As these words are being written, an Austrian citizen is held captive in Yemen, the attack on the Amenas gas complex in Algeria has claimed a toll of 37 foreigners including three Americans, and reports suggest homicides in Mexico are on the rise (86 at the Estado de Mexico in January, 2013 alone).
It is an unsafe world. From abductions to targeted assassinations, travelers in general and high-profile executives in particular are being targeted for political statements and/or monetary gain.
Yet our global economy and interconnected culture leaves little choice for many executives but to travel more than ever before. And often, those executive trips are to areas that are less than stable since those markets offer the largest potential return on investment in terms of resources and opportunities. This poses a potential risk which often becomes the responsibility of the organizations Chief Security Officer to address and mitigate.
Most organizations recognize the need for a specialized security expert. The Chief Security Officer rarely deals with minute issues such as traffic control and/or petty theft. Rather, the CSO is now part of the "C-suite" who directly affects the organization's bottom line by mitigating threats and protecting assets. Most common among the CSO's responsibilities are data security, personnel management, continuity of operations, and emergency planning. Assuring executive safety when traveling, however, has now become an added responsibility that requires specialized knowledge and tactics.
The CSO can take various steps to assure the safety of his organizations executives. Easiest, and at times most cost- and labor-effective is subcontracting. A CSO may subcontract a specific detail to a company that specializes in international and high risk security. Most organizations have excellent security in-house, but that may not translate into appropriate security abroad.
If the CSO understands the unique needs, risks, and mitigation efforts required to assure executive safety while traveling, though, he will recognize not only that the process of planning and executing travel assignments is complex, but also that it requires advance work, managing security details, and coordinating with various local resources.
Safety begins with proper planning. It is generally agreed that in order for an attack to take place three conditions must exist — capability, motivation, and opportunity. There is little we can do about a potential attacker's capabilities and motivation. Those variables are out of our control. What we can and should address, however, is the opportunity. By minimizing the opportunity, a security specialist can greatly minimize the chances of a would-be attack.
The advance work should include everything from travel arrangements, lodging, route planning, securing vehicles, securing permits, and communication, to mundane tasks such as assuring that medical records are in order (are shots and vaccination needed, for example), visas and passports are current, and all information is secure and details do not leak out.
Contacting local agencies and government offices, such as the State Department and embassies, adds yet another layer of security.
The detail Having specialized security officers, drivers, and support staff that speak the local language, know the culture, and can provide excellent security cannot be overlooked. The best planning is worthless if execution lacks the necessary professionalism and means to enforce the plan.
Training Training the executive is yet another aspect of the CSO's new responsibilities. Teaching the executive how to remain safe, emergency procedures, expectations from the security detail, and familiarization with protocols can be a tremendous asset in case of an emergency. There is also a new emerging trend of teaching executives basic SERE (Survival, Escape, Resistance, and Evasion) skills. These skills can spell the difference between surviving a violent encounter and becoming the victim. Many executives are seeking this type of training on their own these days. Having the CSO support such training and evaluate different programs can further enhance the executive-CSO relationship.
K&R (kidnap and ransom) Finally, kidnap and ransom is truly a unique factor to consider whenever discussing high risk travel. Don't think so? Just ask insurance agencies, many of which now offer specialized insurance policies for precisely such possibilities. Unfortunately, not enough executives take advantage of it, leaving them exposed and greatly increasing K&R from a possibility to a reality.
This is a service that should be discussed in depth between the executive and the CSO. There are many variables in favor and against such services. Nonetheless, it is a situation for which we must prepare. Just ask the Austrian now being held captive in Yemen.
BK Blankchtein is the owner and chief instructor with Masada Tactical, LLC, a provider of high-risk security services.