April 19, 2024 • By Dennis Beaver

“I am the CEO of an international consulting firm located in the Pacific Northwest. We send our people to every corner of the globe. Recently, a team sent to Turkey failed to respond to our phone calls and texts. We feared that they were abducted, expected a ransom demand which never came, because it was a false alarm. They had been out of cell phone range. But that fear left us wondering how we should respond to a real kidnapping. I’ll bet this topic would be of interest to many of your readers. Thanks, ‘Cindy.’”

Advice from a Kidnap Negotiator

I discussed Cindy’s question with U.K.-based Scott Walker, considered one of the world’s most experienced kidnap-for-ransom negotiators, with over 16 years as a Scotland Yard detective in covert, counterterrorism and kidnap operations.

Walker distills the lessons learned from high-profile abductions and presents readers with a step-by-step approach to successful negotiations in daily life in his recently released book, Order Out of Chaos, which keeps you on the edge of your seat.

I asked, “To obtain the release of hostages — in a domestic situation, in the workplace, or as a cyberattack victim — what must you not do to avoid making the situation even more perilous?”

(1) Do not panic or allow yourself to be ruled by emotions.

First, do not allow emotions to get the better of you — panic makes it impossible to think straight, preventing you from making effective decisions, and you could wind up in a far worse situation.

By harnessing strong emotions, we are far better able to work with others in a cooperative effort to reach a positive outcome.

(2) Do not go into denial, bury your head in the sand or allow yourself to become frozen with fear. Do not catastrophize.

Any hostage situation can lead to catastrophizing – blowing things out of proportion, exaggerating or make it worse than it is. In an almost manic state of mind like that, we can’t be effective in dealing with the various parties. A successful outcome requires coming from a place of calmness and equanimity.

(3) Do not fail to develop a crisis management plan, involving key decision makers, well before an incident occurs.

Especially for organizations that send people around the world, a plan in place means that you will know who needs to be involved, who the decision makers are and the key steps required to manage the situation as effectively as possible.

Without a plan, there is chaos, with people all running their own agenda, and egos leading the charge. This allows the kidnappers to sow the seeds of distrust.

(4) Do not fail to realize that trust is the most critical element in any hostage negotiation.

“Establishing a mutual trusting relationship with the kidnappers is absolutely essential so that when the ransom money is handed over, they will release the hostages or, in a ransomware attack, release the decryption codes,” Walker says, adding, “Also, that trust lets them know you are not going to track or double-cross them.”

He underscores, “Creating this mutually trusting relationship begins by actively listening to their needs, showing empathy, helping them feel seen, heard and understood.” Offering your help results in cooperation and collaboration, a feeling that “we’re in this together, and we’re going to find a solution that both of us feels as if we’ve got a good deal.”

“Without that trust, you’re not going to get a deal,” Walker points out. “This is where control of your own ego is so important. Yes, you are furious, but do not see yourself as Rambo. Do not convey the idea that they are going to lose and that you will do your best to make it happen!”

(5) Do not fail to know when and if to involve law enforcement even if you’re told not to by the kidnappers.

“If a family member or colleague is kidnapped in the U.S. or in Western Europe,” Walker notes, “absolutely involve law enforcement. However, in other parts of the world, sometimes the police, law enforcement and military are involved, or they turn a blind eye to kidnapping and extortion.”

He notes: “Even if they aren’t with the bad guys, most countries do not have people skilled to handle these sensitive matters that can drag on for months, and therefore attempt a rescue that can lead to death of the hostage.”

Kidnapping is rarely random

Walker cautions, “Ninety-nine percent of kidnappings are not just random. Victims weren’t in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were targeted.

Significant planning has gone into it, or the kidnapping was a direct result of personal information posted online. We need to be more circumspect about what we post and realize that few people need to know the details of our lives. Some might even become jealous, or see you as an easy way to score thousands of dollars.”

Order Out of Chaos is practical, accessible and well-written. It is a great read and would make an excellent gift for university business majors.

Dennis Beaver Practices law in Bakersfield and welcomes comments and questions from readers,
which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993,
or e-mailed to Lagombeaver1 – at – Gmail.com.