• United States



by Scott Alan Ast

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

Nov 15, 200914 mins
IT Leadership

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.

Another occasion arose with an individual who was a retired local national military officer placed in charge of security at a large public-private infrastructure project. The area was prone to protests by local residents, fueled by nationwide antigovernment sentiments and demonstrations. Influential religious leaders near the facility worked all of these groups into frenzies that typically resulted in angry protests and demonstrations. The government posted battle-honed military personnel, just back from duties on the front lines with separatist groups, at the work site. The facility was well fortified, and it certainly had the attention of many who wanted the project to succeed. The ex-officer in charge of security understandably wanted himself and the project to go forward with as little trouble as possible. He sat down with the visiting American security manager, who was in charge of security for those U.S. employees assigned to the project, for a chat in his elaborately appointed office. The tea was served on fine china, and silver tongs and spoons provided the sugar and stirring implements, all served by a staff of immaculately attired local nationals. Men like this are very busy, or so they would like to think, and the talk was quickly directed to the matter at hand. The local national security manager, retired military officer, and apparently part-time dabbler in counterintelligence indicated that in order for him to gather the information necessary to successfully protect the facility and all of the expats and employees coming and going, he would require US$30,000 per month. Many informants, including police officials, had to be paid in order to ensure a steady flow of information and a tamping down of too radical thoughts and tendencies. The proud ex-officer stated he was already paying out a princely sum each month for the same services, but desperate times called for desperate measures. It was a blow to his ego, but a satisfying experience for the American, when the ex-officer was told that the jungle would turn to ice before one cent would be paid to him.

One final case study consists of a situation in Iraq where U.S. expat employees were working on an infrastructure project. The project was surrounded by daily fighting with coalition forces and insurgents. When the insurgents ran out of coalition targets, they would frequently pepper the job site with small arms fire, an occasional mortar, rocket-propelled grenade, or rocket, and would continuously fire upon any supply vehicles entering or leaving the facility. The situation became increasingly tense with the facility security personnel fearing an all-out attack, or that the bad guys would stop the randomness and put forth a concentrated effort to kill Westerners. The security personnel, who had some experience in the region and in the country, devised a plan. They arranged a meeting with local tribal leaders. The sympathetic tribal elders, who wanted the project to continue as well, strategized that the security personnel should meet with the local imam, or spiritual leader, who had a great following. A meeting was set up, and after some tense initial first minutes, the event turned productive. The religious leader was in fact interested in improving the city for his followers, and the project would certainly do this. But, he had been promised some things in the past by other private sector groups that had failed to deliver. When asked what these things were, the imam indicated they did not have reliable transportation for their own supplies and provisions, and something to assist their logistical dilemma was envisioned. The project had a surplus of vehicles, including small pickups ideal for hauling rice, water, and other foodstuffs. It was agreed by the project personnel that one of these pickups would be lent to the religious organization in order to be used for these supplies and community programs. The imam was so pleased he arrived at the facility one day with a round carton under one of his arms. He presented to the security personnel a stack of vehicle decals, each bearing a photograph and blessing of the imam. He instructed the security personnel to paste the decals on the sides of their vehicles and advised them that due to their generosity to the community, no harm would come to them. The attacks upon the facility and the vehicles ceased. ##

Security professional Scott Alan Ast is holds Certified Protection Professional and Certified Fraud Examiner credentials.