This week, we tackle tools of the trade. Firearms, night vision goggles, computers, tracking devices, disguises, and forged documents are key items that can help a response consultant–the industry term for a kidnap negotiator–in the field. But the most important tool for my response consultant character, Thea Paris, is her brain. Negotiation is a thinking person’s game.
Every K&R case is different, so Thea has to adapt to the kidnapper’s demands. Still, one common thread is that kidnappings are usually carried out by people who are driven by greed, using fear as a weapon to force families to do anything and everything to get their loved ones back. Kidnappers prey on that desperate urgency. And that’s why hostages’ families need an elite response consultant who can help negotiate for the release of the hostage.
Here are four tactics professionals use when dealing with kidnappers:
1. Never accept the kidnappers’ first offer. The hostage’s family wants their loved one back now, fast. But if you agree to the first offer–even if you can afford what they are asking for–then you open yourself to negative consequences. The kidnappers could sense they have a cash-rich customer on their hands, and they will consider the ransom a down payment to keep the hostage safe and ask for more. Also, if you capitulate quickly, you become a “soft target,” and it is not uncommon for kidnappers to prey on the same families more than once, re-kidnapping the original hostage or kidnapping one of their family members. It’s difficult to maintain control when you desperately want to bring a family member home. But keep in mind that you are the only buyer in the market for this commodity–the hostage–and that gives you some leverage. Haggling is an expected part of the process. Usually, the ransom ends up being around 10-15% of the original asking amount.
2. Be patient. Kidnappings often last days, weeks, or months, sometimes even years, as in the case of Peter Moore, the longest held hostage in Iraq, who was held in captivity for almost 1000 days. It’s important for the hostage’s family to prepare for the long haul. It can take time to negotiate with the kidnappers, find a compromise and arrange the exchange of funds for the hostage. This process can’t be rushed.
3. Demand proof of life. Refuse to talk about money until you speak to the hostage or use another tool to confirm that the captive is still alive. When someone is taken, every two-bit hustler becomes a faux kidnapper, claiming to have the hostage to cash in on the family’s desperation. The use of hostages holding daily newspapers for proof of life is old school. These days, kidnappers sometimes let family members speak to the hostages–or, establish “safe questions,” ones only someone in the inside circle would know, along with answers so that if a kidnapping occurs, there is a surefire way of confirming the hostage is alive and being held prisoner.
4. Don’t promise more than you can deliver. It’s hard for families to remain practical when a loved one’s life hangs in the balance. Be realistic when it comes to ransoms. Making an offer of money that you don’t have can lead to a deadly, disastrous outcome.
In most cases, kidnappers want their ransom and prefer not to harm the hostage. That said, if things start to go sideways, the captors will be more likely to kill the hostage and move on to the next abduction. In many places in the world, kidnapping is a flourishing business with endless targets available. Stick to the game plan to ensure the safety of the hostage.
Thea Paris and her company, Quantum International Security, offer educational seminars for people traveling to areas where the risk of abduction is deemed high. Kidnap, Ransom & Extortion Insurance is an important tool to help protect travellers. This insurance will reimburse losses associated with a kidnap. Within pre-determined limits, the policy will cover the ransom payment, the victim’s wages, family costs, medical treatment and psychological counselling for the hostage as well as the costs for a specialist response consultant. Think ahead and plan if you are travelling in high-risk zones. Kidnap avoidance training and/or K&R Insurance may be prudent investments. Preparation is key, and the best tool you have is your brain.