Hostage Survival

If you are traveling abroad here are the top 10 tips you need to make your trip easier.

1. Make sure you have a signed, valid passport and visas, if required. Also, before you go, fill in the emergency information page of your passport!

2. Read the Consular Information Sheets and (Public Announcements or Travel Warnings if applicable) for the countries you plan to visit.

3. Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs of the countries to which you are traveling. Remember, the U.S. Constitution does not follow you! While in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws.

4. Make two copies of your passport identification page. This will facilitate replacement if your passport is lost or stolen. Leave one copy at home with friends or relatives. Carry the other with you in a separate place from your passport.

5. Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at home so that you can be contacted in case of an emergency.

6. Do not leave your luggage unattended in public areas. Do not accept packages from strangers.

7. Prior to your departure, you should register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate through the State Department's travel registration website. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency. In accordance with the Privacy Act, information on your welfare and whereabouts may not be released without your express authorization. Remember to leave a detailed itinerary and the numbers or copies of your passport or other citizenship documents with a friend or relative in the United States.

8. To avoid being a target of crime, try not to wear conspicuous clothing and expensive jewelry and do not carry excessive amounts of money or unnecessary credit cards.

9. In order to avoid violating local laws, deal only with authorized agents when you exchange money or purchase art or antiques.

10 If you get into trouble, contact the nearest U.S. embassy.

Information provided by the Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State

**Tips for Defensive Air Traveling**

Air travel, particularly through high-risk airports or countries, poses security problems for all travelers. These three simple precautions can reduce your vulnerability to a terrorist assault.

1. When making your travel arrangements, avoid scheduling through high-risk areas. If necessary, use indirect routes to avoid high-risk airports.

2. When selecting seats, choose seats in the center of the aircraft. These seats can offer more protection since they are farther from the center of hostile action, which is often near the cockpit or rear of the aircraft.

3. Select a window seat, which would offer more protection since aisle seats are closer to the hijacker's movements up and down the aisle.

Kidnapping and Hostage
Survival Guidelines

The chances of your being kidnapped or taken hostage are small. If it does happen, your chances of survival are high. Kidnapping is a terrifying experience, but you probably possess more personal resources than you think to cope with the situation. Remember, you are of value to those who are holding you only if you are alive, and they want to keep you that way. Your best defense is passive cooperation. The more time passes, the better your chances of being released alive.

Kidnapping can happen anywhere -- you can be taken off the street, from a car, or from your hotel room or residence. The best opportunity for escape is in the beginning, during the confusion of the apprehension while you are still in a public place. If escape is impossible or too risky, you should nevertheless try to cause as much commotion as safely possible to draw attention to the situation. You need to make others aware that an abduction has taken place so that the authorities are notified and the search can begin. Otherwise, it could be hours or days before your absence is reported. Also see Defensive Driving Overseas.

Once you have been forced into a vehicle, you may be blindfolded, beaten (to cause unconsciousness), drugged, or forced to lie face down on the floor of the vehicle. In some instances, hostages have been forced into trunks or specially built compartments for transporting contraband. If drugs are administered, do not resist. Their purpose will be to sedate you and make you more manageable. It is probably better to be drugged than to be beaten unconscious. If you are conscious, follow your captors' instructions.

While being confined and transported, do not struggle. Calm yourself mentally and concentrate on surviving. Attempt to visualize the route being taken, make a mental note of turns, street noise, smells, etc. Try to keep track of the amount of time spent between points. You will be asked questions about this after your release in an effort to determine where you were held.

Once you have arrived at your destination, you may be placed in a temporary holding area before being moved again to a more permanent detention site. If you are interrogated:

  • Retain a sense of pride but act cooperative.
  • Divulge only information that cannot be used against you. Make every effort to avoid embarrassing the U.S. and the host government.
  • Do not antagonize your interrogator with obstinate behavior.
  • Concentrate on surviving. If you are to be used as a bargaining tool or to obtain ransom, you will be kept alive.

After reaching what you may presume to be your permanent detention site (you may be moved several more times), quickly settle into the situation.

  • Be observant. Notice the details of the room, the sounds of activity in the building and determine the layout of the building by studying what is visible to you. Listen for sounds through walls, windows or out in the streets, and try to distinguish between smells. Note the number, names, physical description, accents, habits , and rank structure of your captors. Try to memorize this information so that you can report it after your release.
  • Know your captors. Memorize their schedule, look for patterns of behavior to be used to your advantage, and identify weaknesses or vulnerabilities. Use this information to assess opportunities to escape.
  • Expect to be accused of being an intelligence agent and to be interrogated intensively. Do not admit to any accusations. Keep your answers short and don't volunteer information or make unnecessary overtures.
  • Try to establish a rapport with your captors. Family is a universal subject. So are sports and many hobbies. Your goal should be to get the hostage takers to view you as a real person, rather than simply an object. Listen actively to the terrorists' feelings and concerns, but never praise, participate in, or debate their "cause." If you know your captors' language, use it. Ask them to teach you their language.
  • Speak normally. Don't complain. Avoid being belligerent and comply with all orders and instructions. Once a level of rapport or communication is achieved, try asking for items that will increase your personal comfort. Don't be afraid to ask for anything you need or want such as medicines, books, or papers. Make requests in a reasonable, low-key manner.
  • Plan on a lengthy stay and devise a way to keep track of the passage of time. If isolated, you can approximate time by noting changes in temperature between night and day, the frequency and intensity of outside noises (traffic, birds), and by observing the alertness of guards.
  • Establish a daily schedule of mental as well as physical exercise. If your movement is extremely limited, use isometric and flexing exercises to keep your muscles toned. To maintain your strength, eat what you are given even if it does not look appetizing and you don't feel hungry. Use relaxation techniques to reduce stress.
  • If you detect the presence of other hostages in the same building, try to devise ways to communicate.

During interrogation, do not be uncooperative, antagonistic, or hostile towards your captors. Captives who display this type of behavior are often held longer or become the object of torture or punishment. Take a simple, tenable position and stick to it. Be polite and keep your temper. Give short answers. Talk freely about nonessential matters, but be guarded when conversations turn to matters of substance. Don't be lulled by a friendly approach. Remember, one terrorist may play "Good Guy" and one "Bad Guy." This is the most common interrogation technique.

Watch for signs of "Stockholm Syndrome" which occurs when the captive, due to the close proximity and the constant pressures involved, begins to relate to, and empathize with, the captors. In some cases, this relationship has resulted in the hostage becoming sympathetic to the point that he/she actively participates in the activities of the group. Establish a friendly rapport with your captors, but maintain your personal dignity and do not compromise your integrity.

If forced to present terrorist demands to authorities, either in writing or on tape, state clearly that the demands are from your captors. Avoid making a plea on your own behalf.

Be patient, as hostage negotiations are often difficult and time consuming. Remember, your chances of survival increase with time. Most episodes of kidnapping or hostage-taking end with no loss of life or physical injury to the captive. Eventually you will probably be released or rescued. Do not try to escape unless you are certain of success. If you are able to escape, go first to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate to seek protection. If you cannot reach either, go to a host government or friendly government office.

If an attempt is made to rescue you, keep a low profile and immediately follow all instructions. Rescue will generally be attempted only after negotiations have failed. That means that lives of hostages, terrorists, and rescue forces are all at risk during the rescue. You don't want to be shot in the confusion while the rescue team identifies the terrorists, who may try to disguise themselves as hostages. To protect yourself, follow these rules:

  • DO NOT RUN. Drop to the floor and remain still. If that is not possible, cross your arms on your chest, bow your head, and stand still. Make no sudden moves that a tense rescuer may interpret as hostile.
  • Wait for instructions and obey all instructions you are given.
  • Don't be upset if a rescuer isn't sure whether you are a terrorist or hostage. Even if you are handcuffed and searched, do not resist. Just wait for the confusion to clear.

Defensive Driving Overseas

The kind of car you drive, where you drive and where you park it all influence your vulnerability to terrorist kidnapping or car bombing. Your first goal should be to lower your profile as a terrorist target. Use a plain car that doesn't attract attention to yourself as a "rich American." Consider avoiding government cars that immediately identify you as associated with the U.S. Government.

Terrorist acts against individuals, such as kidnappings or car bombings, usually occur outside the home and after the victim's habits have been established through surveillance over a period of time. Your most predictable habit that can be exploited by a terrorist is the route you travel between your home and place of work or commonly frequented local facilities. Vary these routes as much as possible.

Although you can never be immune from terrorist attack, there are measures you can take to reduce your chances of being kidnapped from your car or the victim of a car bombing.Many of the measures discussed below are most appropriate for high threat areas, but can be useful no matter where your duties take you.

Kidnapping from Your Car

One common method of kidnapping favored by terrorist organizations is to stop a victim's car as it is driving along a predictable route. That's why it is important to vary your route frequently.

Check occasionally to see if another car is following you. If you think you are being followed, circle the block or change directions several times to confirm the presence of surveillance. Make note of a description of the car and its occupants, if possible. It is okay to let the surveillants know you have seen them, but do not under any circumstances take any action that might provoke them or that could lead to confrontation. If they do not stop following you, drive directly to the nearest safe haven, such as a U.S. military base or the U.S. Embassy and advise the appropriate security or police authorities. Consider carrying a cell phone.

Learn to recognize and be alert to events that could signal the start of a plan to stop your car and take you captive. Such events include a cyclist falling in front of your car, a flagman or workman stopping your car, an unusual detour, a fake police or government checkpoint, road blocked by a disabled vehicle or accident victim, an accident in which your car is deliberately struck, cars or pedestrian traffic that box you in, or any sudden activity or gunfire. Unusual and unexplained absence of local citizens may also precede a terrorist attack.

If you determine you are under attack, you will have to make an instantaneous decision without time to carefully weigh all the consequences. You can prepare yourself to make this decision by rehearsing in your mind, in advance, how you will react under various possible circumstances.

You won't have many options. You can sound the horn to draw attention to your car. This will, at least, help ensure there will be witnesses to observe and report what happened. You can make a quick U- turn and try to escape. If you need to jump the curb, hit it at a 30-45 degree angle and maximum speed of 35 mph. If your path is blocked by a vehicle across the road, you can, at some risk to yourself and any passengers, ram the blocking vehicle in an effort to spin it out of the way. Hit the other vehicle on an angle, with the impact focused on the wheel you want to move out of the way.

Also see Kidnapping and Hostage Survival Guidelines.

Car Bombing

A terrorist can't plant a bomb in your car without having access to the car, so routine security measures against car theft are doubly relevant in areas where you might become a terrorist target. Always lock your car. Don't leave it on the street overnight, if possible. If you have to leave a key with a parking attendant, be sure to leave only the ignition key. Never leave your garage doors open or unlocked.

Lock your gas cap and put a bolt through the tailpipe. This will make bomb placement more difficult. Don't allow anyone to have access to the trunk unless you are there to observe.

When parking your car in an open area, check the area for suspicious persons before getting out. If in doubt, drive away. When you return to your car after it has been parked in an open area, do a walk-around inspection of the vehicle before you get it. In a high risk area, you may wish to look under the car for any evidence of unusual wires or tape.

At home, it's a good idea to have a remote garage door opener, so that you can enter and exit your car in the security of the closed garage.


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