This is excerpted from the Integrated Protective Concepts book Kidnapping Prevention & Avoidance.
Without a doubt the greatest threat you are likely to potentially encounter is the insider threat. Numerous kidnapping cases throughout the world have involved a person close to the victim or with inside knowledge of the victim’s activities and routine facilitating the kidnapping.
We all depend to a greater or lesser degree on other people and in order to do what we need to do with need to involve others in our activities and make them aware of our schedule and so forth. We can’t allow ourselves to be so paralyzed with fear that we become ineffective but we do need to recognize this vulnerability, be aware and watch those around us. There are several prominent cases that have occurred in the US where insiders or in some cases former employees with inside knowledge were involved in kidnappings. Recently there was a home invasion in suburban New York City where a former nanny orchestrated the event and directed her associates over a cell phone as they held the family hostage and ransacked the home. That said this is an even more critical issue overseas where expatriates and travelers may rely even more heavily on local employees. This may include drivers and domestic staff, office employees, local partners and so forth.
How do we address this threat? First it’s important to now who you are dealing with whether that means conducting a due diligence investigation on a business partner or a background check on a maid. These investigations do have their limits and in many places public records are suspect at best. It’s also quite possible that the subject has no identifiable criminal background or ties so it’s important to go beyond this. You should make an effort to know as much about them as possible: where they live, who their family consists of, tribal, ethnic and political affiliations in places where those things matter – this is especially true of domestic staff but also true for close business partners, local representatives and perhaps lead personnel in a local office. The more the person knows about you and what you do the more you should know about them.
You should passively monitor local staff and watch for changes in behavior or situations that may indicate they are having personal problems or are vulnerable to outside influence. You should listen to gossip and rumors – you shouldn’t necessarily believe them but based on them you may want to investigate further to de-conflict what you have heard.
It’s also important to engage these people in a polite and professional way. Too often local personnel and domestic staff are treated like a piece of the furniture. These contacts should be done professionally and over-familiarity should be avoided. In Safe Travel Abroad we discussed dealing with local drivers and the same rules apply here. It’s important to treat staff respectfully but you should not try to make them your best friend. Many societies have very clearly defined boundaries between employer and employees that are ignored by well-meaning egalitarian westerners. This should of course be modulated based on the particular relationship and the local cultural norms. Regular conversations – even about innocuous subjects like the weather – allow you to get a baseline on their attitude and behavior so that you can better distinguish changes in behavior that may indicate a problem.
It’s particularly important not to mistreat local staff. This should go without saying but obviously making an enemy of someone with inside knowledge of your patterns and routines is never good not to mention the moral, ethical and professional reasons to not treat people badly.
In some locations it’s important to understand that local personnel may be under pressures that we are not accustomed to. They or their family may be threatened by criminals or terrorists, they may be obligated by family connections and traditions to provide information if requested or they may otherwise be in a situation where they are compromised and vulnerable. We will likely never be able to know all that we can about people working for us and those with close knowledge of our activities but understanding the potential risks is a good starting point. Just being aware of the insider threat potential will make us more inclined to monitor others’ behavior, stop ourselves from providing too much information and taking similar actions to reduce risk.