Managing Security Overseas: Contact and Coordination with Local, Regional, and International Authorities

Employees overseas are under your protection but not under your direct watch. In this book excerpt, Scott Alan Ast provides advice and examples for protecting employees by making and maintaining important security contacts abroad.

Excerpted from Managing Security Overseas: Protecting Employees and Assets in Volatile Regions

by Scott Alan Ast (CRC Press, 2009).

We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now.

—Martin Luther King Jr.

In order to operate effectively in volatile regions around the world, I would very strongly recommend you establish effective liaisons with law enforcement, U.S. government agencies, and private sector personnel—even competitors. If operations are going to operate on a safe footing, and to be plugged into the critical information required for conducting business in a safe manner, these liaisons are critical. Whether it be something as simple as reporting a minor criminal act, vandalism, for example, to contacting someone when your people or assets have been victim to an extortion attempt or act of terrorism, having a relationship in advance with the correct officials can not only cut through red tape and save time, but it might also save lives.

When working in more dangerous regions and countries, U.S. government agencies should be made aware of:

  • Nature/description of your project
  • Number of expats working on the project
  • Lodging/accommodations for expats
  • Expat travel within the country and neighboring countries
  • Other U.S. or foreign national business partners
  • Other U.S. or foreign national contractors/subcontractors

I have invited U.S. State Department personnel to visit the job site or project on many occasions, and they have taken me up on this offer. I have appreciated their taking the time to travel to these locations. It makes an impression upon them to see Americans working on these projects, and I can guarantee you that U.S. expats will not be forgotten in extreme situations. But, this is not always necessary, and in some regions, such U.S. government personnel may decline to attend or visit, due to security concerns.

Also see How to Manage Security Halfway Around the World

As far as contacting the law enforcement and government agencies of your host governments, I would recommend some caution (see the case studies at the conclusion of this chapter).

A word or two concerning the men and women of the U.S. Department of State: I have traveled the world a couple of times over, and wherever I go, whichever country I might be in, I make it a point to visit the U.S. embassies and consulates. I enjoy meeting and speaking with the regional security officers and their staffs, the U.S. Marine Corps on duty at these locations, consular officers, and many others. I do this to pay my respect to their efforts and commitment to keeping expatriates safe in foreign locations. The men and women who are employees of the State Department based here in the United States, particularly those who work with the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), I respect as extremely professional, dedicated, knowledgeable, and competent. [Editor's note: See Inside the OSAC's Race Against Terrorism.]

Having mentioned the work of the RSOs, I would be remiss to not mention the efforts of the U.S. embassy legal attaches, or LEGATs, as the Federal Bureau of Investigation refers to them. Not every embassy of our country has LEGATs, but the agents assigned to these duties can be of extreme benefit. LEGATs are assigned to the embassies due to the nature of U.S. business and our governments efforts in other countries. LEGATs do not have jurisdiction in these countries, of course, but they do have strong ties and work cooperatively with the law enforcement agencies of the host governments. LEGATs do investigate crimes against American citizens and companies internationally. LEGATs are involved in the search for missing Americans, kidnapped Americans, and many of the crimes perpetrated against Americans overseas. LEGATs are not going to be the in-country authority on terrorism concerns and how Western companies go about protecting their employees; that responsibility falls within the purview of the RSOs. However, whenever I visit RSOs on my trips, I make it a point to visit with the LEGATs. I view law enforcement liaison as a critical part of my domestic security programs, and through contacts with FBI agents in the United States, they can help facilitate meetings and consultations with LEGATs around the world.

RSOs are a busy bunch of people. Their duties include protecting the Americans and local nationals assigned to the embassy or consulate.

They provide protection for visiting State Department and other U.S. government officials and employees. I personally dont know when they sleep, and I don't know if they have a minute of free time. But, by all means necessary, if you can arrange to sit down and meet with them, you will be doing yourself and your company or client a favor. But, do not expect the RSOs to be at your beck and call. They are very busy people. Their primary charge is to protect the U.S. embassy or consulate employees working in the country, and any visiting State Department personnel. Among the million other things they do, they would be glad to meet with you. I would suggest you try to arrange a telephone discussion long before you actually visit the country, and set up an in-person meeting well in advance of your arrival. Something may come up when you arrive and you might not be able to meet with them; this is just the nature of their jobs. Don't take it personally and go with the flow.

Another very worthwhile service RSOs and LEGATs may provide is one security managers seem to always be searching for internationally. These government employees can advise you which U.S. corporations are using contract security services in that country. They might even know which companies are doing the work for them. Of course, U.S. embassies and consulates often utilize local contract security services at their locations, and they might be able to provide you with contact information for these private companies. These are not recommendations, keep in mind, but merely contact information. It will be up to you to determine if the companies you discover are providing the types of security services you desire or find appropriate and whether these services are of a quality nature.

Questions you will want to ask the RSOs (or assistant regional security officers (ARSOs) should the RSOs be too busy to meet with you) include concerns about the types of security situations, dilemmas, and resources that might be present for U.S. or Western corporations working in the country or region. Are companies the targets of crimes such as extortion or kidnapping? Are employees of these companies victims of the same types of crime? Are there issues with random street crimes, and is violent crime being directed at these employees, visitors, tourists, or students? What has worked or seems to work in the way of mitigation? For example, have U.S. citizens begun to avoid going to certain areas of the city, such as markets? Is it sensible to avoid being nearby mosques on Fridays after prayers? Has driving into the countryside become too dangerous? Do Western companies mostly employ armed or unarmed security personnel to protect their employees? Are these companies utilizing armored or unarmored vehicles? By having these discussions with the RSOs, ARSOs, and LEGATs, one can begin to piece together not only the risks involved in working in these countries, but also the security plans and mitigation efforts for doing so safely.

RSOs can also provide you with the names of those in-country law enforcement officials from whom you might require ongoing assistance. For example, say you are working in a remote area of the country, far from the U.S. embassy, consulate, or any of the host governments civilian or military resources or facilities. The RSOs may provide you with names and contact information for police or military contacts who are based in or are responsible for the areas where you will be working. Should you have questions or need their assistance, these can be very valuable contacts.

RSOs provide much in the way of community outreach—the community being the Western companies that are operating in the country. Often, organizations such as OSAC initiate country councils, which are made up of the employees representing companies working in the country, who get together to share security concerns and information, discuss methods of dealing with security issues and problems, and can provide mutual assistance to each other for their common goals—a safe operating environment for employees and businesses. One of the first questions I ask of RSOs when I am looking into a country or region for the first time is: What other Western companies are operating there? But, more importantly, are there companies that do the same type of business that my company does—which might range from building widgets to chemical manufacturing to retail sales?

Key Points

Successful liaison is critical to having an efficient security and safety management system in place for employees working overseas. The liaison begins with people such as State Department regional security officers (RSOs). Other U.S. government employees you will find it useful to meet with include Federal Bureau of Investigation legal attaches (LEGATs). Through these personnel, you may be able to determine availability of additional private and public sector assistance. You might become part of State Department OSAC country councils and receive extremely worthwhile safety and security information at these meetings; or you might obtain the contact information for local police or military officials who can provide resources you might otherwise be unaware of.

Case Studies

One word of caution in dealing with law enforcement or military in foreign countries: they are not always what you have come to expect from dealing with those in many other countries. That is to say, don't be surprised if you become faced with a quid pro quo situation. Be careful to not get more than you bargained for, or to use another cliche, don't get boxed into a corner. Let me cite a few examples.

One situation involves a country where the security arrangements went something like this: The host government understood that terrorist acts had concerned many Western companies doing business in certain regions. Frequent calls for government assistance went unheeded, and Westerners had lost their lives in attacks. The government responded by requiring that all Western companies doing business in the country have the blessing, cooperation, and assistance of their military. What might sound like a monumental administrative nightmare became more efficient as the wheels of the bureaucracy began to turn. From the outset, when Western companies began to request visas and work permits for their employees coming into the country, the government had the ability to determine which company the Western citizen was working for, which cities they would be visiting, and which job site or facility. Next, the government initiated a program where these employees would be met at the airport by a military security detachment, and would be escorted to their destination by armed military personnel. Westerners were working, for the most part, in industrial parks that were guarded by a combination of private and military security personnel. Whenever companies had someone coming in for a site or facility visit or departing from the airport, they would contact a local military garrison and advise them of the time the flight was to arrive and the airline, and the convoy would set off to make the pickup or drop off. The system seemed to be working well, with no real glitches. Arriving or departing employees could expect to make their flights on time, or would not have to wait until their military escort arrived. One day, however, a military captain who was in charge of the local garrison and the escorts contacted the security manager. After some small talk, he got right to the point. The difficulties of his job protecting the project employees had led to problems at his home. His wife was mad at him for being gone all the time. What would really make her happy would be a pickup truck and a new refrigerator. After getting over his shock, the security manager replied that this was not something that was possible. The captain some months later requested a transfer out of the garrison and was never heard from again.

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