Outwitting the Outlaws by John Barham Research Proposal

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¶ … Outwitting the outlaws by John Barham, appearing in the December 2008 edition of the journal Security Management. The article discusses the phenomenon of kidnapping in Mexico, and how private security is used to combat the problem.

The Story

The article introduces Jose Sanchez (a pseudonym) a prosperous Mexican businessman who was abducted by kidnappers and held prisoner for months until his family paid not one, but two ransoms. Sanchez had a successful business in Mexico City, so much so that he attracted the attention of a local television station who did a story on him and his new logistics warehouse he financed himself (to the amount of $10 million). This was the first of many mistakes Sanchez made, including not hiring a private security firm to protect him, since kidnappings are so prevalent in Mexico. The author notes, "Anecdotal evidence suggests that kidnapping in Mexico is booming; fueled by impunity, police inefficiency and corruption, and a drug war raging between rival gangs and law enforcement."

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Sanchez was kidnapped by a group and transported to a home where they kept him in isolation, used torture tactics such as sleep deprivation, loud music, and other devices to get him to sign a "confession" that he was a drug dealer. They contacted the family for a ransom, threatening them with the confession, and the family agreed to pay $1 million in return for Sanchez' return. However, after they paid the ransom, Sanchez was not released, it seems they had paid another group of "kidnappers" who read about the kidnapping, and called the family claiming to be the kidnappers. The family had to re-negotiate a ransom with the real kidnappers, which after several months, was paid and Sanchez was released. After paying the first ransom, the family hired a private security firm to help them negotiate with the kidnappers, and the firm helped them negotiate a ransom that was lower than the kidnappers initially requested. It is clear there were several problems in the kidnapping, security, and negotiating process, which will be addressed.

Research Proposal on Outwitting the Outlaws by John Barham, Appearing Assignment

The Problems

Sanchez' kidnapping points out several problems or mistakes that people make in regard to their own safety and well being - mistakes that a private security firm would have addressed and resolved. Sanchez' first mistake was not protecting himself and his family by using private security. His second mistake was appearing on television and broadcasting his wealth, because he was not well-known in the country until his television appearance. This gave the kidnappers the information they used to eventually kidnap him, and it could have been avoided. He also kept a very strict routine, which the kidnappers discovered very easily. Every morning after leaving his house, he would meet his father at his father's house for coffee, and then go straight to his office. The kidnappers got to know his routine, and kidnapped him when he left his father's house one morning.

Finally, the wife and brother-in-law who were the family members negotiating the ransom with the kidnappers, did not call in any help from private security to aid in the negotiations, which resulted in them paying two ransoms to two different groups of kidnappers. In addition, they paid the $1 million without any "concrete evidence" that Sanchez was even still alive, a mistake that could have been deadly.

The family had called the police, but they were ineffectual, and in fact, the private security person the family finally called in, believed the police had tapped the family phone, and that is how the second group of "kidnappers" got the relevant information they needed to negotiate with the family. The consultant believed the second group of kidnappers were actually "rogue" police officers, something else that is very common in the country.

Many of Sanchez' actions actually led to his kidnapping, and they were all actions that could have been altered if he had only used common sense, or hired a private security firm with experience to guide him and protect him.

Kidnapping in Mexico

Clearly, kidnapping is a serious problem in Mexico, and Americans are targets, as well, so they should take care when they travel to the country, and using private security firms to help protect them would be a good idea. The author notes that the wealthiest Mexicans have beefed up their security measures by using private security firms, varying their schedules, and other tactics, so kidnappers are now turning to other sources of revenue. He notes, "Wealthy people are no longer easy targets. They surround themselves with guards, ride in armored vehicles, vary their routines, and use sophisticated security systems. Kidnappers have reacted by moving down market to target Mexico's emerging middle classes."

In fact, kidnapping is on the increase in Mexico, up significantly from even five years ago, so travelers to the country should be wary, although, as will be discussed, foreigners are not as likely to become victims of kidnapping for a number of reasons.

The Kidnapping Process

Kidnappers know they have little risk of being caught, one reason why the practice is so prevalent, and the people who practice it like a business, a very popular business. The article discusses several different types of kidnapping practiced throughout Latin America, so people can be aware of the many ruses used by kidnappers to control and blackmail their victims.

Express Kidnappings. These fast-turn-around kidnappings are becoming incredibly popular in Mexico. They hold the victim for only a few hours, while the family or the victim themselves withdraw the ransom from an ATM machine, and as soon as they have the money, they release the victim.

Virtual Kidnappings. These were extremely popular, but most Mexicans have become wise to them, and so they usually do not fall for them anymore. They were often perpetrated by inmates in jail, who called random phone numbers claiming they were holding a relative hostage. Someone on the outside would pick up the money, before the family realized their loved ones were never in danger.

Foreign Kidnappings

Of course, some foreigners doing business in Mexico are sometimes targets of kidnapping, but for the most part, kidnappers tend to avoid them for some specific reasons. First, they have learned that many foreign companies will not negotiate with kidnappers, and so they avoid them. There are also language barriers to the negotiation process, which can hamper the outcome of the kidnapping, and often, foreign embassies get involved, which in turn steps up police activity in attempting to solve the case. The author notes, "Multinationals have learned to take care of their executives by giving them training or providing them with guards and armored cars. Most multinationals carry kidnap and ransom insurance policies for their senior executives, which cover the fees paid to professional kidnap negotiators."

Thus, foreign kidnappings are on the downswing, and continue be unpopular with most kidnappers. That does not mean they should let down their guard, however, and private security firms should continue to be used to monitor and protect foreigners doing business in the country.

There are also some precautions people can take to avoid kidnapping in a foreign country, as Batista notes. The author states, "To avoid becoming a victim, whether in Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America, individuals should follow a few basic rules. First is to keep a low profile. Second is not to wear expensive jewelry. Third is to avoid dangerous neighborhoods and random cabs. Travelers should use only hotel cars or taxis from trusted taxi stands."

In addition, a victim should cooperate, and so should the family. An attempt to escape could result in injury or death.

The Solutions

The family finally called in "Felix Batista, a consultant for ASI Global, a Houston-based risk management company."

He stopped them from using the suspect phone, and helped them use heavily encrypted email, and a public phone, instead. He also brought in Sanchez' sister, Maria, as the negotiator, and provided emotional support during the many months of negotiations until Sanchez was released. As for the kidnappers, they were never caught, another common occurrence in Mexico. Batista had theories about them, though. The author continues, "Batista suspected that the kidnappers had political as well as financial motivations. They claimed to belong to a previously unknown group called Mexico Barbaro. Their intermediary was a Catholic priest. Batista thinks they were linked to a left-wing Mexican political party."

The article notes that most Mexican presidents enter office vowing to cut back crime, but their efforts are ineffectual at best, largely because crime is such a large part of society in the country. They seem to expect it, and it is difficult to control when it is so widespread, and so many police and other officials are corrupt, or working with drug cartels.

This is an excellent article that illustrates the dangers of kidnapping in Latin America, something many Americans might not have been aware of. In addition, it gives concrete solutions for a private security professional to use who might be in a kidnapping negotiation or protection… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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