Archive for General
Can something good come about if the US attacks Syria? Could it benefit Americans in some way? Would it benefit the Syrian people? I’d like to hear anyone’s opinion on this issue. Pro or Con. I’d especially like to hear from Americans or others working in the Middle East. Do events in Syria have any impact on you or your work? What about your families – how do they feel about you being in the Middle East with all the turmoil in Syria, Egypt, and all around Mediterranean? – Greg
A suspect in the beheading of reporter Daniel Pearl has reportedly been caught.
Daniel Pearl was kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan in 2002 by extremists and murdered, his beheading shown world wide via Internet video. The gruesome story was a reminder to all of us that work OCONUS that we can be vulnerable in foreign countries and must maintain a high state of situational awareness at all times. Although it doesn’t mean we can be less vigilant, it is a small victory for all expatriate workers that brave the dangers and continue to serve in hostile areas.
To read more;
We are coming up on what may be one of the most important elections in US history so I have reprinted the article below for my readers to use in remembering the importance of character in elected officials since, as Mr. Friedman points out, elected officials cannot foresee what will define their time in office. George Friedman, founder of Stratfor.com, writes extensively on world events from a non-partisan point of view, and Stratfor.com accepts no advertising from outside sources.
By George Friedman (Used with permission)
The end of Labor Day weekend in the United States traditionally has represented the beginning of U.S. presidential campaigns, though these days the campaign appears to be perpetual. In any case, Americans will be called on to vote for president in about two months, and the question is on what basis they ought to choose.
Many observers want to see intense debate over the issues, with matters of personality pushed to the background. But personality can also be viewed as character, and in some ways character is more important than policy in choosing a country’s leadership.
Policy and Personality
A candidate for office naturally lays out his plans should he win the election. Those plans, which may derive from an ideology or from personal values, represent his public presentation of what he would do if he won office. An ideology is a broadly held system of beliefs — an identifiable intellectual movement with specific positions on a range of topics. Personal values are more idiosyncratic than those derived from an ideology, but both represent a desire to govern from principle and policy.
As we all know, in many cases the presentation of intentions has less to do with what the candidate would actually do than it does with what he thinks will persuade the voters to vote for him. But such a candidate, possessing personal ambition more than principle, would not be opposed to doing what he said, since it suited the public. He has no plans himself beyond remaining in office.
Then there are those who profoundly believe in their policies. They sincerely intend to govern based on what they have said. This is what many think elections ought to be about: ideas, policies, ideologies and beliefs. Thus, in the case of the current American election, many are searching for what the candidates believe and asking whether they actually mean what they say.
In the United States and other countries, policy experts decry the fact that the public frequently appears ignorant of and indifferent to the policies the candidates stand for. Voters can be driven by fatuous slogans or simply by their perception of the kind of person the candidate is. The “beauty pageant” approach to presidential elections infuriates ideologues and policy experts who believe that the election should not turn on matters as trivial as personality. They recognize the personal dimension of the campaign but deplore it as being a diversion from the real issues of the day.
But consider the relationships between intentions and outcomes in American presidencies. During the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush made the case that the American war in Kosovo, undertaken by President Bill Clinton, was a mistake because it forced the United States into nation-building, a difficult policy usually ending in failure. There is every reason to believe that at the time he articulated this policy, he both meant it and intended to follow it. What he believed and intended turned out to mean very little. His presidency was determined not by what he intended to do but by something he did not expect nor plan for: Sept. 11, 2001.
This is not unique to Bush. John F. Kennedy’s presidency, in terms of foreign policy, was defined by the Cuban missile crisis, Lyndon Johnson’s by Vietnam. Jimmy Carter’s presidency was about the Iranian hostage crisis. None of these presidents expected their presidency to be focused on these things, although perhaps they should have. And these were only the major themes. They had no policies, plans or ideological guidelines for the hundreds of lesser issues and decisions that constitute the fabric of a presidency.
Consider Barack Obama. When he started his campaign, his major theme was the need to end the Iraq war, but soon after Labor Day in 2008, the Iraq issue had become secondary to the global financial crisis. It was not clear that Obama had any better idea than anyone else as to how to handle it, and by the time he took office, the pattern of dealing with it had been established by the Bush administration. The plan was to prevent the market from inflicting punishment on major financial institutions because of the broader consequences and to redefine the market by flooding it with money designed to stabilize these institutions. Obama continued and intensified this policy.
Frequently, a campaign’s policy papers seem to imply that the leader is simply in control of events. All too often, events control the leader, defining his agenda and limiting his choices. Sometimes, as with the Sept. 11 attacks, it is a matter of the unexpected redefining the presidency. In other cases, it is the unintended and unexpected consequences of a policy that redefine what the presidency is about. Johnson’s presidency is perhaps the best case study for this: His policy in Vietnam grew far beyond what he anticipated and overwhelmed his intentions for his time in office. No president has had a clearer set of policy intentions, none was more initially successful in adhering to those intentions and few have so quickly lost control of the presidency when unintended consequences took over.
Fortune and Virtue
Machiavelli argues in The Prince that political life is divided between fortuna, the unexpected event that must be dealt with, and virtu, not the virtue of the religious — the virtue of abstinence from sin — but rather the virtue of the cunning man who knows how to deal with the unexpected. None can deal with fortuna completely, but some can control, shape and mitigate it. These are the best princes. The worst are simply overwhelmed by the unexpected.
People who are concerned with policies assume two things. The first is that the political landscape is benign and will allow the leader the time to do what he wishes. The second is that should the terrain shift the leader will have time to plan, to think through what ought to be done. Ideally, that would be the case, but frequently the unexpected must be dealt with in its own time frame. Crises frequently force a leader to go in directions other than he planned to or even opposite to what he wanted.
Policies — and ideology — are testaments to what leaders wish to do. Fortune determines the degree to which they will get to do it. If they want to pursue their policies, their political virtue — understood as cunning, will, and the ability to cope with the unexpected — are far better indicators of what will happen under a leader than his intentions.
Policies and ideology are, in my view, the wrong place to evaluate a candidate. First, the cunning candidate is the one least likely to take his policy statements and ideology seriously. He is saying what he thinks he needs to say in order to be elected. Second, the likelihood that he will get the opportunity to pursue his policies — that they are anything more than a wish list casually attached to reality — is low. Whether or not a voter agrees with the candidate’s ideology and policies, it is unlikely that the candidate-turned-leader will have the opportunity to pursue them.
Bush wanted to focus on domestic, not foreign policy. Fortune told him that he was not going to get that choice, and the beliefs he had about foreign policy — such as nation-building — were irrelevant. Obama thought he was going to rebuild the close relationship with the Europeans and build trust with the Arab world. The Europeans had many greater problems than their relationship with the United States, and the Islamic world’s objection to the United States was not amenable to Obama’s intentions. In the end, both of their presidencies resembled their campaign policies only incidentally. There was a connection, but for neither did the world go as expected.
The Question of Character
When Hillary Clinton was competing with Obama for the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination, she ran a television commercial depicting a 3 a.m. phone call to the White House about an unexpected foreign crisis. The claim Clinton was making was that Obama did not have the experience to answer the phone. Whether the charge was valid or not is the voter’s responsibility to answer. However, implicit in the ad was an important point, which was that the character of a candidate was more important than his policy position. When woken in the middle of the night by a crisis, policies are irrelevant. Character is everything.
I will make no serious effort to define character, but to me it comprises the ability to dissect a problem with extreme speed, to make a decision and live with it and to have principles (as opposed to policies) that cannot be violated but a cold-blooded will to do his duty in the face of those principles. For me, character is the competition within a leader who both wants power and wants something more. His precise position on the International Monetary Fund is not really relevant. His underlying sense of decency is, along with an understanding of how to use the power he achieved.
If this is vague and contradictory, it is not because I haven’t thought about it. Rather, of all of the political issues there are, the nature of character and how to recognize it is least clear. It is like love: inescapable when you encounter it, fragile over time, indispensable for a fully human life. Recognizing character in a leader would appear to me the fundamental responsibility of a voter.
The idea that you should vote for a leader based on his policy intentions is, I think, inherently flawed. Fortune moots the most deeply held policies and the finest leader may not reveal his intentions. Lincoln hid his intentions on slavery during the 1860 campaign. German Chancellor Angela Merkel never imagined the crisis she is facing when she ran for office. Intentions are hard to discern and rarely determine what will happen.
The issues that George W. Bush and Barack Obama had to deal with were not the ones they expected. Therefore, paying attention to their intentions told us little about what either would do. That was a matter of character, of facing the unexpected by reaching into his soul to find the strength and wisdom to do what must be done and abandon what he thought he would be doing. The grace and resolution with which a leader does this defines him.
I think that those who obsess over policies and ideologies are not wrong, but they will always be disappointed. They will always be let down by the candidate they supported — and the greater their initial excitement, the deeper their inevitable disappointment. It is necessary to realize that a leader of any sort cannot win through policy and ideology, and certainly not govern through them unless he is extraordinarily fortunate. Few are. Most leaders govern as they must, and identifying leaders who know what they must do is essential.
We study geopolitics, and geopolitics teaches that reality is frequently intractable, not only because of geography but because of the human condition, which is filled with fortune and misfortune, and rarely allows our lives to play out as we expect. The subjective expectation of what will happen and the objective reality in which we live are constantly at odds. Therefore, the tendency to vote for the candidate who appears to have deeper character, in the broadest sense of the term, would appear to me less frivolous than voting on the basis of ideology and policy. Both of those will and always do disappoint.
As to the question of who has the greatest character in this election, I have no greater expertise than any of my readers. There is no major in character at any university, nor a section on character in newspapers. The truth of democracy is that on this matter, none of us is wiser than any other.
“<a href=”http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/character-policy-and-selection-leaders”>Character, Policy and the Selection of Leaders</a> is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
The State Department is advertising Information Technology Specialists positions. These can be very good positions in US Diplomatic Missions worldwide. IT professionals – you really should apply if you are serious (or even curious) about working in the Wider World OCONUS. If you are not yet in the IT profession, the announcement (the link below) will specify qualifications so you can tailor your training to match – give you something to focus on and work toward.
“Long one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, Laos has moved in recent years to capitalize on the region’s robust economic growth* and increased integration by recasting itself as a “corridor country” able to facilitate cross-border trade across its land-locked territory. This plan is highly dependent on the cooperation of and interaction with neighboring countries that have traditionally treated Laos as a strategic buffer or quasi-colony, contributing to its isolation and underdevelopment, and until recently showed little sign of changing their approach.
However, competition in Southeast Asia among China, the United States, India and Japan has led these countries and others to increase their interest in Laos. Vientiane senses an opportunity** to mitigate the country’s primary geographic limitation – – its lack of a coastline — by courting outside investment in rail and road infrastructure through regional economic forums.” – stratfor.com
*East Asia in general is becoming the World’s economic powerhouse and should be a focal point for Diplocon clients and readers.
**Diplocon consultants sense opportunities too, and so should our clients and readers.
Both the US and the European Union are becoming more active in Laos (Vientiane Times News). This could help it emerge as a vibrant market, which could provide jobs for North Americans either in their current field*** or, as Diplocon continues to assert about Asia in general, in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL).
***As emerging nations develop; infrastructure, new commercial venues, hotels, etc. all need to be built and operated. Of course, most mid and lower level administrative, service, and shovel jobs are performed by local hires, but; American and European companies that invest and locate there hire American and European professionals for important positions in administration, engineering, construction supervision, etc. They all need TESL services for their local hire staff as well.
It seems like every time I make the mistake of clicking on a story about gas prices, there are multitudes complaining about speculators. Because the complainers have never bothered to learn about capitalism and market forces, they believe whatever the so-called journalists of this era tell them to believe; that it is the evil rich 1% raising the gas prices by speculating in the markets. One of the things the so-called journalists never mention – probably because they don’t know themselves – is that speculators can make just as much profit when oil prices go down so they have no reason to intentionally drive prices up. You can learn how to profit when commodities or stocks drop in price too.
I’m not one of the rich 1% by any means, but I darn sure am not one of the 99% the complainers claim to represent. In fact, I’m trying to understand why they believe it is proper for the government to make 30 or 40 cents per gallon for doing nothing*, but it is evil for the oil companies to make 4 cents per gallon for taking all the risk of exploration, drilling, transporting, refining, and retailing.
I’ve studied markets and I’ve learned how money can be made. Capitalism can work for anyone that is willing to do what it takes to learn, and is willing to take some risks. The rich 1% got rich by acquiring knowledge and taking risks. It could be that by investing a little money and time in acquiring knowledge, and, instead of buying that new (probably foreign made) motorcycle or 4-wheeler, any American can join the elite group of the capitalists over time. I fully intend to do so. This link will lead you to resources to do so too**. http://digijunction.com/investing/diplocon
*Yes, I understand the various government build roads with some of the revenue, but I’d sure like to see a verifiable accounting of where all that road tax money goes. I don’t mind paying user taxes if they are used to support the intended services, but many of the programs the various governments spend taxpayer money on are completely against my wishes (and common sense) and have nothing to do with the item on which the taxes were levied and paid.
**In the spirit of disclosure; Diplocon receives a small commission for some products, but that does not add to the price or detract from the value and usefulness of the products – indeed, if used, the programs might well save the purchaser the thousands of dollars I spent acquiring the knowledge contained in the programs as sold for a few tens of dollars.
As the “Western World” continues to struggle with poor economies, the eastern Pacific Rim is doing quite well. Even though there are still good jobs in the countries with tough economies, for those of you trying to break into overseas work to gain experience and build your overseas resume, teaching English as a second language may be a good option. There are generally plenty of openings in the TESL
(Teaching English as a Second Language) field in East Asia.
Go to Google or any other search engine, enter TESL, and follow the links to resources for acquiring TESL skills (does not require a teaching degree and can be completed in months not years) and agencies that hire teachers.
How many times have we heard predictions that the dollar is going to collapse, the US economy will fail, and therefore we wonder if planning for our financial future might be futile, so why bother? I remember hearing the same sort of stories in the 90’s. In fact, remember the Y2K Bug? Our financial system was supposed to collapse and we were all going to be living in a barter system in which there would be no banks or currency at all? No government, no infrastructure, real back to the Stone Age sort of stuff.
Well, we partied like it was 1999 and made it through that disaster (as it was portrayed before it failed to occur), and we will make it through the next, so maybe we had better consider that there just might be a future after all.
Wealth generation and financial planning are alive and well – they just may require a little more diligence and knowledge than at times in the past before the easy money dot coms became dot bombs, and then the real estate bubble burst and wiped away a boatload of wealth seemingly overnight.
Americans working overseas usually have more investible income than the folks back in the US so need to be watchful for places to put their money to grow it and protect it.
Ric Edelman’s No Nonsense System for Building Wealth is an easy to understand, easy to use program that has helped this Diplocon Consultant implement automatic investment and retirement funding, and protect his financial future.
As in any area of life, you need to have goals and targets for your finances. You need to be able to monitor results and know if and when to make a move with your money (actually, a lot less often than many so-called financial experts would lead you to believe).
Edelman will help you understand mutual funds, index funds, insurance, retirement planning and even such unthinkable – but absolutely necessary – things as long term care and estate planning. He may even help you get enthused about it all so you will do it for your own good and that of your family.
Click on the link below and look through the available programs and you’ll find Ric Edelman and plenty of other authors/presenters to get you on your way to financial security or progress in most any area of your life.
I challenge you to make the effort to live your life to the fullest while working in the wider world OCONUS.
Please note that we receive a small commission if you buy Nightingale-Conant products via our website, but that in no way diminishes the value, or adds to the cost of these excellent programs. We have used these products for years and recommended them because they have helped us deliver results in our lives.
Ten tips for seeking overseas jobs.
1. Keep your nose clean – and don’t put any controlled substances in it!
Some of the best jobs require security clearance. A police record can cause delays in your clearance being approved. Delinquent taxes and child support payments can cause delays and must be resolved before a clearance will be approved.
2. Major in one trade, skill, or profession, and minor in another.
Having a second set of skills may mean the difference between you and the other candidates. This may contradict convention for domestic work where specialization is the current buzzword, but companies operating overseas are more likely to need you to wear more than one hat.
3. Don’t pay a lot up for any job search services.
Some years ago, when trying to break into the overseas job market, Diplocon consultant Greg paid a resume “blasting” service $750 to send his resume to what they claimed were hundreds of overseas employers. All he received in response was other job seekers replying. Somehow the blasting service just spammed hundreds of job seekers emails. A total waste (except the lesson learned).
4. Be willing to start at the bottom.
Get your foot in the door then make yourself indispensible – the big money will follow.
5. Know your target.
Know the company you send your resume to. View their website. Know their corporate culture. Mention a key aspect in your cover letter.
6. Update your skills.
Keep up with developments in your field and be ready to respond intelligently to questions about it.
7. Remember that your resume is a sales letter – not an autobiography.
The hiring manager is not looking for nice people or those with interesting hobbies. They are looking to add the company’s profit. If the job is in a less than desirable area, it may be good to mention that you can entertain yourself by reading or some other activity to indicate that you are capable of maintaining your own morale. Don’t go overboard telling them you love to travel – they will be sending you to work, not to be a tourist.
8. Find forums to watch for activity in many areas both geographic and industry.
Do a web search for groups and forums related to your work, and the parts of the world you would like to work in. You are encouraged to go to http://diplocon.com and begin a forum of your own, and tell your friends and colleagues about it so they will participate. Networking can be a big part of finding the good jobs out there.
9. If no marketable skill now, think again.
There are overseas jobs available in many skill areas and professions. If you are competent with the English language, you can find jobs teaching. Some training is required but can be done while you are working your full time job. Perform a web search for “teaching English as a second language”, or TESL.
10. Don’t give up.
You may have to work at finding an overseas job, but it will be worth it. You may double or triple your income very quickly.
Those of us working in the wider world, even though we are not rich by our own standards, may be by the standards of the culture in which we currently live. The Stratfor article below provides some good info about kidnapper’s motives and methods.
By Scott Stewart
On April 24, officers from the anti-kidnapping unit of Moscow’s Criminal Investigation Department and the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) rescued 20-year-old Ivan Kaspersky from a dacha in Sergiev Posad, a small town about 40 miles northeast of Moscow. Kaspersky, the son of Russian computer software services billionaire Eugene Kaspersky (founder of Kaspersky Lab), was kidnapped on April 19 as he was walking to work from his Moscow apartment. A fourth-year computer student at Moscow State University, Kaspersky was working as an intern at a software company located near Moscow’s Strogino metro station.
Following the abduction, Kaspersky was reportedly forced to call his father and relay his captors’ demands for a ransom of 3 million euros ($4.4 million). After receiving the ransom call, the elder Kaspersky turned to Russian law enforcement for assistance. On April 21, news of the abduction hit the Russian and international press, placing pressure on the kidnappers and potentially placing Kaspersky’s life in jeopardy. In order to defuse the situation, disinformation was leaked to the press that a ransom had been paid, that Kaspersky had been released unharmed and that the family did not want the authorities involved. Kaspersky’s father also contacted the kidnappers and agreed to pay the ransom. Responding to the ruse, four of the five members of the kidnapping gang left the dacha where Kaspersky was being held to retrieve the ransom and were intercepted by Russian authorities as they left. The authorities then stormed the dacha, arrested the remaining captor and released Kaspersky. The five kidnappers remain in custody and are awaiting trial.
According to Russia’s RT television network, Russian officials indicated that the kidnapping was orchestrated by an older couple who were in debt and sought to use the ransom to get out of their financial difficulties. The couple reportedly enlisted their 30-year-old son and two of his friends to act as muscle for the plot. Fortunately for Kaspersky, the group that abducted him was quite unprofessional and the place where he was being held was identified by the cell phone used to contact Kaspersky’s father. Reports conflict as to whether the cell phone’s location was tracked by the FSB, the police anti-kidnapping unit or someone else working for Kaspersky’s father, but in any case, in the end the group’s inexperience and naivete allowed for Kaspersky’s story to have a happy ending.
However, the story also demonstrates that even amateurs can successfully locate and abduct the son of a billionaire, and some very important lessons can be drawn from this case.
According to the Russian news service RIA Novosti, Kaspersky’s abductors had been stalking him and his girlfriend for several months prior to the kidnapping. This pre-operational surveillance permitted the kidnappers to determine Kaspersky’s behavioral patterns and learn that he did not have any sort of security detail protecting him. Media reports also indicate that the kidnappers were apparently able to obtain all the information they required to begin their physical surveillance of the victim from information Kaspersky himself had posted on Vkontakte.ru, a Russian social networking site. According to RT, Kaspersky’s Vkontakte profile contained information such as his true name, his photo, where he was attending school, what he was studying, who he was dating, where we was working for his internship and even the addresses of the last two apartments where he lived.
Armed with this cornucopia of information, it would be very easy for the criminals to establish physical surveillance of Kaspersky in order to gather the additional behavioral information they needed to complete their plan for the abduction. Kaspersky also appears to have not been practicing the level of situational awareness required to detect the surveillance being conducted against him — even though it was being conducted by amateurish criminals who were undoubtedly clumsy in their surveillance tradecraft. This lack of awareness allowed the kidnappers to freely follow him and plot his abduction without fear of detection. Kaspersky made himself an easy target in a dangerous place for high net worth individuals and their families. While kidnapping for ransom is fairly rare in the United States, Russian law enforcement sources report that some 300 people are kidnapped for ransom every year in Russia.
In terms of being an easy target, Kaspersky was not alone. It is not uncommon for the children of high net worth families to want to break free of their family’s protective cocoon and “live like a regular person.” This means going to school, working, dating and living without being insulated from the world by the security measures in place around their parents and their childhood homes. This tendency was exemplified by the well-publicized example of George W. Bush’s twin daughters “ditching” their Secret Service security details so they could go out and party with their friends when they were in college.
Having personally worked as a member of an executive protection detail responsible for the security of a high net worth family, I have seen firsthand how cumbersome and limiting an executive protection detail can be — especially a traditional, overt-security detail. A low-key, “bubble-type” detail, which focuses on surveillance detection and protective intelligence, provides some space and freedom, but it, too, can be quite limiting and intrusive — especially for a young person who wants some freedom to live spontaneously. Because of the very nature of protective security, there will inevitably be a degree of tension between personal security and personal freedom.
However, when reacting to this tension, those protected must remember that there are very real dangers in the world — dangers that must be guarded against. Unfortunately, many people who reject security measures tend to live in a state of denial regarding the potential threats facing them, and that denial can land them in trouble. We have seen this mindset most strongly displayed in high net worth individuals who have recently acquired their wealth and have not yet been victimized by criminals. A prime example of this was U.S billionaire Eddie Lampert, who at the time of his abduction in 2003 did not believe there was any threat to his personal security. His first encounter with criminals was a traumatic kidnapping at gunpoint. But this mindset can also appear in younger members of well-established families of means who have not personally been victimized by criminals.
It is important to realize, however, that the choice between security and freedom does not have to be an either/or equation. There are measures that can be taken to protect high net worth individuals and children without employing a full protective security detail. These same measures can also be applied by people of more modest means living in places such as Mexico or Venezuela, where the kidnapping threat is pervasive and extends to almost every strata of society, from middle-class professionals and business owners to farmers.
In this type of environment, the threat also applies to mid-level corporate employees who serve tours as expatriate executives in foreign cities. Some of the cities they are posted in are among the most crime-ridden in the world, including such places as Mexico City, Caracas, Sao Paulo and Moscow. When placed in the middle of an impoverished society, even a mid-level executive or diplomat is, by comparison, incredibly rich. As a result, employees who would spend their lives under the radar of professional criminals back home in the United States, Canada or Europe can become prime targets for kidnapping, home invasion, burglary and carjacking in their overseas posts.
Before anything else can be done to address the criminal threat, like any other issue, the fact that there is indeed a threat must first be recognized and acknowledged. As long as a potential target is in a state of denial, very little can be done to protect him or her.
Once the threat is recognized, the next step in devising a personal protection system is creating a realistic baseline assessment of the threat — and exposure to that threat. This assessment should start with some general research on crime and statistics for the area where the person lives, works or goes to school, and the travel corridors between these places. The potential for natural disasters, civil unrest — and in some cases the possibility of terrorism or even war — should also be considered. Based on this general crime-environment assessment, it might be determined that the kidnapping risk in a city such as Mexico City or Moscow will dictate that a child who has a desire to attend university without a protective security detail might be better off doing so in a safer environment abroad.
Building on these generalities, then, the next step should be to determine the specific threats and vulnerabilities by performing some basic analyses and diagnostics. In some cases, these will have to be performed by professionals, but they can also be undertaken by the individuals themselves if they lack the means to hire professional help. These analyses should include:
- In-depth cyberstalking report. Most of the people for whom we have conducted such reports have been shocked to see how much private information analysts are able to dig up on the Internet. This information is available for free (or for a few dollars) to anyone, including criminals, who might be targeting people for kidnapping, extortion or other crimes. The problem of personal information being available on the Internet is magnified when potential targets gratuitously post personal information online, as in the Kaspersky case. Even in cases where personal information is available only to online “friends,” it is quite easy for savvy Internet users to use a false social networking account with an attractive photo to social engineer their way into a circle of friends using common pretexting tactics. Therefore, potential targets need to be extremely careful what they post online, and they also must be aware of what information about them is publicly available on the Internet and how that information may make them vulnerable to being targeted. If it is determined that the information available makes them too vulnerable, changes may have to be made.
- Baseline surveillance diagnostics. Surveillance diagnostics is a blend of surveillance-detection techniques that are designed to determine if an individual is under systematic criminal surveillance. This can be conducted by the potential targets themselves, if they receive the necessary training, or by a specialized professional surveillance-detection team. As the name suggests, this diagnostic level helps establish a baseline from which to plan future security and surveillance-detection operations.
- Route analysis. This type of analysis examines the regular travel routes of a potential target in order to identify locations such as choke points that can be used by criminals for surveillance or to conduct an attack. Route analysis can be performed by the same team that conducts surveillance diagnostics, or even by a potential target if the person will thoughtfully examine his or her daily travel routes. Such an analysis allows the potential target to be cognizant of such locations and of the need to increase situational awareness for signs of surveillance or a potential attack as he or she passes through them — especially during a highly predictable move like the morning home-to-work commute.
- Physical security surveys. Such surveys are performed for the home, workplace or school of the potential target. While individuals can effectively conduct such surveys using common sense, a professional assessment can be useful and will often be performed for free by alarm companies. Obviously, any security upgrades required at a workplace or school will require coordination with the security managers for these locations.
- Response capability assessment. This is a realistic assessment of the capabilities and responsiveness of the local police and security forces as well as fire and medical first-responders. In some places, security personnel themselves may be involved in criminal activity, or prove to be generally unresponsive or incompetent. Knowing their true capabilities is necessary to create a realistic security plan.
There are some very good private training facilities that can provide individuals with training in things like attack recognition/avoidance, surveillance detection and route analysis as well hands-on skills like tactical driving.
Guns Alone Are Not the Answer
Even if a potential target is being afforded a protection detail, it must be remembered that guards with guns are not in and of themselves a guarantee of security. If a group is brazen enough to undertake a kidnapping, they will in many cases and many places not hesitate to use deadly force in the commission of their crime. If they are given free rein to conduct pre-operational surveillance, they will be able to make plans to overcome any security measures in place, including the neutralizing of armed security personnel.
After recognizing that a threat indeed exists, the next key concept that potential targets need to internalize is that criminals are vulnerable to detection as they plan their crimes, and that ordinary people can develop the skills required to detect criminal activity and take measures to avoid being victimized. The fact is, most criminals practice terrible surveillance tradecraft. They are permitted to succeed in spite of their lack of skill because, for the most part, people simply do not practice good situational awareness.
The good news for potential targets is that being aware of one’s surroundings and identifying potential threats and dangerous situations is more a mindset or attitude than a hard skill. Because of this, situational awareness is not something that can be practiced only by highly trained government agents or specialized surveillance detection teams — it is something that can be practiced by anyone with the will and the discipline to do so. In the Kaspersky case, it is very likely that had the young man been practicing good situational awareness, he would have been able to note the criminals conducting surveillance on him and to take appropriate action to avoid being kidnapped.
Armed guards, armored vehicles and other forms of physical security are all valuable protective tools, but they can all be defeated by kidnappers who are allowed to form a plan and execute it at the time and place of their choosing. Clearly, a way is needed to deny kidnappers the advantage of striking when and where they choose or, even better, to stop a kidnapping before it can be launched. This is where the intelligence tools outlined above come into play. They permit the potential target, and any security officers working to protect them, to play on the action side of the action/reaction equation rather than passively waiting for something to happen.
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