Expert Outlines Executive Measures For Safety Abroad

May 28, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Doing business overseas opens up new worlds of opportunity for American companies, but it also exposes corporate executives and staff to potential safety risks.

Between 1993 and 1997, 340 anti-American incidents took place abroad. During that period, 1,268 Americans traveling or working abroad were wounded in terrorism incidents directly targeting Americans, and 39 Americans were killed, 12 of them in Middle Eastern countries.

It used to be that American military personnel stationed abroad were the targets of terrorist attacks. But when the military’s presence overseas was downsized after the end of the Cold War, American businessmen became the formal target, explained Capt. David Hart, an anti-terrorist officer with the Marine Corps 6th Engineer Support Battalion.

An understanding and awareness of the security risks abroad is the first step toward minimizing them, Hart told more than 25 participants at a corporate security workshop presented by the Van Andel Global Trade Center at Grand Valley State University’s DeVos Center last Thursday.

Perpetuators of terrorist attacks use violence to inculcate fear. Their goal is to promote their political, religious or ideological beliefs by coercing or intimidating governments or societies.

Why are Americans targeted? Because they’re the largest representation of society right now, Hart said.

“American business has had 10 years of unprecedented growth. Your companies are out there. You’re all over the place,” Hart said. “People see the money. They see the capitalism and the profiteering that occurs.

“They think this is what represents America as ‘evil at its core.’ Why do you think the World Trade Center was targeted in New York? American money. Americans love money and they think that’s what they need to attack.”

Because American businessmen are “symbols of the United States,” they’re often targets for terrorists with anti-American sentiments.

The most common terrorist incidents — 49 percent — involve bombs. The terrorist’s arsenal also includes assassination attempts, armed raids, hostage taking, kidnapping, hijacking and cyber attacks. Cyber attacks, in fact, are increasing at a rapid rate.

“I’m not trying to scare you, but I’d like to reduce the likelihood that you, your family and your business will become the target of a terrorist,” he added.

He urged executives to employ passive defensive measures while overseas and reduce their vulnerability by following some basic guidelines.

Before traveling to another country, read all about it in international newspapers and periodicals. Be aware of the political climate. Check with the State Department for consular information sheets on the country regarding travel and health warnings. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has a World Fact Book on its Web site that can be useful as well.

Upon arrival, find out the location of the American Embassy, the local hospital, police and fire departments and any other place that could serve as a safe haven.

Find out how to use the phone system and memorize the local emergency numbers. Hart recommended that visitors either learn some basic words and phrases in the language of the host country or carry “phrase cards” that can communicate for them.

Don’t be an “Ugly American,” i.e. obnoxious, insensitive and arrogant. Always show respect for the host country and its citizens. Americans can endear themselves to the locals by taking the time to learn some of the local language as well as learn about the country’s cultural habits and customs, Hart said.

A visiting executive who follows the same patterns every day is a soft target because his comings and goings are so predictable, Hart explained. The hard target is the executive who remains inaccessible, observant and aware.

Among his recommendations were the following:

  • Keep a low profile.
  • Behave and dress in a manner that blends in and is sensitive to local standards.
  • Accept customs and adapt to them to the extent that you can.
  • Be aware of what is going on around you — and who is around you.
  • Be observant and on the lookout for any unusual activity or behavior.
  • Avoid routine by varying routes to and from work as well as departure and arrival times.
  • Don’t travel alone.
  • Avoid “bad” areas.
  • Never divulge personal or family information on the phone or on the street, particularly in a public place.
  • Be alert to strangers seeking information about you.
  • Never admit strangers into your residence.
  • Don’t put your name on the mailbox or leave it on voice mail.
  • Avoid using luggage tags or labels that bear your home address or phone number.
  • Screen or shred your trash.

Hart has an 18-year history with the Marine Corps that includes a two-year tour of duty with the U.S. Army Special Forces. He has provided security for former President Bush as well as Pope John Paul. His areas of expertise include explosive security, post blast investigation, hostage rescue and terrorism awareness.

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