It may happen when you are least able to prevent it – when your executive or his family are alone and most vulnerable. Learning what to expect in the hours and days after an abduction will help you avoid becoming a bystander at a time when your leadership is most needed. Understanding how professional negotiators work increases the odds that you will seek their expertise, augment their mission, and successfully resolve an abduction. The first article of this series focused on the early hours, activating your crisis plan, confirming a kidnapping has occurred, engaging an expert consultant, establishing a negotiation operations center, and carefully selecting a communicator to receive ransom calls. This second article in the series dives deeper into ransom negotiation techniques and financial criteria.
One reason to seek the expertise of a K&R professional is domain knowledge regarding ransom. We are all familiar with the real estate mantra, “location, location, location.” Similarly, ransom demands are contingent upon the adversaries’ expectations, or the “going rate,” and a major determinant of that rate is location. A K&R expert will help you understand the most recent and differing ransom structures for places like Nigeria, Colombia and Mexico. They will also obtain and assess intelligence regarding the captor’s previous kidnap track record, including the credibility of their threats and their propensity for violence and what ransom amounts have been paid by western victims’ families and companies in that location. Such intelligence is instrumental in estimating the final amount you expect to pay the captors to secure the release of the hostage. Another key factor in deriving this payment figure is the amount of funds available and/or agreeable to be paid. Statistics show that a large majority of captors agree to approximately 10 percent of their initial ransom demand.
Your K&R consultant will insist the captors provide a bonafide proof of life before making the initial counteroffer. This serves to strengthen the continuous message that the payment of ransom is directly tied to the welfare of the victim. As a rule, the initial counteroffer to the captor’s first ransom demand should be about two-thirds of the amount you expect to pay. As in a chess game, a financial strategy can be employed that allows room to reach the final amount in several moves. Another general guideline is to not make the initial counteroffer until the kidnappers lower their initial demand. Then, increases should be made in decreasing increments. Also, offering odd amounts of money is a technique used to indicate your difficulty in raising funds. This tactic can be most effective when dealing with the kidnap of a family member.
Reaching a decision as to the initial counteroffer amount requires a balancing act. The amount should be high enough to ensure the victim’s safety and not insult or anger the captors. If the captors perceive a lack of sincerity regarding the negotiation effort, they may feel compelled to commit violence against the victim. Yet the initial counteroffer must also avoid inflating the adversary’s expectations.
Avoid the Double Dip
A professional negotiator also serves as a dispassionate objective party to avoid payment pitfalls. Regardless of the financial resources of the victim’s family or company, avoid paying too much too soon. This mistake can easily result in what negotiators refer to as a “double dip.” A double dip occurs when an apparent ransom agreement reached by both sides turns into a down payment, a demand for more money and a failure to release the victim. A basic behavioral principle may come into play during kidnap for ransom negotiations: people do not appreciate what they do not work hard to earn. If the captor obtains the ransom he asks for with little or no resistance, and in a relatively short period of time, he begins to experience buyer’s remorse. In other words, the captor perceives that getting his demand was too easy, he should have asked for more, and there must be a lot more money available.
The concept of prolonging a victim’s captivity by hastily agreeing to the captor’s ransom demand seems counterintuitive. It can be difficult to explain and convince a victim’s family that it is in the victim’s best interests to extend the negotiation process. The family’s only goal is to get their loved one back safely and as soon as possible. Understandably, some victim families confuse a ransom payment for release of their loved one with the process of buying a car. If a customer agrees to pay the sticker price on a car then the deal is done, the customer gets their car and the dealer gets his price. Unfortunately, bartering in human lives is fraught with critical nuances understood only by a professional negotiator as necessary to secure the safe return of the victim.
If you have not already incorporated kidnapping into your crisis plan and exercises, selected a professional consultant, nor exposed your C-Suite to K&R familiarization, now is the time.
Next month: Relating to the victim’s family, the media and law enforcement.
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.