Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tip of the Day: Always Be Prepared for the Unpredictable, Particularly in Critical-Threat Nations

As many of our readers probably know, the US Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, from which I'm retired after a 22-year career as a special agent and Senior Regional Security Officer (RSO) at many embassies abroad, including an assignment as the associate director of security for Latin America.

All US Foreign Service Posts have classified the threat level in one of the four categories below: 

1. Critical Threat (the highest);

2. High Threat;

3. Medium Threat; and

4. Low Threat.

Important: Always know the prevailing criminal threat at a destination BEFORE you actually arrive there.

In the case of South Africa, most posts are classified at the Critical Threat level, largely because of the violent criminal threats that confront tourists, business travelers and diplomats nationwide.

In 2002, a British tourist, 29, was blindfolded, threatened with a pistol and repeatedly raped during a 14-hour ordeal after being abducted on a mountain road in South Africa.

The rape victim and her South African boyfriend were driving near Kruger National Park when they stopped at a popular picnic spot.

As the couple got out of their car, five men suddenly emerged from the bushes and waved a pistol, as if they had been waiting for victims to come by. 

The men pushed the couple into the back of the car and blindfolded and beat them. The assailants drove hundreds of miles across South Africa, during which time they repeatedly raped the British woman.

The ordeal ended when one of the assailants lost control of the couple’s car and caused it to careen off the road and roll over. 

Two passing motorists stopped on the side of the road because they thought they had happened upon a road accident. 

Moments later, one of the kidnappers opened fire on one of the motorists and killed him instantly. 

In the chaos, the British woman and her boyfriend managed to escape in the darkness and hide. 

Fortunately, they were able to flag down a car and call for help. Police later arrested two of the five assailants. 

Considering that South Africa has one of the highest level of HIV/AIDS in the world, the rape victim in this case was administered a series of drugs designed to suppress her exposure to HIV/AIDS.

Security Tips for Consideration:

1. Traveling to critical-threat nations generally means that there is a level of lawlessness in the country that generally discourages conventional tourism. My personal suggestion is that there are far safer destinations in the world if you know that you're in a critical-threat nation;

2. If you observe park areas that are sparsely populated, there may be a very good explanation as to why other folks are not frequenting the area. Lock your car-doors and promptly leave the area;

3. Never travel to a country you're unfamiliar with unless you understand fully what the security threat level is;

4. Before visiting any country type in the name of the country you're interested into your Browser followed by the term violent crime. The search result should confirm that you're in a high-risk nation;

5.  Generally speaking, if your are in a developed nation you can generally expect that police, fire and emergency services are promptly dispatched and that you will be treated professionally;

6. Traveling to a developing nation in the absence of well-researched information may expose you to security risks that you had not anticipated;

7. If traveling in developing country you are unfamiliar with, do the following:

a. Register your international travel itinerary with your appropriate foreign affairs agency;

b. Subscribe to a reputable international medical treatment and evacuation coverage before leaving home. For guidance, go to:;

c. If you are carrying expensive electronic devices, consider insuring such equipment through:;

d. Carry no more than US$100 on your person;

e. Never use an ATM or cash machine that is installed on the street-level. Always use a banking institution during daylight hours;

f. Wear NO expensive-looking watches, jewelry, necklaces, etc. unless you are anxious to be victimized;

g. Always carry a mobile phone that is functional in the country you are in. Carry this mobile 24/7;

h. Type the following numbers into your mobile's speed-dialer:

1. After-hours number of your nearest consulate or embassy;

2. Office number of your nearest consulate or embassy;

3. Your best friend, regardless of where they live;

4. Your employer if in the country that you're in; 

i. NEVER hitch-hike;

j. If you are traveling in a developing country, it is always prudent to carry two or three condoms on your person, particularly if the country is known for having a high level of HIV/AIDS. This advice is gender neutral; and

k. If traveling in a developing nation always have a healthy suspicious nature as local criminals, opportunists and predators abound.