By Richard Bingley, Director CSARN and Senior Lecturer at the Department of Security and Resilience, Buckinghamshire New University and licenced Close Protection Operative.
Among a raft of measures, the Counter-terrorism and Security Bill introduced to Parliament last week, one seeks to “ban insurance companies from covering ransoms.”
As somebody with a UK Security Industry Authority Close Protection Operative (CPO) licence, and who teaches dozens of adult students dotted around the world’s Emerging Markets (the very same trading places which the Foreign Office and CBI urge us to engage with), I urge the Government to please drop clauses related to this.
During the past three years, colleagues and I have accompanied high-profile and high-asset British and American business and non-governmental operations into high-growth locations such as Russia, Central Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. Much of this work is mundane and without exorbitant risk. But some is.
But the reality is, without divulging client detail, certain profile types of organisations businesses and people from the United Kingdom and USA will always attract a high degree of risk when they are in-country. People such as high-net-worth entrepreneurs, music and film stars, sports managers and players, and former politicians, et cetera.
These are the people - accompanied by friends, family, back-office teams, agency employees and security detail - that do not receive official Police or Military protection. (Only senior politicians, Royal Household members and Diplomats receive this.)
To provide context, if I am travelling on any Protection Operation, it is a notional legal duty of my employer to provide Kidnap for Ransom insurance. To not provide that would leave my family and I exposed, and also my employer legally vulnerable – because some 70% of Kidnap for Ransom (K&R) cases actually end up with the employer being sued, according to a Global Insurance House, at a CSARN City of London security briefing back in 2012.
Moreover, police forces actively tell business leaders to take out K&R insurance when travelling.
Even if this part of the Bill is passed, most business people (and certainly celebrities of any kind) who visit Emerging Markets, would still have to take out similar coverage, perhaps from a non-UK provider.
In fact, it would be gravely irresponsible to travel without this type of threat being covered by one’s insurance premium.
For example, if I was briefed that a major Rock Band or Formula One team was working in Latin America without Kidnap insurance, then my legal advice would be to their Board to get some insurance and pronto!
To be reasonable, Teresa May’s clause, has not emerged from nothing.
There is pressure coming from some elements of the UK Police and FBI to ban this insurance, as they believe that it is encouraging Kidnapping and driving up Ransom values. I’m not in any way criticising this logic.
But, equally, we in the security industry can argue that those who have not taken out insurance and are therefore ‘worth less money’, are gravely more vulnerable in comparison to those who can point to a numerical value for keeping them alive (take a photocopy of your travel insurance with you on overseas trips, advises the UK Foreign Office).
The problem is, that Kidnap for Ransom is a major phenomenon (more so than Terrorism) and always has been. Law enforcement agencies and military units often do not have the resources, jurisdictional authority, or, frankly, competence, to deal with each unique case of kidnapping.
The police and military are only responsible for less than fifty per cent of conclusions to K&R cases, according to experts’ Inkerman. (Indeed, many of these cases, in effect, still involve a ransom payment.)
Moreover, the diversity of Kidnapping scenarios is incredibly broad.
In fact, Mexico, not Iraq or Syria, is the kidnap capital of the world.
Thousands of civilians and business people are routinely kidnapped. Depending on the individual’s profile, ransom demands are usually in the low end of thousands of dollars, victims are usually ‘lightly tortured’ and often sexually abused.
If victims pay the ransom and tell the police, they, or family members will likely be decapitated. Although Mexican police authorities have performed wonders to stamp out internal infiltration by organised gangs, most victims never report their trauma to the police for fear of reprisal.
Why on earth shouldn’t they, or a Brit in a similar situation, in Mexico, or anywhere else, claim insurance on the loss of paying a ransom – or indeed medical and family support bills? (Your health insurance won’t cover this.)
In short, if I as a British citizen travel abroad, and happen to get kidnapped, why should my family or I also lose my home and business for the privilege of being a victim of serious and traumatic crime?
Insurance against such a risk is eminently sensible and advisable, especially for those working in Emerging Markets that will account for 60-70% of the world’s GDP growth in the next five years.
In Pakistan, a student of mine reminded me that 11 recorded kidnappings of NGO staff took place, and 28 hostage incidences occurred during 2006-11. (Other data may offer larger numbers.)
Many of these Pakistan-based workers were doctors or nurses, some European. Only one case ended with a fatality.
Successful conclusions were likely in many if not all cases due to ransoms being paid. Families are grief stricken and terrorised at this point of time; why should they pick up the tab and lose their homes and businesses to pay the tab of criminals and terrorists, or the counselling, therapy, medical and possible relocation expenses in the aftermath?
Moreover, the logistics of setting up ransom payments, and delivery, are also one of the few detection ‘hooks’ that investigators can later work through in order to bring perpetrators to justice.
This part of the Bill is therefore fundamentally an error by the Home Office. It is trying to address one very small current ‘kidnap market’ (Iraq/Syria and wider Levant), which is actually very, very momentarily disproportionate to a wider global issue for Kidnap for Ransom.
Expert UK organisations such as Control Risks, International SOS, Inkerman, CSARN, the European Interagency Security Forum, and SIA Close Protection Forum, urgently need to be engaged by the Home Secretary, before an error is made.
Banning Kidnap insurance will add huge extra stress to victim families. It will reduce the ‘risk appetite’ for much business travel, by high-net-worth investors and celebrities. It will do this, in part, because it removes the insurance coverage for several thousand poorer paid staff, such as PAs and security details, who accompany Kidnap targets around the world.
Many sensible, forward-looking, companies thus won’t want to face the reputational risk of sending uninsured executives and support staff around the world.
This clause is, therefore, potentially very damaging to UK business where our leading sectors – financial services, creative industries, support services – quite reasonably expect to be able to comprehensively insure staff who need to carry out international travel.
For context, the top 20 Kidnap countries in the world are: 1) Mexico 2) India 3) Nigeria 4) Pakistan 5)Venezuela 6)Lebanon 7)Philippines 8)Afghanistan 9) Colombia 10) Iraq 11) Syria 12)Guatemala 13)Yemen 14) Libya 15)Egypt 16)Brazil 16)Kenya (tied) 18) Nepal 19) Malaysia 19) South Africa (tied)
Some of the above are tough environments yet also some of the world’s most promising emerging markets for UK executives. It is contrary to individual health and safety, and fundamentally hostile to responsible business strategy to insure travelling employees, by banning K&R insurance to such locations.
Beyond the terrors of the Levant -- where sadly for British and American hostages, the likelihood of release depends more on Western political/military strategy as it does on a photocopy of an insurance certificate… the good news is that the overwhelming majority of Kidnap victims do actually survive in most countries
But I’m going to give you the cold, hard reason why.
It is money and the ability of ‘independent’ organisations to play their part behind the scenes to pay across cash without being prosecuted for handling criminal money or funding terrorism.
Yes, it is a murky and clandestine process at times, but the life of a human being is damn well worth it.
To be sure, some insurance premiums (after the recent debacle of Libya) and also ransoms (in some regions) have increased. But so also have mortgage, life, car and pet insurance premiums.
In closing, I would like to repeat the advice of a leading ex-London police officer, who sat among the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) for many years and was also a respected leader and government adviser. “Please check within your travel insurance that it covers Kidnap for Ransom.”
Indeed, I do, and I wouldn’t take on a security job abroad or a client without it.