Met with a very unusual gentleman recently, smartly dressed who turns out to be a real life kidnap negotiator. You would, of course never know it by looking at him that he did this kind of work.
The man, in his late 50’s had read some of my articles online and expressed an interest in my doing an article on hostage negotiation. Why he chose me I’m not exactly sure. He could have been interviewed by any news organization I’m sure.
After some reservations, a preliminary background check and about a dozen phone calls and email exchanges, I reluctantly agreed to meet this man at a public restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona.
For security reasons I am unable to identify this man by name. This was part of our ground rules for the interview.
What follows is part of our almost hour long interview:
Q: Sir, what is the most important job of any hostage or kidnap negotiator? If you would be so kind.
A: The primary goal of a negotiator is to secure the safe release of the hostage.
Q: OK so to be clear your not law enforcement or the military, you actually work for K & R (Kidnap and Ransom) insurance . Do I understand you correctly?
Q: Correct. I work in a place called the “Box” – the Box is a small walled area that each insurer occupies in the underwriting room on the Lloyds trading floor. I work closely with K & R underwriters. As a negotiator with K&R insurance I play by certain unwritten rules. First and foremost the “Box” never wants to pay. They actually call me a “consultant.” The consultant is contracted to get the hostage out safely, meaning the policy beneficiary – mostly executive types of Fortune 500 companies and/or their family members. Practically all our business takes place in Latin America. The most difficult thing for negotiators or consultants like me is “the wait” – its one of the kidnappers most effective tactics and creates a lot of stress for everyone involved, as you can probably imagine. I must remain calm through the entire process, because someone’s life literally hangs in the balance. The most delicate part of the job is the “negotiation”. Before I negotiate I seek “proof of life” – which is a subtle art. I mostly treat such transactions as a business arrangement. It’s my job basically to try and get the hostage or kidnap victim out alive, by not paying any ransom or paying as little ransom as possible under the circumstances.
Q: Fascinating, so getting that person out alive is important to you and your employer?
A: Yes indeed, its called “the release.” But the fallout from the hostage or kidnapping doesn’t end with the payment of ransom. There are certain psychological components of the policy that have to kick in, called the “treatment.” In some cases the kidnappers beat the hell out of the person, or deny food and water and don’t allow victims to go to the bathroom. This could lead to a psychological break down and in some cases a lifetime of stress if not handled properly. So trying to get that person into treatment right away is very important as well as expensive for the insurance company.
Q: How exactly do you do that?
A: Many techniques are useful but one of the more effective is called “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing” or EMDR – it looks a lot like hypnosis and the doctor, usually a trained psychologist asks the person to remember part of the trauma . As they recall events the doctor moves a finger from left to right in front of the persons eyes and asks them to follow it with their eyes without moving the head. I’m no expert on this but the trauma is stuck in the persons mind on a feedback cycle or loop. In some cases its not uncommon to struggle many months but the person can recover to the point where they shouldn’t still be struggling to sleep or jumping with every time they hear a loud noises. Persons with PTSD, for example get trapped as it were in the feedback loop as I call it, in a vicious cycle where the fear doesn’t dissipate as it normally would. But, for some reason the EMDR breaks the cycle in the person’s head. So you can get rather dramatic results with EMDR in literally a few sessions under the right doctor supervision – its amazing actually. The other aspect necessary for EMDR to work is for the victim to visualize a safe place to go to inside their head. Its called the “happy place.” Remember that it has to be some place safe and total disconnected from the kidnapping ordeal like Grandma’s house for example.
Q: Christ! So let me get this straight – insurance pays for all that?
A: Oh ya, and the premiums involved are also quit high. But the policy will cover stuff like a vacation afterwards, spiritual retreat, even replace your vehicle or sports car if it was blown up during the kidnapping and replace your silk suit and tie, as well reimburse the costs associated with your missing or stolen jewelry like your Rolex watch and wedding band for example. Even provide dentistry in the case they knock your teeth out. Accidental Death or Dismemberment is also covered. What it doesn’t cover is the ransom itself – the client or his or her employer must pay that upfront. My fees and expenses are covered by the policy.
Q: Incredible. OK, so what else can you tell our readers about kidnapping in general?
A: Well over 50 percent of all kidnappings take place in Latin America.
Q: Wow, I thought it might be more in the Middle East?
A: So does everyone else actually, but they would be wrong. Mexico, for example experiences 7000 plus reported kidnappings each year. The real number is much higher. Only 1 in 10 of these are even reported to the authorities. So putting an accurate number of total kidnappings per year around the world is impossible. These stats are based on Interpol figures.
Q: So more like 60 or 70,000 per year in Mexico? That seems like a lot?
A: Well yes, indeed.
Q: Sorry for the interrupt please continue.
A: Well, interestingly enough 70 percent of all kidnappings result in the payment of ransom, and most kidnappings happen on weekday mornings – for some reason. Ransom demands can range wildly in some cases from $1000.00 to $100 million dollars depending on the person involved.
Q: OK, so what practical advice can you give readers if God forbid they become the victim of hostage takers or kidnappers?
A: Ideally the hostage victim should remain as calm as possible, under the circumstance and try as best as they can to establish a rapport with their captors. We had one female client who slept with her kidnappers and it kept her alive and relatively unharmed until the transfer or exchange of money took place and the release was accomplished.
Q: Excuse me sir, but so we are perfectly clear here, your not suggesting women do that are you?
A: No, of course not, but you do what you have to do to survive in that situation. Remember your life is at stake here. One male client for example ate cockroaches and bugs during his captivity to survive. Its also important to take care of yourself both mentally and physically during the ordeal. Exercise and mind games, like playing chess in your head, that sort of thing. More importantly never, under any circumstances attempt to negotiate for your own ransom with the kidnappers. Also no hostage should expect a “rescue attempt.” These are extremely rare in the industry.
See also article: On the subtleties of establishing “proof of life” during a hostage negotiation for ransom https://groundreport.com/on-the-subtleties-of-establishing-proof-of-life-during-a-hostage-negotiation-for-ransom/
See also article: How to negotiate with a kidnapper demanding ransom https://groundreport.com/how-to-negotiate-with-a-kidnapper-demanding-ransom/