Foreign Visits Can Bring Kidnapping Risks

Article excerpt

As more U.S.-based credit managers engage in global trade transactions, the ensuing worldwide travel may bring with it a risk not usually considered by the traveling public. That is, the very real threat of kidnapping by terrorists and other illegal groups as a way of extorting ransoms from family members and corporations. How companies can prepare for and in the event of an employee kidnapping in a foreign country was the subject of a presentation by Jack Cloonan during the November 2006 FCIB Global Conference in Coral Gables, Florida.

Before introducing Cloonan, FCIB member Jeff Jankowiak, of International Risk Consultants, Inc., spoke of a colleague's recent incident in Mexico City where a person jumped into the cab in which he was riding in order to rob or possibly kidnap him. Jankowiak said his colleague reacted quickly by jumping out of the cab and away from the potentially dangerous situation. "This was a wakeup call to our company," Jankowiak said.

Cloonan, President of Clayton Consultants, Inc., presented his remarks during an educational session entitled, "Risky Business: Coping with Hostile Credit Management Situations." He said his company worked on 25 kidnapping cases in 2005. "We solve a lot of kidnappings around the world," Cloonan said, mentioning his recent return from a case in Nigeria. Although kidnapping is a growing threat by terrorists groups, he said, "You're more likely to be impacted by street crime than international terrorism." To the attendees, many of whom travel overseas, Cloonan said, "You're all going to be exposed." Most kidnappings, especially of corporate executives, are motivated by profit, not political motive Cloonan said. "It doesn't matter what industry you're in. What matters to kidnappers is whether you have money. It's a business transaction." He pointed out his firm has the type of experience needed to get kidnapping victims released-people with FBI and CIA backgrounds, or former military attachés, all of whom are multi-lingual. On the types of skills needed to get the release of kidnapping victims, Cloonan said, "We are not the Rambos of the world. We are more like the Columbos. You can't make mistakes when a life is on the line. In my world, it's very easy to benchmark success."

Kidnappers are very well organized, Cloonan pointed out. He said about 96% of kidnappings are successful at the point of attack. Most kidnappings take three to six seconds and most take place close to home or work in the early morning or at night. In Mexico, which may soon eclipse Colombia as the kidnapping capital of the world, Cloonan noted that 70% of kidnappings involve the police. "It's a fact of life." Despite the grave threat kidnappings pose to the victims, Cloonan said "Generally speaking, you will not get killed in a kidnapping. Even in Baghdad-we've had our eighth case in Iraq and they all got out alive." As far as armed rescue assaults of kidnapped victims, Cloonan said his firm advises against them because such ventures have to be successful in the first eight seconds or else they are likely to end in injury or death. "We don't want an assault because we could lose somebody."

For those who find themselves in a kidnapping situation Cloonan offered some advice. Don't resist, "you'll be overwhelmed." He also warned against talking about finances to kidnappers, to communicate only when necessary, be alert and aware of everything and don't try to antagonize or attempt to escape. He also said to be patient and wait for a resolution of the situation. "Know we are working for your release," he said. "If we can get people out of Iraq we can get people out of any place." Another piece of advice Cloonan offered was, if you know you're being followed, take a photo of the person(s) and make it obvious and apparent that you are doing so. It will let them know you have documented their presence and make them less likely to make a kidnapping attempt. Other advice given included not wearing expensive jewelry, traveling in groups whenever possible and varying your routine. …