It may happen when you are least able to prevent it – when your executive or his family are alone and most vulnerable. Learning what to expect in the hours and days after an abduction will help you avoid becoming a bystander at a time when your leadership is most needed. The first article of this series focused on the early hours, activating your plan, confirming a kidnapping, engaging an expert consultant, establishing a negotiation operations center, and selecting a communicator to receive ransom calls. The second article dived deeper into negotiation techniques and financial criteria. In this last article of the series, we address engagement with law enforcement, victim families, and the media.
One of the early critical decisions needed during a kidnapping is the degree your company will engage with law enforcement in the likely foreign jurisdiction of the incident. Law enforcement’s priorities, including the identification, apprehension, and prosecution of the kidnappers, may impede effective negotiations. Police pressure can have a significant and negative impact on the time/money correlation that is present during all kidnappings for ransom. Corporations should strongly consider obtaining the services of a security consultant with a proven track record in ransom negotiations. These consultants already have established liaison with law enforcement and military in the countries where kidnap is most prevalent.
The taking of a U.S. citizen hostage or a ransom demand made against the U.S. Government, regardless of the victim’s citizenship, is a violation of U.S. federal law. The FBI, through their Crisis Negotiation Unit, is recognized as the official negotiation arm of the American government. Under the direction of the U.S. Ambassador, the FBI is the lead agency for Development and implementation of negotiation strategies; Conduct of investigations; and, Collection of evidence. The FBI will coordinate the government’s response to kidnap but will not take over decision making. Key decisions, such as whether to pay a ransom, always remain the responsibility of the victim family and/or company. The FBI will not provide the funds nor make the delivery of any ransom payment outside the United States. Corporations and families still must make these tough calls while managing the incident.
Some countries require mandatory notification to authorities that a kidnap occurred. Some countries mandate that you obtain their permission to negotiate with captors. Learning in advance the legal requirements in the countries where you have a presence could save precious time. A robust exchange of information with country authorities can result in permission to make a ransom payment when there is no other recourse for the victim’s safe release. The strong liaison can also help authorities realize that a kidnap negotiation is an investigative tool that provides intelligence and creates potentially exploitable options for law enforcement. Accommodation can be reached wherein authorities agree to wait until the victim is safely recovered before pursuing the abductors. In turn, a victim company may promise to provide all available evidence and make the victim available for debriefing.
In most cases, cooperation with authorities should be the preferred option of a victim company. Cooperation is a two-way street that can build trust. A strong liaison with authorities can increase the company’s ability to influence law enforcement actions. This is most critical when there is a need to restrain officials from attempting high-risk rescues. Continuous contact with high-level trusted officials can reap both short and long-term benefits.
A company should prepare to expend a considerable amount of time and resources supporting, advising and protecting the victim family. First impressions are critical, and a company should give serious consideration as to which executive protection level official will make the initial in-person notification, and who will be assigned as the full-time family liaison for the duration of the incident. The victim’s family will feel isolated, perceive that information is being filtered, and that the company is not doing enough to obtain their loved one’s release. These sentiments are quite common and understandable. It is essential for the company to form a united front with the family and to provide them with realistic assessments and genuine assurances that they are equal players at the table.
As soon as possible there are two areas to address with the family. The first area is how to handle contact with the captors. The second topic involves the best approach to media inquiries. Contact from the captors with the family is very common and should be expected. Captors realize the emotional impact they can have when they manipulate victim family against victim company. They know the family can pressure the company to quickly acquiesce to the captor’s demands. A company that provides the victim family with concrete guidelines can minimize the likelihood of orchestrated manipulation. Additionally, the family’s confidence in the company’s knowledge and competence increases when they can anticipate the adversaries’ strategy.
The family will also need media guidance and someone to act as a buffer during the kidnapping. Educate the family on the potential damage to negotiations that can be done by a spontaneous statement to the media. It might even be necessary to relocate the family for the duration of the incident to isolate them from a media onslaught.
A Crisis Communication Plan should be an annex of your Crisis Management Plan. The media will ask three basic questions: What happened? How did it happen? What are you going to do about it? It is in your company’s best interest to respond to media inquiries. Failure to respond or delaying response makes the company look irresponsible, unconcerned or incompetent. Again, an experienced negotiation consultant can assist you with the best responses to media inquiries.
Your company’s communication department should craft holding statements for various crises in advance. Innocuous holding statements can help a company buy time to gather critical information. Financial details, ransom policies, insurance coverage, and negotiation status should never be discussed with the media. It is also a good policy to not publicly criticize any government’s response efforts.
Always provide information to the victim family before providing it to the media. Also, focus on internal messaging for the “corporate family” of colleagues and co-workers who will not appreciate learning information through the media. There should be only one authorized spokesperson and statements should be cleared with key partners before release. Don’t lie to the media. Take control and portray a posture of calm and confidence. Proactively anticipate media events and stories rather than merely reacting to them.
Companies responding to an international kidnapping will face the challenge of dealing with multiple governments, interacting with law enforcement agencies, victim families and the media. The safety of your victim employee may depend on your ability to successfully navigate the internal and external complexities of the crisis. Will you be ready?
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