kidnapping
The initial stages of a kidnapping incident can be very stressful and are marked by both minimal and conflicting information, which often produces more questions than answers. Depending on your role, you may not be with your protectee or even responsible for their welfare when you discover they’ve gone missing. Therefore, the K&R negotiator’s priority must be to confirm that a kidnapping has indeed occurred. This is where security professionals who have employed effective tracking and locator technology enjoy a significant advantage.
You should have an experienced and proven K&R professional who has been thoroughly vetted and pre-selected and is available to respond to a kidnapping incident immediately. K&R professionals usually have backgrounds in law enforcement or with specialized firms and have received extensive training in crisis negotiations. They should be able to demonstrate they have achieved previous successful resolutions to complex ransom, extortion, and barricaded suspect situations. The next step is to prepare for the worst-case scenario and plan for the kidnapper’s initial contact. As the designated protective service professional, It is crucial that you actively assist the K&R consultant, the victim’s company, and their family in carefully selecting who should take the initial ransom contact from the kidnappers.
The foundation of your response will be the crisis management plan you have established for the protectee, which will include kidnap and ransom response protocol. That protocol must clearly state that, should a kidnapping occur, the protective services professional and K&R consultant will work together to select a communicator to be the sole point of contact with the kidnapper. The communicator’s role is that of a mouthpiece for the victim’s family or company, and to act as a link to the kidnapper. In their position, the communicator has very limited authority and must be subordinate to the final decision-makers when speaking with the kidnapper(s). They must adhere to the objectives (determined by the family or company) and gather accurate information and intelligence that can be used to facilitate negotiations during their conversations with the kidnapper.
When assisting in the selection of a communicator, it is important to remember that the communicator must be prepared to accept coaching, be emotionally stable, and an excellent listener. The communicator role is not to a debate with the kidnapper, but to influence and persuade. Additionally, they must be able to convey honesty and resolve while avoiding confrontation and escalation. The communicator must have the ability to maintain a low-key, calm, and patient business-like demeanor because one of their primary tasks is to establish a line of communication with the kidnapper.
The communicator should discreetly exert some control and minimize the necessity of being continuously available by arranging a specific time for contact with the kidnapper(s). If the kidnapper attempts to make contact outside of the arranged time, the communicator must not acknowledge the contact, thereby using classical conditioning to influence the captor to abide by the communication schedule.
Before a scheduled contact, the communicator should be prepared for and rehearse the communication under the supervision of a trained K&R negotiator. There should be clearly defined objectives for each connection, and the communicator must be prepared to play both defense and offense during the contact. The K&R negotiator should coach the communicator on how to respond (defense) to topics that could potentially be raised by the captor. The communicator will also be given three or four key points (offense) to work into the conversation. The conversation must be scripted with keywords and phrases prominently posted on situation boards in the negotiation operations center (NOC). For this reason, you should acquire and secure a NOC that is quiet and convenient for all the members of the K&R team.
Once a decision is made regarding the communicator, initial contact, and key messages to be conveyed, the K&R professional will help draft a message intended to convey three things to the kidnapper. First is a willingness to communicate. Next is the need for proof of possession/evidence of life. And the third requirement is for a reasonable delay. You need to prepare the communicator for what’s coming, which will undoubtedly be a high financial demand, a deadline, threats of violence against the hostage, and a warning to not involve law enforcement.
Kidnap & Ransom – Part 1
By: Jeff Burns, CDEP, CMAS
Jeff Burns is the Director of Operations for Burns Group International and has over 20 years of high-threat worldwide protective services and investigations experience in both the government and private sectors. He is board certified in Dignitary & Executive Protection (CDEP) by the American Board for Certification in Homeland Security, board certified as a Certified Master Anti-Terrorism Specialist (CMAS) by the Anti-Terrorism Accreditation Board. His firm, Burns Group International, LLC provides highly specialized protection, risk and crisis management service, travel security and counterterrorism training to clients worldwide.