This article is not intended to be a history lesson, it is important to understand the scope in which kidnappings have occurred over the years. Kidnappings can happen for many reasons such as an ex-spouse taking a child after the results of a divorce or a criminal forcing a victim into a life of servitude against their will. In 2019 alone, the FBI reported 1,883 incidents of human trafficking in the United States alone. Though this statistic is shocking, the primary focus of this article will be kidnapping for ransom or “K&R”.
Kidnappings have a prominent history going back to earliest recorded history. It could even be argued that one of the first recorded cases of kidnapping takes place in the Book of Genesis Chapter 14 where Abraham dispatched over 300 of his trained men to recover a relative that had been kidnapped by a group of soldiers who were routed in combat and retreating. Hundreds of years later in 1874, a four-year-old boy named Charley Ross would be kidnapped in the state of Pennsylvania and held for ransom. This case marked the first incident of kidnapping for ransom that would be widely publicized in the United States. A newly formed private security agency was then enlisted to help locate the missing boy. Unfortunately, after years of searching and though potential suspects were found, what ultimately became of Charley remains unknown to this day.
Kidnapping is often used not only for monetary gain but for political leverage as well. In the 1960s onward, multiple extremist groups and terrorist organizations used kidnapping to perpetuate their ideology. An example of these would be in 1975 when members of the Anarchist group the “2 June Movement” kidnapped a political candidate in West Berlin. The demands of the kidnappers were for the release of 5 of their imprisoned comrades, after a week of negotiating those demands were met and the victim was released.
Islamic extremists around the world have been using kidnapping as means to strike terror in their victims as well as fund their cause. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its affiliate Boko Haram are well known for using this tactic against Westerners as they travel abroad. In 2012, an American Journalist James Foley was kidnapped while on assignment in Syria, shortly later a ransom of 100 million Euros was demanded for his release. After months of negotiations and several planned rescue attempts failed, Foley was beheaded by ISIS militants.
Though Foley worked for a large company, he was not considered an executive. Many companies have policies in place that allow for a certain monetary amount to be paid for their employees and executives to ensure a smooth negotiation and release process. While such a policy is in place to mitigate hostilities from the kidnappers, it is not a fool proof way to guarantee that the victims remain unharmed. The Middle East, Africa, and Asia are known to be hotbeds for kidnappers, though such an event can occur anywhere. Areas with poor infrastructure or that are prone to government conflict or unrest are the most viable areas for kidnappers to select victims as Westerners often stand out.
The West African country of Niger has become a hot spot due to the increase in petroleum interests found during the past few decades. Such interests bring Western based companies and their executives. High- net-worth executives are not the only targets, Western aid workers and missionaries have also been victimized in the past. There have been multiple cases of American citizens being kidnapped for ransom in Niger as recently as October of 2020 where an American missionary named Philip Watson was kidnapped from his family ranch in Niger. On October 31st, 2020 the United States launched an operation to rescue Watson, members of Seal Team Six successfully located the ISIS linked group and rescued Watson who was being held ransom for over 1 million USD. Another such missionary named Jeffrey Woodke has been in captivity for over four years. It is estimated that ISIS and Al-Qaeda backed groups have made over 10 million dollars from kidnappings in recent years.
ESOC analysts possess a varied background of experience related to the security field with many analysts being former military/law enforcement, executive protection team leaders, or having direct experience in risk mitigation and analysis for locations all over the world. ESOC offers a wide variety of services that can help mitigate the risk to clients travelling to areas that may be prone to kidnapping attempts.
While the client is either home or abroad, analysts are monitoring countless social media sites, databases, and forums using data aggregate technology. When personal information or threats are identified that could potentially place the client in danger, the appropriate notifications are made to help mitigate exposure and take appropriate actions towards the threat. A client’s privacy is critical, any sort of online chatter or insight into a client’s location or travel itinerary can provide kidnappers with the information needed to launch a successful attack. Constant monitoring provides an extra layer of security to the client.
One of the first steps to safe travel is the Travel Risk Assessment (TRA) which is created for each location that a client plans to travel to. The TRA is custom made based on each client’s itinerary and focuses on key aspects such as crime rates, current unrest, and other areas of concern that could negatively impact a client’s safety. ESOC analysts also use a Location Risk Analysis Tool (LRAT) which is a series of questions and criteria that assist with assessing the current risk level for the travel destination. The LRAT is included in the security recommendations of the TRA so that each client can make an informed decision of how much (or how little) security is needed when traveling to specific locations.
Lastly, when ESOC is notified by the client of an upcoming trip, the locations are entered into exclusive monitoring programs that will provide critical incident updates from police activity or civil unrest to severer weather. This program often gives analysts the edge over other companies in that the threats are gathered in real time, often showing up hours before being reported by major news outlets. Such threats are monitored before and during the trip so that analysts can provide critical updates to the client and their security teams as they happen.
The threat of kidnapping is not limited to Third World countries, any person or group with an ideal or need for money can become a potential kidnapper. With ESOC analysts bolstering a client’s security, such risks can be identified and potentially mitigated well before the operational phase of a prospective attack.