Personal Security for Travelers

These days being a tourist or business traveler can be hazardous to your health.

Terrorist attacks by Radical Islamist terror groups are on the rise in places where westerners congregate, socialize and stay. On 20 November 2015 the upscale Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali was attacked by heavily-armed gunmen who killed 21 guests. On 15 January 2016, a similar assault on the Splendid luxury hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso left 29 guests dead and over 50 wounded. The group that claimed responsibility, Al Mourabitoun, is affiliated with Al Qaida in the Mahgreb (AQIM) and led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a legendary fighter who first fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980’s and was the mastermind behind the bloody January 2013 attack and hostage crisis at the Tigantourine Gas Facility near Ain Amenas, Algeria.

Attacks against relatively soft targets such as hotels, resorts and shopping venues have been on the rise for quite some time. Consider the mass shooting at a Tunisian beach resort near Sousse in June 2015 (38 killed); an Al Shabab (Al Qaida affiliate) attack on the luxury Jazeera Palace hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia in July of that same year, and an attempted ISIS-inspired attack at the Red Sea Resort of Hurghada on 9 January 2016. All of this was a backdrop to the spectacular mid-air bombing of a Russian airliner departing the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh packed with Russian tourists on 31 October, and the early November attacks throughout Paris by ISIS gunmen. Critical mass in terms of security awareness seems to have been reached.  Folks are paying attention.

In Steve Hendrix’s 19 January 2016 Washington Post article, “Jolted by terrorist attacks, U.S. travelers get serious about overseas trip security,” he outlines the aforementioned attacks and the impact they have had on business travelers. He states, “the vanishing or blowing up of airliners and Islamic State-related scares from California to Cairo, have spooked many hard-core travelers accustomed to the most uncomfortable and unsavory parts of the world.
 Even those who might have thought that their noncombatant status shielded them from most of the violence are increasingly eager to prepare for the worst.”

If you are a global road warrior, it would be wise to augment your travel experience with some formal personal security awareness training. This kind of program is more than just a prudent checklist approach to personal security. It is a methodical, programmatic approach to travel preparation, situational awareness and deterrence measures, transportation and hotel selection, and what to do when the proverbial balloon goes up while you’re traveling abroad. It includes measures to detect potential hostile surveillance activities that are a prelude to a kidnapping; how to react in ways that could save your life, and how to handle yourself if you are held hostage. These methods can be the difference between life and death.

Butchko, Inc. offers an in-depth personal security awareness training course specifically geared towards the business traveler. Charles Goslin is a retired CIA veteran with over 30 years experience living and working abroad in hostile environments. His expertise in this area is the subject of a forthcoming book, due out in June 2016, entitled “Understanding Personal Security and Risk:  A Guide for the Business Traveler” (CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group). The need for this kind of security training is acute: as the recent attacks in Europe and in the U.S. have shown, the world is becoming an increasingly messy place and the line between what is considered a “high threat” and “low threat” environment is blurred. The attacks witnessed in 2015 are likely only a preview of coming attractions, as an emboldened transnational terror groups and criminals find common cause to exploit the traveling public – whether it is on business, or pleasure.

(Photo courtesy of Jabin Botsford, The Washington Post)