Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Airline Passenger Injured During Turbulence: Individual Caution is Essential

Sylvia Tena, 47, who suffered a fractured neck in April, while was traveling on a short Continental Airlines flight from Houston to McAllen, TX, appeared on NBC's "Today" show on May 26, from her hospital bed, whereby she said that her flight from Houston was already delayed because of thunderstorms.

In the "Today" telecast, Tena said she got up to use the restoom while aboard the flight, when the airliner was hitting a particularly harsh patch of turbulence. While inside the restroom, Tena said she was suddenly plummeted upward against the ceiling and suffered serious injuries that left her paralyzed her from the chest down. Tena emphasized that there were passengers in the aisle when she went to the restroom.

Tena contends that there was no announcement aboard the flight urging passengers to return to their seats and to buckle up; however, an initial report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said that the captain made "four or five announcements" telling passengers to remain seated. The report also said that as the plane was descending at 20,000 feet, it encountered severe turbulence for about 15 seconds that included a roll of about 30 degrees.Two other people suffered minor injuries during the flight.

COMMENT: As someone who has flown on perhaps 500 flights over a 35-year period, I continue to be overwhelmed by the the large percentage of airline passengers who put themselves at risk by not keeping their seatbelts buckled at all times during flights and in getting up from their seats during obvious turbulence, regardless of whether air crews make an announcement to return to their seats and fasten their seatbelts.

Given the turbulence which the aircraft experienced, it is highly doubtful that that the air crew did not make several announcements for passengers to return to their seats as the NTSB has related. No doubt, the airline crew will be interviewed and data reviewed as to whether passengers were ordered back to their seats.

Airline passengers must realize that they are are not immune from responsibility while in flight. Keeping their seatbelts fastened at all times while in their seats and not getting up when they sense turbulence, and taking any seat nearby when turbulence occurs is felt is just common sense.

Considering that the flight from Houston to McAllen is so short, and assuming that Ms. Tena was not abnormally ill, she could have delayed using the restroom until the aircraft landed.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Thailand: Attacks On Foreign Tourists Continue to Be A Concern

Edith Jungen, a Swiss woman in her mid-30s was found dead on a beach in Krabi (Phuket) on May 7, reportedly after being robbed and strangled. 

Ms. Jungen's body was found in very shallow water on Noppharat Beach in Tambon Ao Nang in Krabi's Muang District. 

Jungen was found with the strap of her handbag tied around her neck, as if she had been strangled to death. 

Police said the victim checked in to the Andama Sunset Hotel on May 6, and checked out a day later. Her body was found in water not far from the hotel. According to the Thai National Police, Jungen was overheard by other guests as being concerned about her personal security.

COMMENT: As someone who spent several years as the U.S. Embassy's Regional Security Officer (RSO) in Bangkok, and later as a trainer at the US Justice Department's International Law Enforcement Academy in the Thai capital, violent crime against tourists and expatriates has been rising steadily in recent years.

Despite the fact that tourism is one of Thailand's top industries, the "Land of Smiles" has taken its toll as a series of widely publicized armed robberies and murders of tourists, particularly women, continue to rise. 

In March, a British tourist was murdered on his sailboat, and in January, police arrested a Thai man for the murder of a German woman who was killed during a party on a beach in southern Thailand. 

In 2007, two young Russian women were murdered on the beach in Pattaya. 

In January 2006, two Thai fisherman were convicted of raping and killing 21-year-old British tourist Katherine Horton on Koh Samui. The following day, a Swedish woman who was visiting Thailand with her husband and children, was also raped on Koh Samui. 

Unfortunately, in addition to the homicides described above, there have also been a large number of recent armed robberies and rapes of foreigners.

Although robbery and rape is understandably often a motivation in attacks on foreigners, what is puzzling is the large number of unprovoked attacks in which neither robbery or rape occurred, suggesting that some attacks could be attributable to a serial killer. 

In the case of Edith Jungen, robbery was the primary motive in her attack, but in the case of two young Russian women who were murdered as they relaxed in beach chairs in Pattaya in 2007, their assailants are still at large. They were neither robbed or raped.

One trend that is increasingly troubling is the rise in homicides stemming from robberies, suggesting that criminals are murdering their victims, so as to reduce the risk of being apprehended and convicted.

Almost invariably, foreign crime victims have been attacked when they are alone or in areas where there have been few people (i.e., beach areas, hiking trails, etc.). It is strongly suggested that foreign travelers to Thailand make themselves keenly aware of where specific victims have been attacked and avoid areas where a person alone is vulnerable. 

Taking an organized tour is an excellent way of reducing security risks, rather than venturing out alone. Hotel staff should be consulted on high-risk areas that should be avoided and all travelers should check on travel advisories and warning disseminated by their respective embassies. 

It is also not a bad idea to carry a whistle, which can used to give alarm, if you find yourself in trouble. Women should also be aware that the threat of HIV/AIDS in Thailand, particularly among men, is at crisis levels.

Although Thailand is a truly wonderful country with a wonderful people, one should remember that a high incidence of intoxication and drug use, in concert with a struggling economy, does put foreigners, often perceived as "wealthy," at risk.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Complicity in Crime Highlights that Foreign Travelers Need to Make Better Choices

The imprisonment of British national Samantha Orobator in Vientiane, Laos, some nine months on drug charges highlights the fact that youthful foreigners continue to make very bad life choices that irreversibly change their lives forever. Of course, the top story now being covered is Orobator's imprisonment without notification of the British Foreign Office.

When Orobator was arrested, as she was preparing to board a flight from the Laotian cpaital for London, she was found to be carrying 680 grams of heroin, which made her eligible to face the death penalty, which is the prescribed penalty for possessing more than 500 grams. What further complicates her case, however, is the fact that five months after being imprisoned, she became pregnant, reportedly as a result of a rape behind bars. Fortunately for her, Laotian all prohibits a death sentence for a pregnant offender. Her bigger problem now, if that is possible, is obtaining competent and objective counsel. Although the legal assistance group, Reprieve, is endeavoring to help Orobator.

Although Orobator's case is now a top story everywhere, one that is not involves another young British national, Laura Hill, who died under mysterious circumstances last year in Buenos Aires (Argentina). For 18 months, Argentine authorities have claimed that Hill, 25, died from a self-inflicted cocaine overdose. That being said, an investigation initiated by Hill's parents, and in concert with British law enforcement, indicates that the dental nurse may have died after being attacked by a criminal gang who was forcing her to become a drug mule. By the time Hill was having second thoughts to serve as a mule, it is possible that the gang concluded that Hill knew too much.

Hill reportedly died six weeks after arriving in Buenos Aires in October 2007. At the time, a local medical examiner stated that drug abuse and a lifestyle of excess was the cause of Hill's death, although Hill was never known to use drugs of any kind. Admittedly, Hill did leave the UK suddenly for Argentina, and never told her parents about her trip until she was already in Buenos Aires. Investigation has disclosed that Hill was approached by drug traffickers to transport drugs to London. Initially, she agreed to co-operate but later changed her mind, a decision that may have cost her her life. Phone conversations, secretly taped by the undercover detectives who had been monitoring the gang, confirm Laura objected to their plan for her to smuggle cocaine into Britain hidden in a laptop. Subsequently, Hill was arrested by police who interviewed her and then released her without being charged, but they did arrest and charge several members of the drug gang, which may have led to Hill's death.

A bizarre component of this case surrounds the fact that when Hill's body was sent back to the U.K. for her parents, it was determined that an autopsy could not be conducted because several of Hill's major organs were not present in the body. Yet, the victim's heart, brain and other organs were subsequently found in a morgue in Buenos Aires.

Although Hill's body was found in the building in which she lived, the British Consulate in the Argentine capital told Hill's parents that she had died of "natural causes" brought on by drug abuse. An Argentinian autopsy report later revealed she had swallowed a huge and lethal dose of cocaine, but British authorities the amount of drugs was too large for a person to single-handedly administer to themselves. Notably, there was no trace of the drug on Laura's hands or nails, and a nasal swab showed "non-quantifiable" traces. Argentine medical reports also reveal Hill had drunk no alcohol before her death and had not touched any drugs before the fatal "overdose." This gives pause for the local police conclusion that Hill was a heavy drinker and drug user.

British forensic photographer, Paul Canning, who worked for Scotland Yard for 14 years, has examined the photographs of death scene and others of her body in the morgue. As a result, Canning has concluded that the scene and the body reflect a violent assault, to include rape, although local reports conclude that Hill died from a suicide.

COMMENT: Both the Orobator and Hill cases demonstrate that naive foreign travelers, often those that are not well-traveled or knowledgeable as to the risks they face abroad, make poor choices that can have irreversible results.

U.S. and British nationals, in particular, invariably get into trouble with the law abroad far more so than do other foreign travelers, and many do make the decision to commit a crime, often because they think they can get away with it. Most travelers not only underestimate the police in foreign countries, and many fail to realize just how corrupt and prejudicial to foreigners that some foreign cops can be.

It is strongly urged that all foreign travelers educate themselves and/or obtain pre-departure security advice or training in how to travel safely abroad. It is cases such as those described above that led me to write Staying Safe Abroad: Traveling, Working and Living in a Post-9/11 World, in the hope that the book would help head off a lot of unnecessary tragedy and unpleasantness.

If foreign travelers did just one thing while traveling abroad, it would be to NOT VIOLATE THE LAWS OF FOREIGN COUNTRIES. Failing to do so, can put into motion results that have been described in this posting. Over 3,000 Americans are arrested abroad every year and many assume that U.S. diplomats are waiting anxiously to get them out of the predictaments in which they find themselves. This assumption is rarely correct.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Canadian Rotarian Released, Kidnap Suspects Arrested

As a followup to my earlier posting on the kidnapping of Julie Ann Mulligan, 45, a Canadian Rotarian from Alberta, who was kidnapped in Nigeria some 13 days ago, has been released by her captors and seven suspects arrested by Nigerian police.
The mother of two was reportedly released in a fatigued state on April 29, and seems to be doing reasonably well, apart from stomach ailments and the trauma of being kidnapped by armed gunmen. Kaduna police were able to locate the house where Mulligan had been held through a sting operation, whereby an undercover officer purported to be willing to pay a ransom for the woman. Strangely, Mulligan had been released on a rural road before police closed in on the kidnappers' safehouse.
COMMENT: It is rare for Nigerian kidnappers to simply release a captive while receiving nothing in return. Lisa Monette, a spokesman for the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Ottawa, would not comment on how Mulligan came to be released, other than that the Canadian government did not pay any ransom. Normally, such a statement leads one to believe that some form of ransom was paid to unknown parties for Mulligan's release, although it is possible that the kidnappers simply got tired of waiting and realized that mounting pressure on the Nigerian government by Canada would increase their potential for being arrested.
Mulligan and four other women left Canada for Nigeria on April 8 on a Rotary Club exchange; she was abducted on April 16, when a car she was traveling in with her Nigerian host was stopped by a group of gunmen.
As mentioned in my earlier blog posting, it is virtually irresponsible for any organization to send foreigners to Nigeria for work or exchange programs without a pre-departure security briefing by someone who is familiar with the security environment. Moreover, the security risks in one of the world's most dangerous countries, particularly for four Canadian women unfamiliar with the country, should have mandated special security arrangements for airport transportation, hotel and vehicular security.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Kidnapping of Canadian Rotarian Demonstrates Need for Contingency Planning, Kidnap Strategy

Ten days after the sudden abduction of a Canadian woman, Julie Ann Mulligan, 45, by unidentified Nigerian gunmen in Kaduna, local police and Rotary International are no closer to determining the whereabouts of Mulligan. Police reportedly have several leads, but in technologically sparse Nigeria, the case seems to be going nowhere.

The incidence began when the five visiting Rotarians arrived in Kaduna on April 15. On April 16, Mulligan was kidnapped. Strangely, her four colleagues promptly returned to Canada, abandoning their program in Kaduna. The victim and her colleagues were housed in a local inn where the Canadians were paired with local Rotarians. Mulligan's team-mate was Moses Kadeer, a Nigerian. Subsequently, and while returning to the hotel in Kadeer's Toyota Corolla, Kadeer and Mulligan were stopped by gunmen. The gunmen ordered Kadeer out of his car, seized his car keys, took his wallet and mobile phone, as well as his camera. While Kadeer was released, Mulligan was taken to an unknown location.

The police subsequently contacted Mulligan's captors' untraceable cellphone under circumstances which are yet to be fully understood. As a result, the kidnappers demanded US$136,000. Last week, Rotary International ruled out the option of paying the ransom. According to the police, Rotary International, especially its local chapter, are partly to blame for the kidnapping because of very poor security, given the fact that Nigeria is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, particularly for foreigners.

COMMENT: The sad part in this case is rather than proactively focusing on locating the whereabouts of Ms. Mulligan, the Nigerian police and Rotary International have lost vital time by exchanging criticisms of each other. From one account, Mulligan may be ill. Left untreated, she could become seriously ill or perhaps even die, while the shareholders tasked with gaining her freedom argue. Unfortunately, Rotary International erred terribly when they stated that they refused to pay the demanded ransom, in a country where refusal pay usually ends up with a dead hostage. The cardinal rule in hostage negotiation is to never tip your hand and publicly state what you will or will not do.

Given the threat level in Nigeria, any foreigners working in Nigeria should be well-protected with all aspects of their security arrangements by competent security consultants. Unfortunately, Rotary proudly stated that they had never made special security arrangements, another strategic mis-step. Moreover, Rotary should have had kidnap-ransom insurance coverage on all Rotarians traveling in the developing world, but particularly in lawless countries such as Nigeria. If it has not already undertaken plans to rescue Ms. Mulligan, the Canadian government should be encouraging Rotary International to consider negotiating with the kidnappers, for if this doesn't happen, it is unlikely that Mulligan will be safely returned. One thing Nigerian kidnappers do not like is to be stiffed.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Date Rape is Not Made in the USA

Anyone who has spent any time in an American college or university has to be aware of the risks of "date rape," which is essentially defined as sexual assault or rape by someone with whom you're acquainted. Most institutions of higher learning (IHL) also have very conscious awareness programs for students to help them avoid "date rape" situations. Unfortunately, most U.S. foreign study programs abroad, often do not provide American students the guidance they need to deal with "date rape" abroad, which is just as prevalent as it is in the U.S. Moreover, many U.S. employers do not properly train their employees who travel and work abroad.

In one of the international training programs I provide to clients, "Understanding, Prevention and Response: Sexual Assault & Rape Abroad," sadly, with no American universties included, awareness and resistance training is provided to women who travel and work abroad.

Although we see "date rape" occurring virtually everywhere abroad, it is often committed in concert with the use of "date rape" drugs, be they in powder and liquid, or even in cigarettes. For information, see pages 230-249 of my book, Staying Safe Abroad: Traveling, Working and Living in a Post-9/11 World," which can be ordered @

As an example, let's look at India, only because there have been so many cases of foreign women being raped there, including a Swiss diplomat and a 15-year-old British teenager, the latter of whom was also murdered. In 2003, a young girl in Goa was drugged and gang-raped by her friends after she smoked a cigarette they offered to her. In 2007, headlines carried the tragic tale of a British tourist who was drugged and sexually assaulted by a friend in her hotel room in New Delhi, and last week, the international media carried a story of how a 23-year-old American girl, a student at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Trombay, was drugged and raped by six male friends.

The free availability of sedatives and party drugs over the counter have led to an enormous amount of misuse and numerous women wake up the morning after with no recollection of what happened to them the previous night. These drugs are colorless, odorless and tasteless, so spiking someone's drink with them is extremely easy. They are available at pharmacies even without a doctor's prescription. Victims of a date rape drug might experience disorientation, memory loss and time-space confusion, which makes it very easy to rape them.

Key tips for women traveling abroad include:

1. Realize that "date rape" is as possible abroad as it is at home;

2. Don't go out partying ALONE! Always go out with someone you can trust who can help keep
you out of trouble;

3. Don't accept a drink, a cigarette or anything consumable from anyone, unless you trust them

4. Never leave your drink or beverage unattended. If you do leave your drink, order ANOTHER one;

5. Be cautious of people who go out of their way to befriend you;

6. Be cautious of anyone you might be interested in spending the night with, and don't leave the security of your friends unless you feel very comfortable with someone;

7. Don't go to a house party ALONE with people you don't trust;

8. Avoide establishments that are known to be frequented by drug users and people who take advantage of women, as well as places known to be a magnet for troublemakers;

9. Don't leave your room key next to your purse or bag, as you could find someone following you back to your hotel or residence; and

10. Always carry a cell phone abroad and be able to reach those you trust QUICKLY. Know how to text your friends in an emergency, considering that your friend(s) may be in the same room you're in.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

British Businessman Murdered in Bohol (Philippines)

Charles Maxwell, 61, a British national, was shot twice in the chest at close range this week when two masked gunmen burst into the house in Ubay, on the island of Bohol (Phillippines). Maxwell as enticed into opening the front door of his residence by a third person who was posing as a customer who wanted to buy a pre-pay mobile phone card. Maxwell, a divorced father of two from Frome, Somerset (UK), was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital.

Maxwell, a divorced father of two from Frome, Somerset (UK), had moved to Bohol in October 2008, after meeting his 21-year-old girlfriend, Charita del Rosario, via an online chatroom when he was still living in the UK. The victim had been having dinner with his girlfriend and two other Filipinas, including the girlfriend's sister, and were learing up dishes when someone came to the door asking to buy cellphone minutes, which the girlfriend sold. One of the women went to answer the door, but Maxwell said he would get it. When he opened the door, two masked gunmen shot him at close range. One of the women was able to escape through a back door and went to get help from neighbors, but the other two women were held at gunpoint and forced back inside the house, taken into the bedroom and forced to hand over money and other valuables. The suspects then escaped on a motorscooter.

Maxwell had established on an auto sales business on the island and also traded in fertiliz ers and other goods. Bohol, which is marketed by the local tourist board as "God's Little Paradise," is famous for the Chocolate Hills, a formation of more than 1,000 cone-shaped limestone mounds, and is one of the world's most popular spots for divers. Located in the center of the Philippines (south of Manila and east of Cebu), it became an important trading partner of the Spanish in the 16th century, when the conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi made a blood pact with the native king which is still celebrated during an annual festival.

COMMENT: Crimes such as this are common in the Philiipines, particularly in rural, isolated areas where police and emergency services are sparse and slow to respond. Western expatriates are often top targets of local criminals in such areas, once they become locally known, largely because they are generally people of means. Proactive expats living in rural areas usually have firearms, security deterrents and even exterior guards, but presumably Maxwell had none of these defenses. Although there is no indication that Maxwell's girlfriend was linked to this murder, her home business no doubt increased Maxwell's risk of being robbed or burglarized.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

DHS Secretary Napolitano Needs to Make a Public Apology

U.S. Department of Homaland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday that she was briefed before the release of a controversial intelligence assessment and that she stands by the report, which lists returning veterans among terrorist risks to the U.S., yet the top House Democrat with oversight over DHS said in a letter to Ms. Napolitano that he was "dumbfounded" that such a report would be issued. "This report appears to raise significant issues involving the privacy and civil liberties of many Americans - including war veterans," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, in his letter sent Tuesday.

The letter was representative of a public furor over the nine-page document since its existence was reported in The Washington Times on Tuesday. In her statement Wednesday, Ms. Napolitano defended the report, which says "right-wing extremism" may include groups opposed to abortion and illegal immigration, as merely one among several threat assessments, but she agreed to meet with the head of the American Legion, who had expressed anger over the report, when she returns to Washington next week from a tour of the U.S.-Mexico border.

COMMENT: Having read the DHS report in its entirety (, and as one who spent most of his professional career in Federal law enforcement, I find this report to be politically discrimanatory in its tone and predjudicial toward Roman Catholics, American veterans and those who believe the Federal Government has ignored our national problem of illegal immigration.

The unclassified report, which states that the document should not be released to the media or the general public, but only to law enforcement agencies, presumes that members of law enforcement are not citizens. The report never defines what a "right-wing extremist" is, nor does it acknowledge that all citizens have the right to engage in political dissent where public policy, abortion and illegal immigration are concerned. Most harmful is the attribution that veterans of American wars may be inclined to join "right-wing extremist groups." Why not "left-wing extremist groups" as well?

Like Members of Congress who never read "pressing" bailout legislation, must we presume that Secretary Napolitano never read potentially controversial reports disseminated by her own agency? If not, she should be reprimanded for nonfeasance. If she did read it, how could she have been so politically insensitive to a significant percentage of the American public? Minimally, President Obama should apologize to the American people on behalf of DHS and censure the Secretary.

It would have made far more sense for DHS to have prepared an acknowledged three-part report on "Right-Wing Extremism," "Left-Wing Extremism" and "Single-Issue Extremism" (animal rights, environmental, anti-abortion, illegal immigration, etc.), so as to not convey that a report on "Right-Wing Extremism" was not being politically directed at Catholics and US veterans.

At a time when DHS has one of the worst reputations with the American public when compared to all Federal agencies (with the exception of the IRS), one would presume that a former governor would be more politically intuitive. Secretary Napolitano should not apologize to the commander of the American Legion because the Legion does not represent ALL US veterans. Rather, she should apologize to all veterans and others law-abiding citizens attributed to in her report in a prime-time news conference.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Second US Vessel Avoids Pirate Attack

Another U.S.-registered food-aid cargo ship was attacked by Somalian pirates this morning. Despite being attacked by RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and assault rifles, the Liberty Sun was able to escape from the pirates before boarding could take place. By the time a US Navy vessel arrived withiin site of the Liberty Sun, the pirates were already gone.

COMMENT: As we all know, after US Navy Seals killed three pirates that held Maersk Alabama captain (Richard Phillips) last week, pirates threatened to go after American vessels and crews with fervor. Today's attempted takeover demonstrates that the pirates are intent on taking another American ship in retaliation for the loss of their comrades. Given the real-time intelligence that the pirates have access to, it is essential that the U.S. move swiftly in combatting maritime piracy, as this challenge takes higher precedence to other governmental priorities.

Foreign Woman Raped in Mumbai

A young foreign woman was allegedly gang-raped in Mumbai yesterday. As a result, a criminal complaint has been filed against six suspects. Mumbai police say the woman is studying in India.

Readers are reminded that rape against foreign women in India has been rising. In January a 24-year-old Dutch woman complained to the Goa police that she was drugged, robbed and raped by a group of Nigerians on the New Year's Eve near the Anjuna beach in Goa. A year earlier, the rape of 15-year-old Briton Sacrlett Keeling rocked the expatriate community in India when Keeling's body was found in a half-naked state at the Anjuna beach. The police initially said it was a case of drowning, but the victim's mother launched a campaign for justice which attracted international spotlight and exposed this tourist destination's ugly underbelly. In March 2008, an Australian tourist was raped by an engineering student in Karnataka's Gokarna region. The student allegedly forced his way into a beach side cabin rented by the 28-year-old Australian woman and raped her. In January of this year, five men were convicted for raping a 20-year-old German tourist in Chandigarh in September 2007. They kidnapped the woman from outside a five star hotel on September 28, 2007, and took her to a farmhouse in Haryana's Samalakha area where she was gang raped.

COMMENT: Women traveling abroad are urged to research the countries they will be traveling in before departure, as rape of foreign women in some countries is alarmingly high. On the other side of the coin, no one should adopt a fortress mentality, but should read pages pp. 230-244 of my book. Staying Safe Abroad: Traveling, Working and Living in a Post-9/11 World, and take a self-defense class in the event one chooses to resist rape or sexual assault.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Captain Richard Phillips Rescue: Final Thoughts

The world was delighted to hear the wonderful news today that the Maersk Alabama's captain, Richard Phillips, was rescued by elements of the U.S. Navy, who not only killed three of the four Somalian pirates holding Phillips, but captured the surviving pirate and rescued the heroic captain, who exchanged himself for his 19-man crew earlier in the week when the Alabama was first boarded by pirates.

Although the U.S. Government is to be commended for its actions in rescuing Philiips, the US Navy no doubt was being held back from Wednesday to Saturday. Only when it became probable that the pirates might be successful in taking Phillips to the Somalian shoreline, was action taken. Clearly, the U.S. was taking a risk that the pirates might well execute Phillips at any time during his captivity.

Now that the incident has had a happy ending, we still need to be mindful of the fact that the U.S. has not been nearly as proactive as the French government has been regarding maritime piracy, as demonstrated by several recent incidents whereby French commandoes engaged in several operations against Somali pirates; in one instance entering a village in Somalia itself where they captured six pirates and recovered ransom money.

Although there are relatively few U.S.-flagged merchant ships operating in waters frequented by pirates when compared to the ships of other nations, the U.S. and American shipping owners need to be far more deliberate in their efforts in surveilling suspicious boats and having security watches posted 24/7 than they have in the past. Whenever you have a valuable vessel worthy of being taken over by pirates, you need a security plan and response resources commensurate with that threat. One question that no one has answered yet is "How did these pirates get aboard the Alabama to begin with, given the vessel's freeboard (the distance of the water to the uppermost deck), which is substantial?

While there has been far too much discussion of handing an act of piracy after it has occurred, the really important issue is what security vulnerability led the pirates to be boarded 300 miles from land?

In April of this year, French commamndoes conducted a rescue operation on the Tanit, on which five French citizens were aboard, after the yacht was boarded by Somalian pirates in the Indian Ocean. Enroute to Zanzibar, the captain of the Tanit, Florent Lemacon, encountered a French frigate that was on anti-piracy patrols, who urged Lemacon to discontinue the group's voyage to Zanzibar. When French commandoes attempted to rescue Lemacon's party, they killed two pirates and captured three others. The French government has indicated that Lemacon may have been killed during the rescue in a "friendly fire" incident. That being said, the French have taken a much more hard-line approach to neutralizing piracy than the U.S.

There is now talk of the U.S. Government trying the pirate captured during the rescue of Captain Phillips. Unfortunately, this pirate is 16 years of age. Hence, if he is sentenced to life imprisonment, American taxpayers are likely to have the privilege of spending $2.3 million to house and safeguard a criminal that may live in a U.S. prison until age 70. Justice for whom?

Clearly, it is time to assign armed security teams aboard high-value vessels and institute 360-degree comprehensive electronic and visual surveillance of vessels that are underway and in port. Far too many politically correct pundits are offering explanations why these measures cannot be used. In the meantime, unchecked piracy continues. Reality check: Since 1999, 3,200 sailors have been kidnapped by pirates, 500 have been injured and 160 have been killed.

# # #

Friday, April 10, 2009

Maritime Piracy Continued

As the world woke up today, the might of a U.S. Navy destroyer facing off against a small lifeboat continues as a handful of armed thugs continue to hold Captain Richard Phillips. A worrisome concern is that the pirates holding Phillips could soon be joined by other confederates.

What we need to realize is that the manner in which the U.S. handles the attempted takeover of a U.S.-registered merchant vessel and the resolution of a hostage barricade situation, will be watched very carefully by pirates around the world. We should not forget that Somalian pirates are not the only ones committing acts of maritime piracy: Pirates are taking over vessels and yachts in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Knowing that there are tactical solutions to neutralizing this hostage crisis readily available... before the situation worsens, such measures should be taken promptly before the situation escalates into loss of life. Admittedly, the only card the pirates have to play is Captain Richards, so keeping him alive is critical to what happens next.

I personally find it ludicrious that that the nations whose vessels and yachts have been seized by pirates, and those that own these vessels, seem to be impotent to put a stop to these seizures when there are workable strategems and solutions to do so. Many of the initiatives I proposed yesterday WILL work in putting a stop to maritime piracy, if only decision makers would exercise some backbone.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


I must admit that I continue to be in awe of how handfuls of armed thugs with fast boats can virtually terrorize merchant mariners and disrupt billions of dollars of international commercial shipping with virtual impunity, as demonstrated by the fact that in less than a week we've seen five major acts of maritime piracy, the largest being the temporary takeover of the Maersk Alabama and the hostage taking of Captain Richard Phillips, who permitted the pirates to take him instead of his crew. Also taken in the Indian Ocean were two French couples who were quoted as saying, "The pirates can't destroy our dream." Other takeovers included and 30-crew members of a large French-registered luxury yacht seized in the Gulf of Aden, a British cargo ship and a German container ship and a Yemini tugboat.

If the collective international community were deviate from its confinement to being inside the "box," there may well be solutions that have not been explored. For example, although international law and insurance underwriters generally mandate that commercial vessels not be armed or carry firearms for protection, I believe that even a five-year-old child could conclude that we are in extraordinary circumstances. And often, extraordinary circumastances require extraordinary deterrents and solutions.

As a former Marine and one who enjoys reading Marine Corps history, I think back to the days 200 years ago when armed Marine seagoing detachments were assigned to large naval vessels.

Merchant ships are no different. If they are exposed to extraordinary risks that would jeopardize the lives of crews and risk the sabotage or theft of vessels (which has occurred in many cases), extraordinary solutions are warranted, hopefully with the help of international organizations and underwriters. As someone who has devoted his entire life to protecting others, first as a Marine, then as a Diplomatic Security agent and ultimately as a security consultant, there is always a solution to a problem, other than sitting on your hands.

Given the threat of maritime piracy we see today, there is a critical need for the international community, global law enforcment and shipping and cruise ship owners to figure out a way to do the following:

1. Embark on a multi-lateral program of air surveillance of high risk shipping lanes;
2. Utilization of security surveillance technology that can alert crews to the imminent presence of
hostile elements; and
3. Provide armed response teams aboard high-value ships traveling in high-risk areas who are
capable of neutralizing fast-moving, heavily armed pirates.

Admittedly, only high-value, large vessels can contemplate the three strategies described above. Small pleasure vessels that are 10-20 meters in length are simply not capable of countering the efforts of heavily armed pirates equipped with AK-47s and RPGs moving at sixty knots, so there options include the following:

a. Avoid waters where pirates have been active;
b. Consider ransom-kidnap insurance;
c. Maintain constant visual surveillance of boats and vessels that can be seen on the horizon;
d. Carry several flare guns for all contingencies;
e. Consider the use of equipment which can detect other vessels;
f. Have a marine radio that enables you to stay in touch with responsible Coast Guard and
maritime police;
g. Have the capability to notify family and friends quickly of your situation;
h. Be able to activate a hidden GPS-controlled beacon if engagement with hostile elements is
imminent; and
i. Have a personal crisis management plan with who you family can contact in the event your
boat is seized by pirates.

Surely, these proactive initiatives, all of which can work, would be far better than doing absolutely nothing.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


For those of you who work, travel or live abroad, the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS), which represents the security industry on a global level, has just reviewed my book, STAYING SAFE ABROAD: TRAVELING, WORKING AND LIVING IN A POST-9/11 WORLD, which appears in the Society's monthly publication, SECURITY MANAGEMENT. To read the full text of the review, see this link: My sincere thanks go out to the reviewer, Ms. Terry V. Cochran CPP, CAS. The book can be ordered from my website,, or from

Monday, April 6, 2009

Absurdity: Eliminating the Global War on Terrorism?

I have in my office a very impressive commendation that was presented to me when I retired from the US State Department's Office of Anti-Terrorism Assistance "for service that has greatly contributed to our nation's cause in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT)." Needless to say, this commendation means a great deal to me because after the events of 9/11, I was asked to come out of retirement and take on a senior role in combating terrorism abroad as a member of the Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. I did so willingly to serve my country and do what I could to neutralize Islamic extremism.

So, you can imagine how I felt when I heard recently that the newly installed administration of President Barack Obama has eliminated the "Global War on Terrorism" and now refers to it as "Overseas Contingency Operations," whatever in the world that means. To make matters worse, the Obama Administration has also eliminated the use of the term "enemy combatant." Also, most recently, Secretary of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano has referred to acts of terrorism as "man-made disasters."

Although the motivation for the elimination of GWOT by the Obama Administration was no doubt linked to Mr. Obama's disdain for the eight-year presidency of George W. Bush, he may not realize that many countries abroad actually embraced the U.S. Government's leadership role in establishing the GWOT. First of all, let me say that I am hardly an apologist for the former administration of President George W. Bush. That being said, I firmly believe that regardless of what people may think of him, President Bush was genuinely committed to preventing another catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil. And that he did. Unfortunately, many Americans have never given him the credit he legitimately was due.

Imagine what our allies in the formerly known GWOT are thinking? "Assuredly, they are now doubt asking themselves, "Has the U.S. gone mad?" How absurd it is to change terminology simply because of distain for a previous president, rather than for reasons that make sense. Sadly, this new government apparently is more concerned with political correctness than with substance.

Now, here's the interesting part. In 2003, former President Bush in Executive Order 13289 created two military medals: the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Expedeitionary Medal. The former is for duty performed in an anti-terrorism program in the U.S., while the later is awarded for service in foreign countries. Military members can earn both medals.

Let's then presume that you and I proudly wear one of the medals on our uniform for risks we have taken for our nation. Suddenly, a new president is inaugurated and within weeks abolishes the term "Global War on Terrorism." What message does that convey to our men and women in uniform who have earned either or both of these medals? It conveys that our commander in chief, or his advisors, cannot possibly fathom what the wearing of an American military uniform means.

Having served in a senior civilian anti-terrorism position for nearly five years, I would interpret the elimination of the GWOT as a slap in the face. To me, for my commendation, and for many men and women in uniform who have paid the ultimate price in serving the Global War on Terrorism.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Violence in Pakistan: Discretionary Travel Should Be Deferred

Despite a new civilian government and continuing and massive developmental and military assistance from Washington, the security threat in Pakistan is now GRAVE (highest in decending threat categories of High, Medium and Low), in light of several major terrorist attacks in the last two weeks.

On Sunday, a suicide bomber killed 22 of the faithful at a Shiite mosque not far from the capital of Islamabad; it could well have been worse, considering that guards kept the bomber contained from entering the mosque where 1,000 people workshipped This attack came only 24 hours after one made on paramilitary troops in an upscale and well-protected section of the capital, and six days after militants stormed a police academy in Lahore. Less we forget, one of the largest attacks in recent memory was the truck bombing at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September, which killed 50 people and injured scores of others.

Needless to say, anyone working, living or traveling in Pakistan at this time needs to be VERY focused on the security threat, particularly foreigners (i.e. aid workers, government travelers, business executives and journalists). This would include special attention on vehicular security, varying routes and time patterns, controlling schedules and selecting hotel rooms or residential sites in anticipation of continuing attacks throughtout the country. Discretionary travel to Pakistan should be deferred until it becomes more clear as to where the current trend of violence is going. Those that must travel should realize that they be targeted specifically or simply because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time.