Understanding Ransom Demands
In the previous issue we walked through what happens in the first hours after a kidnapping, we considered the critical factors relating to the initial contact, and we took a close look at the role of the communicator (see Issue 49). Now, we’re going to move on and look at the financial implications of ransom demands and what factors might impact it.
K&R professionals understand ransom, and that ransom demands are contingent on the adversaries’ expectations, or the “going rate,” and a significant factor in determining the going rate for the ransom is the location of the kidnapping. The K&R expert will help you understand the most recent and differing ransom structures for places like Mexico City, Columbia, Iraq, Somalia, Nigeria, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc. They will also research and obtain valuable intelligence regarding any previous kidnappings conducted by the captor, including the credibility of their threats, their propensity for violence, and past ransom amounts paid by victims’ families and companies in that location. When considering previous ransom amounts, it is important to make note of the nationality of each victim as hostages from Western nations tend to have a much higher going rate than other nationalities. This intelligence will be instrumental in estimating the final amount you might have to pay to secure the release of the hostage. Another critical factor used to determine the ransom sum is the amount of funds available and/or agreeable to be paid. Statistics show that in many cases, the captors will settle for approximately 10 percent of the original demand.
The K&R consultant must insist the kidnapper(s) provide a credible “proof of life” before making the initial counteroffer. This reinforces the constant message that the ransom payment is directly related to the welfare of the hostage. As a rule, the initial counteroffer to the first demand should be about two-thirds of the amount what you have determined the going rate for the hostage. You should try to utilize a strategy that allows for several counteroffers before reaching the final amount with the kidnapper(s). Additionally, the initial counteroffer should not be made until the kidnappers have lowered their initial demand. Then, increases are made in decreasing increments. Also, you will want to offer odd amounts of money as a technique used to portray your difficulty in raising funds and is often very effective when dealing with the kidnap of a family member.
When determining the initial counteroffer amount, it should be high enough to ensure the victim’s safety and not insult or anger the captors. If the kidnapper(s) perceive a lack of sincerity regarding the negotiation effort, they may feel compelled to commit violence against the victim in an attempt to force the ransom amount to increase. Finally, you must carefully consider the amount of the initial counteroffer to avoid inflating the adversary’s expectations.
Preventing the Double Dip
One critical thing to remember throughout the process is that the professional K&R negotiator is there to serve as a dispassionate, objective party to avoid payment pitfalls. Regardless of the financial resources available to the victim’s company or family, you must refrain from prematurely paying too large a ransom, too early in the process. This mistake can easily signal to the kidnapper(s) that a bigger jackpot is available if they push for it and may result in what is often referred to as a “double-dip.” A double-dip occurs when both sides seemingly agree on a payment, but rather than resulting in the hostage’s release, it merely becomes a down payment. Further demands for more money are then made by the kidnapper(s). A basic behavioral principle, seen in everyday human behavior, may come into play during ransom negotiations. This is the principle that people do not appreciate what they do not work hard to earn. If the kidnapper(s) obtain the ransom demanded with little or no resistance, and in a relatively short period of time, this can lead to them making additional demands for more money, perceiving there are more funds available.
The idea of prolonging a victim’s captivity by hastily agreeing to the captor’s ransom demand seems counterintuitive. It can be challenging trying to convince a hostage’s company or family that it is in the hostage’s best interest to extend the negotiation process. Understandably, many victim’s families confuse a ransom payment for the release of their loved one with the relatively simple process of buying a car. However, negotiating for human lives is a complicated and very psychological process, fraught with critical nuances that only trained and experienced professionals can understand. That is why you must employ a professional K&R specialist to secure the release of the hostage. As I mentioned before, you must incorporate kidnapping into your crisis management and response plan and exercises, select a professional K&R consultant and familiarize your C-suite and the protectee’s family members to kidnap and ransom and the process.
Law Enforcement and the Kidnap & Ransom Incident
It is routine for kidnapper(s) to demand no involvement from law enforcement during the post-incident process. You must, therefore, make the critical decision early in proceedings as to what degree you will engage with law enforcement in what is likely to be a foreign jurisdiction. Law enforcement’s priorities will include the identification, apprehension and prosecution of the kidnappers, and may hinder the negotiation process. Police pressure can have a negative impact on the time/money relationship that is present during all kidnap and ransom incidents. Therefore, it is strongly encouraged that companies and families retain the services of a security consultant with a proven track record in kidnap and ransom negotiations since the consultant will already have established relationships with law enforcement and military in the countries where K&R is most prevalent.
The taking of a U.S. citizen hostage or a ransom demand made against the U.S. Government, regardless of the victim’s citizenship, is a violation of U.S. federal law. The FBI, through its Crisis Negotiation Unit, is recognized as the official negotiation arm of the American government. Under the direction of the U.S. Ambassador, the FBI is the lead agency for the development and implementation of negotiation strategies, the conduct of investigations, and the collection of evidence. The FBI will coordinate the government’s response to a kidnapping but will not take over decision making. Critical decisions, such as whether to pay a ransom, always remain the responsibility of the victim’s family or company. The FBI will not provide the funds nor make the delivery of any ransom payment outside the United States. Corporations and families still must make these tough calls while managing the incident.
Know the Laws of the Jurisdiction Where the Incident Occurre
It is essential that you know and understand the laws of the jurisdiction where the K&R incident occurred as some countries require mandatory notification to authorities that a kidnapping has occurred and/or that you obtain governmental permission to negotiate with kidnapper(s). In fact, in the U.S. and U.K., unlike many other countries, official policy is never to make concessions to kidnappers and hostages have died as a result. By researching in advance, the legal requirements of the countries where your client operates, it could allow you to save precious time when an incident occurs and respond with confidence.
In some cases, an open exchange of information with in-country authorities can result in permission to make a ransom payment when there are simply no other options for the victim’s safe release. Ultimately, this may also help authorities realize that kidnap negotiation is an important investigative tool that provides intelligence and may develop potentially exploitable options for law enforcement. In some cases, you may be able to reach an agreement with law enforcement whereby authorities agree to wait to take any action against the kidnapper(s) until the hostage is safely recovered. In exchange for the hostage’s family or company promising to make the victim available for debriefing and their full cooperation with law enforcement investigation and prosecution of the kidnapper(s).
In most cases, cooperation with law enforcement is preferred; however, you must remember that cooperation is a mutual process that can build trust. A robust liaison with authorities can increase the ability to influence law enforcement actions, which are critical when there is a need to prevent officials from attempting a high-risk hostage rescue operation. Constant contact with trusted law enforcement officials can yield both short and long-term benefits.
The Hostages Family
Both the protective services professional and/or the hostage’s company should be prepared to spend a considerable amount of time and resources supporting, advising, and protecting the hostage’s family. Serious consideration should be given as to which executive-level official will make the initial in-person notification, and who will be assigned as the full-time family liaison for the duration of the incident. The victim’s family will likely feel isolated, perceive that information is being filtered or not accurately being conveyed, and that the company is not doing enough to secure their loved one’s release. These feelings are quite common and understandable during these types of incidents. The company needs to form a cohesive front with the family and provide realistic assessments and genuine assurances that they are equal players in the incident.
For this reason, there are two areas that must be addressed with the family of the hostage, as soon as possible. First is how to handle contact with the captors. The second issue is the best approach for managing any media contacts associated with the incident.
Communication from the kidnapper(s) with the hostage’s family is very common and should be expected. The kidnapper(s) realize the emotional impact they can have when they manipulate the victim’s family against the victim’s company and will likely attempt to do so in an effort to secure their ransom. They understand that the family can apply tremendous and even constant pressure on the victim’s company to quickly submit to their demands. By the company providing the victim’s family with concrete guidelines, you can minimize the likelihood of this type of manipulation. Additionally, you can increase the family’s confidence in the company’s by informing them of what to expect during the K&R incident, so they can anticipate the kidnapper(s) strategy.
The family will also need guidance on how to handle the media, as well as someone to act as a buffer during the incident. You must educate the family on the potential damage to negotiations that can be done by a spontaneous or unauthorized statement to the media. It may even be necessary to relocate the family for the duration of the incident to isolate them from a media onslaught, help reduce their stress level, and prevent any statements to the media that could compromise the negotiation process.
As part of the Crisis Management Plan, a Communication Plan should be included that addresses how to answer three basic questions:
- What happened?
- How did it happen?
- What are you going to do about it?
It is in the family’s and companies’ best interest to respond to media inquiries as failure to respond or delaying a response makes them look irresponsible, unconcerned, or incompetent. The answers to these questions should be carefully crafted with the K&R negotiator, protective services director, and the family.
If the hostage was traveling or on assignment for their employer, the company’s communication department should draft holding statements for various crises in advance. If the hostage-taking had nothing to do with the hostage’s employment, the protective services firm and the family should prepare the holding statements. Innocuous holding statements can help buy time to gather critical information. Financial details, ransom policies, insurance coverage, and negotiation status should never be discussed with the media, and it always a good policy to never publicly criticize the government’s response efforts.
Take care to always provide information to the victim’s family before providing it to the media. Attention should be paid to internal messaging for the “corporate family” of colleagues and co-workers. Keep them reasonably informed as they will not appreciate learning information about the kidnapping incident through the media. There must be only one authorized spokesperson who is designated as such in the early stages or even before an incident occurs. Statements should be cleared with the key team members prior to release. Do not lie to the media because if discovered, it will destroy your credibility with them and can cause a firestorm of fact-checking, investigation, and unwanted publicity that can negatively impact the negotiation and recovery process. Take control of the message and portray a posture of calmness, patience, and confidence. You should proactively anticipate media events and stories rather than merely reacting to them. Have preformulated responses to mitigate any complications that their knowledge and reporting of the incident may have.
In the next and final part of this series (Issue 51), we will examine in detail K&R insurance and how it works, case studies from past incidents, and specific nuances to look out for in the final stages of negotiation.
Kidnap & Ransom – Part two
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.