Preparing for the worst is part of every security professional’s repertoire, especially when it comes to planning for failure. This three-part series is designed to enhance understanding of how kidnap and ransom negotiations work and your role in the event the unthinkable happens.
Security leaders with a significant global high-risk footprint know that a kidnapping may not be a question of “if” but a question of “when.” It may happen when you are not directly responsible for covering your employee or their family and are therefore least able to prevent it – when they are alone and most vulnerable. Learning what to expect in those first hours of an abduction will help you avoid becoming a bystander when your leadership is most needed.
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 kidnappings, is money. The kidnapper’s purpose is monetary rather than bringing harm to the hostage. Therefore, hostages retain their value when 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 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. Journalist Danny Pearl was taken to pressure the Pakistan government not to support the U.S. 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.”
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 employee’s whereabouts are unknown. You may be nowhere near your protectee, nor responsible for their welfare when you get a call indicating that they or their family member are missing. Therefore, your priority must be to confirm that a kidnapping truly occurred. Security professionals who maintain viable tracking and locator technology enjoy a significant advantage here. Immediately engage a pre-selected K&R professional, who you or your company have already vetted. These professionals often come out of federal law enforcement or specialized firms and are extensively trained in crisis negotiations. Your consultant should be able to demonstrate dozens of successful resolutions to ransom, extortion and barricaded subject scenarios. Next, prepare for the worse-case scenario by planning for the abductor’s initial call. Next, assist the consultant, your company and the employee’s family to decide who should take the initial ransom call.
As a protective professional you should have a crisis management plan that includes a K&R response protocol. Part of that protocol should be an understanding that if a kidnap occurs, a K&R consultant will want to select a communicator to engage with the captor. 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. Adherence to 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 to whom the initial call will be directed, 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, which is a high financial demand, a deadline, threats and a warning to not involve law enforcement.
Up next: The second article in this series will address interaction with law enforcement, families and the media.
About the Authors
Steve Romano and Frank Figliuzzi help lead ETS Risk Management, Inc. They consult with global clients on Crisis Negotiations, Kidnap and Workplace Violence. Romano was the FBI’s Chief Hostage Negotiator and a Vice President of Control Risks. Figliuzzi was the FBI’s Assistant Director for Counterintelligence and a Fortune 100 corporate security executive. Figliuzzi also works as a National Security Contributor for NBC News.