The Worst That Could Happen


You're Kidnapped on a Business Trip in a Developing Country

You won't likely have to worry about this if your business hardly takes you to Atlantic City, let alone across the Atlantic. But should you ever wind up negotiating in, say, Columbia, here are some rules to remember, courtesy of David W. Johnson, vice president and director of operations at Washington, DC-based Investigative Group International (IGI). The company specializes in searching for the answers to complex mysteries-such as tracing embezzled funds to an offshore tax haven. Johnson has also been an FBI agent, heading SWAT teams and the Hostage Rescue Team, a 60-member counter-terrorist operation.

Rule #1: If you play tourist in your off-time, go with a tour group. Don't wander unfamiliar streets alone.

Rule #2: If you believe you're being followed, go to the nearest police station, or try to disappear into a crowd.

Rule #3: If you are kidnapped, stay calm. "Keep your ego in check," advises Johnson. "Stay humble, and don't debate the issues with your kidnappers."

Rule #4: Look for an escape route.

Rule #5: "Take care of your needs-eat what you can, and mentally prepare yourself for a long stay."

But what if it's not you but your employee who has been kidnapped? If you even slightly suspect that's the case, immediately contact the country's American embassy, says Johnson-even if the bad guys have been in touch with you and advised you otherwise. You certainly can't solve the problem on your own, and kidnappers will know you'll call the authorities, anyway.

Most companies targeted by terrorists have big marquee names, so if your company isn't quite there yet, the odds are even better this will never happen, says Johnson.

Still, if your company has been a presence in a neighborhood for a while, that could spell trouble. IGI chairman Terry Lenzner, a former private investigator who worked on, among other things, the Atlanta child killings of the early 1980s and the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi, recalls a particularly dangerous situation: "We did a post-analysis of some American workers in Pakistan in the late 1990s who were picked up [for] work every day in the same car by the same driver.

"One morning, a motorcycle came up and stopped the car. A van came up behind it, and members of a radical group, protesting the conviction of a Pakistani who shot CIA personnel, machine-gunned all five workers to death. They didn't have a chance. But one lesson learned is: Don't do the same thing over and over."

Prevention Is the Best Medicine:
"Plan ahead," suggests Johnson, "from the time you land at the airport to the moment you leave. But that doesn't mean you need to be paranoid the whole time."

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the July 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Worst That Could Happen.

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