A world of trouble

Today’s business travelers face diverse threats from terrorists and other criminals.

In El Salvador, “muggings following ATM or bank withdrawals are common, as are armed robberies at scenic-view stops,” says the U.S. State Department, which warns about “being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

This is not to pick on El Salvador. Another State Department notice advises travelers about “violence and looting” in Venezuela, where “security forces have arrested individuals, including U.S. citizens, and detained them for long periods with little or no evidence of a crime.” Other warnings have reported “violent crimes, including homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery” in Mexico and “security challenges across the [West African] region,” as terrorist groups last October “kidnapped a U.S. citizen in Niger and reportedly took him to Mali.”

In general, the State Department says, terrorist and other criminal groups globally are employing unsophisticated attack methods “to more effectively target crowds, including the use of…vehicles as weapons. Extremists increasingly aim to assault soft targets, such as high-profile public events (sporting contests, political rallies, demonstrations, holiday events, celebratory gatherings, etc.)” as well as “hotels, clubs, and restaurants.”

Walt Whitman famously enthused that “afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road,” but Whitman’s road started on Long Island in New York, where he was born, and ended in Camden, New Jersey, where he died in 1892. No way could he have envisioned a world where “terrorist attacks, political upheaval, and violence often take place without any warning,” and “U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness when traveling,” as the State Department recently cautioned.
As business jets increasingly deliver passengers to remote areas of the world, those concerns are mounting, and travel intelligence companies are thriving.

“Business jet users are conscious that they are more visible [than other people] as a target,” says Bruce McIndoe, chief executive of iJET, a global travel risk-management company.

Often, he adds, “nation-state surveillance operations and criminal elements will know who’s on that plane—so it does raise your profile in certain countries. You’re not just one of 200-plus people getting off an A330.”

Says International SOS, which provides risk-management and emergency evacuation, “Whether in transit or at their destinations, business travelers, and by extension their corporate networks, are potentially more vulnerable [than others] to malicious cyber and physical information security threats.” Corporate travel and aviation departments managing business jets are vitally aware of so-called duty-of-care protocols for on-the-road employees.

Another growing concern is business losses through cyber crime, which International SOS estimates will cost companies more than $2 trillion annually by 2019. Cyber-crime vulnerabilities are increasing as more travelers using mobile devices become exposed to insecure network infrastructures that are vulnerable to, or even controlled by, criminal enterprises.

Even if business jet travelers manage to block public access to tail numbers or other flight information, governments can always get that data, and may be sharing it. Says McIndoe: “So whether it’s your flight plan or your cellphone connecting to a network, when you’re in a foreign country you have to assume that its government has access to all of your information and, depending on the country, criminal factions might, too.”

One goal of risk management is to ensure reliable intelligence information and to make decisions about which mobile devices to carry on any given trip. Another, of course, is the routine risk assessment for crime and civil unrest in various worldwide destinations.

Political kidnappings make headlines, says McIndoe, but “in some of these countries kidnappings are more about extortion. A lot of them are really for you to get your ATM card and unload cash. “Or they’ll kidnap you if they see you’re with a major company and find some other criminal syndicate to sell you to—and then they will go after the million in ransom.”

So let’s be careful out there, as the sergeant warned the cops at squad room roll call in the TV series Hill Street Blues. And, State Department warnings about dangerous foreign travel notwithstanding, let’s be aware that the rest of the world sees travel even within the United States as presenting risks. Among countries that have issued precautions about travel to the U.S. are the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Britain, and Australia.

“Mass shootings continue to occur in public places,” the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs cautioned in March. Noting the preponderance of guns in the U.S, meanwhile, Germany had some practical advice for its travelers who might be confronted by a criminal with a firearm: “Do not resist.”