OFFGRID|Issue 36
Dissecting the Anatomy of a Kidnapping and Trends Commonly Seen in Abductions
Ed Calderon
Abduction scenarios can originate in a myriad of ways. It’s not always about guys in ski masks jumping out of a panel van and putting you in zip-ties. Many of the students who’ve been through the training that I’ve provided over the years dealing with counter custody have actually faced situations of irregular custody. This may involve being restrained illegally within the confines of their own community by people they actually know, or during home-invasion situations. So, don’t close yourself off to the possibilities of this being a threat in your environment. It’s not something you only need to think about or prepare for if you travel outside of your hometown or country.

The Feathered Snake Eating its Tail

For our intents and purposes, we’re going to be focusing on abduction and kidnapping for ransom, being used as a political hostage, for retribution, or as access to someone else’s monetary means. Although each of these situations have a different purpose behind them, they usually have the same planning and action processor cycle.

Selection and Surveillance

The first part of the cycle is selection. Criminal groups will select an individual out of the many or out of a specific group that holds a known value to them, be it because of their economic means, the means of the company they represent, their social circle, nationality, religion, or just because he or she is in possession of something they want.

Selection happens in many ways, but one of the most current trends is exploiting openly accessible online social media — especially the social media of the victim’s families and associates — to gather information pertaining to the victim. This typically includes his or her day-to-day patterns, family ties that could be exploited psychologically later on, any sign of financial means, and possible future scheduling opportunities for criminals to make a move on a potential mark. It’s not all just standing outside of an airport scanning a crowd nowadays. Things have gone digital, even in the most low-tech environments. Most people already have the most effective information-gathering device on the planet in their hands: a smartphone.

One common thing criminals look at when it comes to selecting a potential victim are patterns of behavior and predictability of movement — that is, the ability to predict where and when the individual being targeted will go. So, anything related to your mode of transportation, your arrival times, the hotel rooms you’re staying in, possible dinner plans, business meetings you may need to attend, or the locations of offices during a business trip, for example, have to be kept on a need-to-know basis. This is even necessary with the people closest to you or those you’re traveling with.

Simple things like keeping all of your information in written format on a piece of paper to hand over to a hotel clerk means he or she doesn’t have to say your name or room number out loud. This keeps people from acquiring that information if they’re casually listening to you at the check-in desk. There’s nothing wrong with being unpredictable. It’s about being harder to catch than the person next to you. Hindsight is 20/20.

One thing I always hear people recounting when I debrief after these events are situations or events around them that seemed suspicious, like people staring at them for a bit too long, or making phone calls around them, or the presence of various kids in sandals carrying smartphones getting on the phone every time they moved out of the hotel. Anything that’s the least bit suspicious must be documented. Take pictures or video immediately and use one of many secure apps like Signal to send to various people who you’ve complete confidence in. This will assist in creating a trail. Be as obvious as you want to about this — again, you want people to be aware you’re not going to be an easy target.

Game Plan

The second part of the process involves the formulation or creation of a plan and/or manufacture of a situation where you’re completely vulnerable to a direct abduction attempt or, as we liked to call it, a snatch or initial contact. This takes place after a surveillance cycle that may have started long before you got onto the plane or stepped out of your house. Surveillance could be mobile or static and, depending on who is doing it, might be very obvious to anyone with a trained eye. That’s why I always try to push the mindset of thinking like the bad guy, or as my friends from the contingency group say, “adversarial thinking.” (Editor’s Note: See our previous article “The Crimson Perception” in Issue 35 for more information on developing an adversarial mindset.)

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