Anti-Kidnapping Measures for Personal Security


All organizations are challenged by those threats, risks, and hazards which may compromise the safety and security of personnel in the field. And vulnerable populations like those preyed upon by Boko Haram in Nigeria are not alone with regard to the threat of kidnapping. Law enforcement officials and their dependents have and will be continue to be targeted.

In February this year, four street gang members engaged in the express kidnapping, robbery, and  murder of Waynesboro Reserve police officer Kevin Quick. In August of 2013, Las Vegas PD acted decisively to foil a sovereign citizen plot to kidnap and murder police officers. The defendant, David Allen Brutsche, had planned to kidnap, convict and execute a random police officer as part of his domestic terrorist movement. Globally, many networked extremist organizations place a premium on the capture or killing of police officials. In 2009, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon testified at a Senate subcommittee to the increasing incidence of this problem and the USDOJ Office of the Inspector General confirmed that Phoenix had more than 350 kidnappings in 2008.


What is your agency response to the detection of a kidnapping threat against a member of your agency or their family? The elements of this response may include briefing and alerting the targeted members, investigation, and assignment of protective detail. But without advance warning, what can you do to personally mitigate this danger? High risk low probability events are also part of the threat matrix to be considered when evaluating personal security measures and practices. We must be prepared.

The worldwide incidence of kidnapping for ransom in its various forms is rising in tandem with crime and threat of terrorism. It is a global problem with varying levels of risk in all countries. It is a plague in many central Asian and African states. With life, safety, and freedom at stake – we must plan, enhance our situational awareness, train and rehearse security plans and measures. There are some important features to consider with respect to the particular problem of kidnapping and your anti-kidnapping plan.

Kidnapping is a violent crime that involves the unlawful detention by force, threat or fraud for gain. It is frequently directed against the dependents of a given target. The primary responsibility to both prevent and defend against most types of kidnapping threat is on you.

While many kidnapping efforts are directed against high profile subjects who display the signature of wealth, anyone can be kidnapped and your occupation makes you a high value target for extremists. There is also increasing indication that organized kidnapping groups will target those who are less-than-wealthy for smaller gains. This is evidenced by the increased occurrence of short duration express kidnappings for as little ransom as the maximum withdrawal on an ATM card. This was evidenced in the tragic case of Kevin Quick.

Note that once you are taken captive many governments may refuse to comply with kidnappers or pay ransom. This is especially the case for travel abroad. If taken, your safe release may be based upon the capacity to professionally negotiate, comply with demands, pay a ransom or wait for rescue. Proactive detection, deterrence, and denial is a better policy than waiting to provide proof-of-life and wellness.


Anti-kidnapping seeks to curtail the threat in the operational phases of planning and surveillance and before an actual attempt to capture a target is launched. Before counter- kidnapping and personal recovery techniques are needed. Anti-kidnapping focuses on those preventative security measures, surveillance detection, and counter-surveillance measures which stop the threat in advance of an operation.


Adopt general but effective preventative measures such as maintaining a low signature, reducing your public profile, blending with the local environment, and acting with confidence in public. Wear plain clothing, avoiding displays of wealth, project confidence and minimize public speech in risky or high crime areas. These are proven and effective approaches which reduce the overall odds of victimization.

This is because the act of kidnapping always begins with hostile deliberate effort to select a target, to collect relevant information, and conduct pre-operational surveillance before launching an action to capture a targeted victim. We are seeking to interdict this threat before the capture phase, transport, and captivity. All kidnapping efforts are preceded by a period of information collection and surveillance.

Networked extremist organizations may utilize a twin cell model with division of labor. A logistics cell will conduct operational planning and surveillance, test target security, gather required intelligence, and acquire needed assets, tools, and weapons. A second cell of comprised of persons with no prior association or proximity to the target will carry out the actual kidnapping operation.


Opportunistic or express kidnappings are associated with fast acting criminal groups, international travel hubs and tourist areas. This form will utilize hasty forms of surveillance and elicitation of information. You will be under surveillance and in potential physical danger with virtual kidnappings (that involve the communication of a false kidnapping with a related ransom demand). Lastly, more classical kidnapping groups will also always engage in detailed planning and spend long periods time to dedicated information collection and related physical or technical surveillance. This may last for weeks. Hence, surveillance is crucial to all forms and types of kidnapping.

Know that preventing adversary from conducting an effective physical surveillance may be a show-stopper. This can force the adversary to move on to an alternate target. Remember that your prospective kidnapper wants to know everything about you. Kidnappers will collect as much detail about you, your dependents, your associates, colleagues, workplace, residence, school, habits, and hobbies as possible. Much of it may or will be obtained electronically and through available open sources.


Preventing the preparation of a working pattern-of-life analysis inhibits operational planning. Not being able to form this picture or collect crucial information is a show-stopper as well. Even more so, information which indicates the presence of effective countermeasures or defensive capability that significantly reduces the likelihood of success will also stop a kidnapping fast.

Ensure that you have incorporated surveillance detection routines into your daily activities. The detection, confirmation, reaction and reporting of suspected hostile surveillance is absolutely critical to your survival and the only dependable method of buying time to respond to potentially deadly situations.

Take into consideration the possibility of insider threat and the witting or unwitting use of your associations in a kidnapping effort directed against you and your family. Entrust your safety and that of your dependents to persons who exhibit strong character, stability, trustworthiness, and reliability. Take special care in contacts with persons who exhibit antisocial behaviors, impulsiveness, and vindictiveness.

Practice OPSEC and protect personal information which could be utilized in hostile planning. Consider not only what key information must be protected but also what cover activities or status might be used to collect it for nefarious reasons. Know which human sources possessing key information may be vulnerable to social engineering and are they aware of the possibility of hostile elicitation. What can be determined solely by electronic means and open sources? What technical options might a sophisticated kidnapping ring utilize to gain critical details? What counter-measures can we bring to bear against open source, human, and technical vectors?

Maintain effective control and monitoring over your electronic devices: Computers, communications, and other equipment. Actively control all information about your defensive capability, weapons, and the tools of your trade. Pay close attention to the details of your personal associations, acquaintances, and members of your personal network – especially that of your direct family and close associates.

A lifelong study of personal security habits and techniques will ensure your personal safety and security. The very best measures being your skills and developed habits at surveillance detection, OPSEC, control of open source and electronic information, and the strong use of suspicious activity reporting. These are the real keys to an effective anti-kidnapping strategy. Stay inside the loop and one step ahead!

About the Author: Aaron Cunningham is the acting President of ITTA.

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