Below is an article on hostage negotiations, which is something everyone working in the emerging markets or dealing with VIP clients should have a basic and realistic understanding of. A little bit of good knowledge can go a long way in a crisis situation and we want our followers and clients to have the information that could save theirs or others’ lives!
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Hostage Negotiations – “If they pay once, they’ll pay again”
Kidnapping or hostage negotiations etc. should be left to a professional but, who actually qualifies as a professional negotiator is another matter. Every police department will have qualified negotiators, who will be experienced police personnel who have done a one or two week negotiation course for dealing with crimes gone wrong, mental illness and domestic hostage situations, not kidnapping for ransom.
I personally, would want someone with more than two weeks’ training for dealing with psychos and failed Romeos, negotiating with professional kidnappers for my release. As with everything always do your due diligence on who is providing you with the services at the sharp end… The K&R insurance salesman will tell you everything you want to here to sell you a policy, but is it actually worth anything when things go bad other than having someone on the phone moral support?
Most federal and government agencies will have highly qualified specialists for hostage negotiations, the trouble is when dealing with professional kidnappers such as those in Mexico etc. is that they most probably have military and law enforcement people working with them, who have been trained in hostage negotiations by these government agencies and will know their procedures and tactics. Also, the official stance of most governments is that they will not negotiate with criminals, terrorists and pay ransoms.
If you or an associate is kidnapped, it will be up to the authorities of that country to negotiate your release; your own government will have no legal authority within that country. If it is a high profile case your government may someone to assist a co-operative local police force, that’s about all you can expect, forget about Special Forces rescue teams, that’s Hollywood. The attitude of most Embassy staff will be that if you had paid attention to the government warnings and stayed away from the country, you would not have been kidnapped in the first place!
In countries where kidnapping is common, your case will most likely go to the bottom of the pile. On the commercial market, there are hostage negotiators for hire and if you need to hire one make sure they have real world experience and understand of hostage negotiations and how things are done in other countries and cultures that can vary greatly from the U.S. and Western Europe.
I was recently talking with someone from UK who claimed to have done his master’s degree on the spread and influence of the Mexican Drug Cartels, which was of interest to me. But I soon learned he did not speak Spanish, never been to Mexico and only used US sources for his research. Personally, I found that an issue as here was someone who on paper appeared to be an expert on a subject, but from my perspective was just blabbing 3rd hand facts and figures from one perspective. So, anyone can be given or make a certificate stating that they are a certified hostage negotiator, and the standards of negotiators you can expect to encounter range from excellent to being in league with the kidnappers. As with hiring any security staff you need to make sure they can be trusted and will work in your interests, not their own or companies interests, which is usually to just suck money out of you when you are in a vulnerable situation.
If you or an associate does not have the money or don’t want to hire an outsider, it could be up to you to deal with the hostage negotiations, here are some very basic guidelines.
- Confirm, confirm, confirm! You need to confirm that the victim has actually been kidnapped and not just decided to go away without telling anyone and has no communications. A lot of situations that are initially believed to be kidnappings turn out to be false alarms or hoaxes. This where the a lot of insurance companies and negotiators start to make money, rather than waiting to confirm an incident, they feed the clients fear and start billing!!
- You will need to determine who has kidnapped the victim, criminals, terrorists and for what reason. A kidnap for ransom case will be dealt with a lot differently than a case of a child being taken by an estranged parent.
- Where safe to do so you will need to investigate the victim’s movements to try and determine when and where they were kidnapped. You will want to try finding any witnesses to the kidnapping that may be able to give you any information about the kidnappers.
- If the kidnapping was in public, the police may have been informed, so try to get copies of their incident reports, chances are you will not get any help from local police. If you get any leads, you should inform the local authorities, as long as you believe they are trustworthy and not working with the kidnappers.
- If there are no leads or it’s too dangerous to investigate you will have to wait to be contacted by the kidnappers. How this will happen will vary greatly but you will want to try to record or document all communications with the kidnappers, as this will help law enforcement with any possible follow up investigations, especially if the hostage turns up dead. Always cover your ass!
- When you communicate with the kidnappers, be firm but polite; remember, this is a business negotiation, you are buying an asset.
- If a ransom has been requested and you intend to pay, you will have to buy time, while it is put together and also try to bring the fee down to something which is realistic. In my experience I have seen ransoms drop from $3,000,000 to $30,000. Make the kidnappers’ demands seem unreasonable, but also indicate that you will do what you can to meet them, but make no promises.
- Whether you pay a ransom or not will depend on what your threat assessment indicates about the kidnappers; do they have a history of releasing hostages after a ransom payment or not.
- You will need to establish whether the hostage is still alive before you go any further, if you are dealing with professional kidnappers they will already have a system for this, usually this takes the form of personal questions and answers. You should try to speak to the hostage but if you’re dealing with professionals this will not happen, so don’t push it.
- If the kidnappers offer a voice recording or video tell them that you want the hostage referring to a recent incident or saying something you requested them to say. This will insure the recording was not made before the hostage was killed. These days forget photos with a recent newspapers, bodies can and have been frozen and brought out for photos.
- If you receive any of the hostage’s body parts, you may have problems as this is an indication they may kill the hostage. How you deal with this situation will have to depend on the feeling you get from the kidnappers, but be sure to confirm the hostage is alive at regular intervals.
- If you believe that the kidnappers can be trusted and you can come up with the ransom money, you will have to make arrangements for picking up, securing and the ransom drop off. This phase can be extremely problematic.
- The kidnappers will already have a plan for the ransom drop off; if you have time you will need to study the plan in-depth and prepare for all eventualities. The ransom drop off will need to be treated as a high risk operation as you need to consider that it could be a set up to kidnap or hit you.
- After the ransom is paid, hopefully, the hostage will be released. If they are not, there is little that you can do about it. If they are released, your follow up action will depend on where you are and the attitude of the authorities.
Hopefully you can see from these very basic guidelines that dealing with kidnappings for ransom and hostage negotiations can be extremely complicated and is something that cannot be covered in an article. When you were reading through these guidelines I doubt you were thinking about the emotional state of the victim’s families; how would you feel if a close family member was kidnapped and you had to come up with and drop off a ransom? The chances are if you advise the family not to pay the ransom, because you believe the victim is dead, they will want to pay anyway, this is their choice, but you should always state the facts!
The first guideline for hostage negotiations is to confirm that the kidnapping is an actual kidnapping not a misunderstanding or a hoax. I was recently approached by a US investigator reference a child abduction and the conversation started as to whether we did high-risk recoveries etc. The usual Hollywood BS… When I managed to get a word in and asked the investigator who had legal custody of the child, he did not know… So, before confirming the facts of the case he was ready to charge off and illegally snatch, well, kidnap a child from the father who had custody because of accusations of his crazy ex-spouse.
I have been approached by several men who have been lead to believe that their girlfriends, who they have usually met online, have been kidnapped, usually by an ex-gangster boyfriend. On one case the girlfriend was known to the local police as a prostitute, and had even got the boyfriend, who was madly in love with her, to send her money to buy a house that did not exist, send her non-existed sister to private school etc. She had then told this poor guy that she had been kidnapped and needed fifty thousand dollars to be released, he was trying to get the funds together when he called me. She’d never been kidnapped, it was just a scam to get more money from the guy. Needless to say, the wedding was off and I hope he stopped trying to meet Russian girlfriends online.
If most investigators or security companies are ever contacted to deal with a suspected kidnapping there is going to be thing one thing on their minds, big money! I consulted for one client who was quoted an exorbitant amount to retain the services of a security company who had apparently rescued an associate of his from a potential Russian mafia threat in Central Asia.
This client had received reports that a close friend of his had been kidnapped and the first security company he approached in the US were straight away talking about rescue and extraction operations and had the client very scared for their friend’s safety. We started by getting local assets to confirm if the kidnapping had actually taken place, what we found was an amateur scheme to try an extort money from our client by a third party, no kidnapping.
After talking with this client about his associates potential Russian mafia threat we strongly expect what was in reality a couple of strong words exchange with some thug was turned into a big pay day for the security company he hired. By playing on this person’s fears they blew the incident out of proportion, good business for them and gave him something exiting to talk about at his dinner parties. In reality, if a serious Russian mafia group had wanted him dead he would not have made it out of the country he was in or, be living care free and giving dinner parties close to one of the main Russian communities in the US!
Another thing you may need to do is investigate what happened, but only when it is clearly safe to do so. I have been contacted numerous times by “investigators” who wanted our assistance in going into locations to investigate kidnappings. On nearly all these occasions the investigators never spoke the local language, did not know the culture and would not have blended in with the environments, but wanted to go to the areas where the kidnappings took place and try to resolve things. I always turn down such requests unless my associates and I are given full control, as we do not want to get involved in potential fiascos that could lead to someone’s death.
These investigators motives are clearly to make money and add up the billing hours, but they do not comprehend what they are getting into. All they would be doing by going to the kidnapping locations and asking questions would be pressuring the kidnappers. Who in return could kill the hostage because they had become too much of a security risk or just kidnap and make the investigator disappear as a warning anyone else who may want to be a hero. I know of one incident on a Caribbean island where a hostage was being told real time by his kidnappers what his family was telling the police about his kidnapping, the kidnappers were working with the police. There is a big difference between Hollywood and the real world!
If you have to deal with hostage negotiations or a kidnap and ransom situation you must remain aware that you’re personal security takes priority, especially when picking up, moving and dropping off cash or valuable assets. I know of one incident in the Caribbean where a woman had twenty thousand dollars sent to her through her bank so she could pay a ransom for a family member. She picked up the money from her bank and was robbed at gun point before she could make it to her car, now she needed to find another twenty thousand dollars for the ransom. Do you think the kidnappers would care that she had been robbed, not really, they want their ransom money, and chances are they were in on the robbery, but they’ll still wanted the ransom.
In a lot of high risk countries kidnapping groups will look to employ people who work in banks and can tell them who has cash in their bank accounts to pay ransoms, I know of one case where a hostage was told by his kidnappers how much money he had in his several bank accounts and what they wanted, he paid. A friend of this person called me a few months after the kidnapping asking my advice as this man’s secretary had been kidnapped and the kidnappers had approached him to pay the ransom for her. I told him to tell his friend to tell the kidnappers that if they wanted to kill her it was up to them, it was a lot cheaper for him to find another secretary. Remember, the kidnappers will see it as you paid once, you’ll pay again, in my opinion it has to stop somewhere!