The Mission of Protection: Part 4

Prevention of Abduction

When we are hired by or assigned to a Protectee, it is often as a result of a direct or implied threat to the Protectee themselves, or the fear of harm to a family member.  We understand that violence occurs for many reasons including revenge, financial, ideological and political motivators.

We also know that if we strengthen security for our Principal, an adversary might, through a process of “transference”, abandon his or her plans and attack a secondary target that is perceived to be softer, but still yield the same headlines or outcome. Thus, we include as another critical element of protective operations, the prevention of abduction.

When we think about abduction in this country, one of the most famous kidnap incidents we remember occurred March 1, 1932 in East Amwell, New Jersey, when Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., the twenty month old son of the famed aviator, was taken from his crib around 9:30PM.

The Lindbergh’s and their son’s nurse (Betty Gow) were all at home on the 700 acre, 23 room estate in the Sourlands. Mrs. Gow had checked on the toddler at 9:00PM, but when she returned at 9:50, she found the crib to be empty.  A quick search of the residence yielded a white envelope that had been left on a radiator near the window. The message, presented in under-educated writing style brought a chill to a man who had previously survived a mid-air collision and the first solo air-crossing of the Atlantic:
“Dear Sir!
Have 50000$ redy 25000$ in
20$ bills 15000$ in 10$ bills and
10000$ in 5$ bills After 2-4 days
we will inform you were to deliver
the Mony.

We warn you for making
anyding public or for notify the Police
The child is in gut care.
Indication for all letters are
and three holes.”

Over the next several weeks, a total of thirteen ransom notes were delivered to the Lindbergh’s or intermediaries, the last of which being given to retired school principal John F. Condon in exchange for $50,000, by a suspect calling himself “John”.  The last note contained instructions that the child could be found on a boat named “Nellie” near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Tragically, this was not to be the case.

One of our primary lessons-learned in this case was the importance of protecting crime scenes. Law enforcement, media and other visitors rushed to the Lindbergh home and contaminated what evidence had not already been damaged by the weather.

Over 400 fingerprints were found on the ladder that had been used to gain access to the second floor, but surprisingly, none were found in the baby’s room (including any prints of Lindbergh, his wife or their nurse).  The baby’s body was recovered a short distance from their home, on May 12, with a massive skull fracture. Medical examination indicated Charles Jr., had been dead for about two months.

Called “the crime of the century”, it prompted Congress to pass the Federal Anti-Kidnapping Act (aka The Lindbergh Law), making it a federal crime to transport a kidnap victim across state lines. Occurring in the midst of the “great depression”, the incident also served to illustrate that persons of affluence were now targets.

Many of us in a certain protected age group might have first-hand recollections of the Patty Hearst incident on the other coast. On February 4, 1974, the 19-year-old Hearst was kidnapped from her Berkley apartment by a guerilla group calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army.

She was held captive until September 1975 when she was eventually arrested along with other SLA members in a San Francisco apartment. As a form of ransom, Hearst’s family had arranged the donation of $6 million dollars worth of food to the bay area’s poor through an entity called People in Need (PIN). However, the SLA refused to live up to its end of the bargain and kept her, citing that the food hadn’t measured up to their quality standards. Ironically, one of the bookkeepers for PIN was a woman named Sara Jane Moore who would take a shot at POTUS Ford in September 1975.

The Hearst incident taught us that extended family members can be placed at risk simply because of the perception of affluence.  It also brought attention to a then-recent concept known as the “Stockholm Syndrome”; a term coined by criminologist Nils Bejerot following a Stockholm bank robbery in August 1973.

This effect is usually defined as a psychological response sometimes seen in abducted hostages, in which the hostage shows signs of loyalty to the hostage-taker, regardless of the danger or risk in which they have been placed. At her trial, Hearst’s attorney, F. Lee Bailey argued that she participated in criminal activity with the SLA out of fear, “…it was the only thing that stopped them from killing her”.

This taken into account, after serving twenty one months in prison, Ms. Hearst’s sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter in January 1979.  She was eventually pardoned by POTUS William Clinton prior to his leaving office.

One of the most dramatic and publicized abductions in recent history occurred on March 16, 1978 as Italian Minister of the Interior (and twice former Prime Minister) Aldo Moro and his five bodyguards were en route to a session of the House of Representatives.  Witnesses said that a white Fiat cut in front of Moro’s limousine and slammed on its brakes, causing a rear-end collision.

Other Red Brigade operatives who had been standing nearby including a team who rode up on a motorbike, opened fire on the entourage, killing his five security agents. After fifty four days of captivity, Moro was ordered into the trunk of a car, told to cover himself with a blanket and then he was shot eleven times.  On May 9, his body was found in the abandoned car, which had been left mid-way between the headquarters of the Christian Democratic Party (DC) and the Italian Communist Party (PCI) on Via Caetani.

Our take-aways from the Moro abduction are 1) we cannot over-state the importance of route advances and protective intelligence, and 2) having heavy fire-power with you isn’t always the answer. If we allow an adversary to pick the time and place for an attack, we will almost always lose. Moro had five agents, the Red Brigades brought twelve.

Corporate America began to recognize the risks present in an executive’s life in 1976, after six men entered the Caracas home of William F. Niehaus, Owens-Illinois Inc.’s top Venezuelan executive, pretending to be investigating an auto accident. They bound and gagged his wife Donna and their maid and locked them in the sewing room.

Mrs. Niehaus escaped after half an hour with the help of a pair of scissors. The kidnappers injected Mr. Niehaus with a sedative, and took him off to the jungle . The kidnapping was designed to gain international attention for the group’s goals of overthrowing the government. Niehaus spent much of the next  three and a half years chained to a tree, and lost sixty pounds. He was freed in 1979 after a brief shootout between police and guerillas, after they stumbled onto the hut where he was being held (police were actually searching for cattle rustlers).

As a result of this incident, many international corporations began to build formal executive protection programs and boost their Kidnap and Ransom (K&R) insurance coverage.

Today, we face a more common threat as security professionals, coming in the form of flash and virtual kidnappings. So-called “flash” kidnaps occur quite quickly as the kidnappers overtake the victim’s vehicle and then force them into the back and drive away.

The victim is driven to an ATM machine where they are forced to withdraw cash until their account is temporarily suspended. Usually, the victim is then released unharmed. Surveillance video shows that these take-downs often happen in under ten seconds, usually near an intersection where they know the victim will have to stop.

“Virtual” kidnaps are operated almost like a tele-marketing scheme where the “kidnappers” dial a list of phone numbers until they find a suitable victim who believes that their loved one has been abducted. The victim is ordered to remain on the phone (not to call the police), proceed to the bank and withdraw a specified ransom. Instructions are then given for the drop. The vast majority of the time, no kidnapping has occurred, but the caller will make you think that it has.

While these incidents seem to be more comon in Latin Amerca and South America, there is no reason to believe that they cannot be perpetrated anywhere the world. They necessitate that we include awareness training in our security package, because anyone in the Protectee’s family or business organization can be victimized by these attacks. In short, they just increased your workload.

Rick Colliver has served as the global security director for two multi-national corporations with operations in 24 time zones, and has managed protection details in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. He is the course developer and lead instructor in the Principal Protection program at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy and is an adjunct instructor in protective operations through several police, military and academic organizations. His book, “Principal Protection; Lessons Learned” is due out in summer 2010.