Monday, October 19, 2009

Travel Security by: CapnRick (in Argentina)

(This is The Travel Security Report, written by Rick Davis (CapnRick).
Its well written and full of valuable information, both for travelers and also everyday security tips.
I've had the pleasure to meet Rick, he's a great guy, has lots of experience and is willing to share it. Such a combination isn’t found everyday. If reposting and sharing, please, give Rick the credit he deserves by linking or adding the contact information found below.


The following recommendations are a result of my travel throughout the
world on business for 20+ years. These observations are offered as a helpful
supplement to other sources on the web dealing with personal security
issues while traveling. My apologies to those who do not find these
observations pertinent to their particular situation. Allow me to say that
these suggestions are offered freely and without restriction so they may be
passed around with no obligation. Very little of this information is original to
me, and I apologize if anyone has written anything similar. Also, I am not a
security professional and make no claims of expertise. This stuff works for
me, but each reader's mileage may vary. Some of my ideas might actually
get people in trouble with the authorities and/or cause physical harm. Please
read this with an open mind and a critical eye. Comments are appreciated at
Lots of US Embassy staff, host country Federal Police and Army staff gave
me input, horror stories and advice regarding personal safety issues while I
was visiting and working in overseas markets. These were Latin America, but
including trips to Western European and Pacific Rim countries. I also have
input from international and US expatriates living and working there. I know
that many people have a lot of experience in many different countries, and
may honestly laugh at all these ideas and issues presented here as stupid
and alarmist. How you take it is your business. It is submitted in serious
concern for the safety of all international travelers.
It was necessary for me to learn this stuff because I have lived and worked
outside the US most of my life. I first traveled internationally in the
1960s and retired in 2005 to live in Argentina. I hope you can understand
that the world in post 9-11 has really changed. Radicals of the right, the
left and the lunatic religious extreme and NarcoTerrorists all celebrated
when the twin towers went down. You should also be aware that even pre 9-
11, international travel was seriously more dangerous than it was in the
1960s. Now, bad guys all over the world have become more encouraged by
their perception that bad guys can get away with bad stuff... hence, have
become more aggressive.
This article contains various types of info, including some info that
may not be of interest to all travelers. I hope you will find some of the
following items of interest including...
* Things you may do to prepare yourself for the unfamiliar security
issues in unfamiliar territory.
* Questions you may be asking and factors that may be considered based
upon the situation in your area of destination.
* Items for which you may be alert that may indicate possible threats
to your person or valuables.
* Travel Tips which include how to research the area, sources of
information, planning ahead, blending in to your surroundings for safety,
* Dressing for success. How to maintain an edge in your favor in
dangerous areas. Potential weapons/tools to aid in your security efforts.
* Dealing with the stress of being a victim.
* Dealing with Terror concerns, broken down by world areas.
Try to familiarize yourself with the area you plan to visit. There are
various aggregators of news that allow one to program their search "bots" to
look for keywords involving your area of interest. I use Yahoo News, Dogpile
News Search element and some others. I also look for the local news
sources for the area in question on the web. Here are some questions you
should consider when seeking information about your geographical area of
* Are terrorist/organized criminal groups currently active in the
* Do they aggressively attack visiting foreigners? Or, is it more
local-on-local crime?
* How active are they? How violent have they proven to be within the
last 4 - 12 months?
* How sophisticated are they? Do they use military weapons and
* Are they predictable? Can you expect to be safer by staying out of
known areas of operation?
* Will local citizens warn visiting foreigners? Do you have local
contacts who can advise you?
Groups and individuals have demonstrated their willingness to employ
terrorist/criminal tactics to further their agendas. While some threats have
a regional focus, others have become international and affect multiple
areas. Foreign visitors, military and diplomatic staff are seriously
targeted in virtually every region of the world.
Consider ways you might become a victim of a criminal/NarcoTerrorist
attack. Several factors to keep in mind include:
Location: Local terrorists may target locations frequented by foreigners or
foreign military personnel such as certain hotels, apartment buildings,
public transportation centers, and nightclubs. Avoid possible target
locations. They often use the employees of foreigner frequented
establishments, taxi drivers, airport staff (especially banking/money
changing establishment personnel) and adult entertainment workers as
associates or sources of information about possible lucrative targets.
Opportunity: Terrorists and criminals look for "soft targets"... so, learn
to avoid appearing so. It is difficult to over stress the need to maintain
vigilance, practice good personal safety, and to alert the proper
authorities of suspicious behavior. If you find yourself unable to avoid
being outdoors at night, try to walk down the middle of the street (not
always possible). Be especially watchful if passing a large van or a vehicle
with people in it, courtyards and deep doorways near your path. Walk
purposefully with strong, determined strides... shoulders back, head erect,
head and eyes constantly moving. Use windows/mirrors near the street to
check your surroundings. Under no circumstances allow anyone to engage
you in conversation at this time. Criminals will try to slow you down while
their helpers get into position to assault you. Keep moving, speak into your
cell phone as if carrying on a conversation... preferably in a language you
think the possible attackers don't know.
To attack you, terrorists generally must perceive you, your association, or
your location as a target. Put serious thought on the subject of how to
avoid appearing to be an easy target.
Be alert for how criminals/NarcoTerrorists prepare and conduct attacks
through predictable steps. Through vigilance, you might be able to recognize
preparations for an attack before it is executed. Be alert to unusual
behavior that may indicate intelligence gathering, surveillance, collecting
materials for attack, dry runs, and rehearsals. For example:
* Taking photos or videos of potential targets
* Writing notes or sketching details about a possible target
* Showing abnormal attention to details of routine activities and
security measures
* Using false identification
* Paying cash for items normally bought on credit
* Purchasing large quantities of items that could be used as part of
an attack (e.g., chemicals or cell phones)
If you see something unusual, report it immediately to security officials
for further investigation. Make a note of the individual's description and
activities, the time of day, and equipment being used.
Terrorist/criminal attacks at the Spanish/English/Japanese rail systems,
Mexican border towns, Bali, Indonesia, Luxor, Egypt, London, England, and
other tourist locations signal an increased threat to foreign travelers.
While visiting a new location, it is natural to tour local sites of
interest. While sightseeing, you should keep good anti-crime/antiterrorism
practices in mind.
Plan Ahead
* Research any known potential threats in the area. If the threat is
elevated, take extra precautions or postpone your activities.
* Plan activities and a route that includes safe locations. Keep
thinking, "What if..."
* Ask a friend or coworker to join you - small groups are usually
safer than individuals.
If sightseeing with others, pre-designate a location to meet at if separated
during an emergency. Make sure someone knows your itinerary
(acquaintances, business contacts, hotel staff?) and what time you may be
Blend in to Your Surroundings
Conceal your national/business/religious affiliation and try to blend in
with other people on the street. USA red white and blue t-shirts,
soccer/baseball logo clothing and religious jewelry are overly conspicuous
in many instances. Observe and conform to local culture. Activities such as
public displays of affection, drinking alcohol, or wearing shorts or skirts
may be inappropriate.
Do not bring undue attention to yourself. Avoid loud or boisterous behavior.
Walking the streets at night in an inebriated state in very dangerous in
many locations.
* Taxis: Try to never travel alone in a taxi. Try to never take a taxi
off the street. Try to always have a taxi company's business card in your
pocket and call or have someone call the cab for you. If not, a taxicab
stand is the next best solution. Even US embassy marines have to take
these precautions, and we know they're in good shape... pretty tough in a
fight. They are also excellent sources of good local information.
Unfortunately, one of the thriving businesses in criminal/NarcoTerror Land is
to pick up arich guy (you) off the street in a taxi, and around the corner are
two additional thugs with guns who escort you to a quiet place, strip the rich
guy, take his luggage, etc. If a VISA or debit card is found, they will
escort you to an ATM and make you withdraw the daily limit before they
strip you naked and leave you on the side of the road. Unless they are
impressed with what they find among your effects, then the thugs may
decide it's worth a try to sell you to the NarcoTerrorists (drug traffickers).
They may ask for US$5,000 - US$15,000, knowing the NarcoTerrorists'
usual minimum demand for ransom is US$250,000. Then, you may spend
the next several years of your life chained to a tree in the jungle swatting
mosquitoes and eating undercooked beans.
* If you or your taxi driver notices a suspicious vehicle or two in
the vicinity, consider asking the taxi driver to take you to the nearest
police station... or high traffic area.
* If you must drive a vehicle and your budget does not include an
armored vehicle with "run-flat" tires preceded by a "chase" car and a
following "blocker" van full of armed bodyguards, then try to rent/select a
4-wheel drive vehicle with high ground clearance. A heavy-duty bumper is a
good idea for running through barricades. If you see a police roadblock
manned by only one or two officers and one (or NO) clearly official vehicle,
consider running the roadblock or going around it. You may prefer to reverse
out of the area quickly to a place where you can turn around and leave the
area. If it is really a fake-cop scam (or, off-duty/retired cops pulling a
scam), you should be okay. You may really need a heavy duty vehicle for
this maneuver. If is a legitimate control point/official police roadblock and
they catch you, humbly and very politely explain that you are sorry and will
never do it again, but a friend of yours warned against false roadblocks by
criminals/NarcoTerrorists. All around the world, official roadblocks usually
have many, many clearly marked police vehicles and uniformed/heavily
armed officers. Don't forget that NarcoTerrorists have Police uniforms and
equipment, too... but, usually not too many official vehicles.
* If you happen to be driving down a street and one or more people run
out in front of the car in an attempt to stop you, Do not hesitate to slam
down the accelerator as if you are trying to hit them. They will get out of
the way.
* If you are in a known area for auto-related crime and someone
rear-ends your vehicle as if on purpose, consider leaving the scene as
rapidly as possible. This is a serious "What if... ?" scenario.
* In many countries, police understand if you slow down but fail to
stop at traffic lights and stop signs after dark because it is known to be
too dangerous at night.
* Be aware that motorcycles and scooters are not always a good idea if
you have to try to escape while someone is shooting at you. Car sheet metal
isn't much, but every little bit helps.
* ATMs: Try to only go to an ATM in the daytime anywhere in the world.
Even in the US. Also, pay attention to who is in the area before, during and
after getting your money. Situational awareness is difficult when you're
trying to get the pesky machine to work... so, consider not going to an ATM
* Buses: Until 1995, I always felt safe taking the bus. I would still
take the Nuevo Laredo - Monterrey bus, but probably think twice about
taking one in the Juarez/Chihuaua or Sinaloa state areas. Why? The various
Colombian and Mexican NarcoTerror groups stop buses full of people as bait
to get the rescuing government forces to move into kill zones where
improvised explosive devices (IEDs) take them out. I have seen the results
first hand, and seeing where 40+ teenage army guys got brutally cut to
pieces by home-made bombs will mess up your whole life.
If you happen to be one of the poor guys shivering naked on the side of the
road with 20-30 others watching the NarcoTraficantes molest the women
passengers, understand that you will spend the next several years of your
life eating beans in the jungle. Poor folks get to go home, except for the
young and pretty girls and teenage boys they want to draft for paramilitary
service for the NarcoTraficantes.
The NarcoTraficantes are studying in the same Islamic extremist terror
schools as Al Qaeda, and Colombian/Mexican NarcoTraficantes' IEDs are
really starting to show up a lot more... in recent cases, bait and blast
techniques were used in the south of Mexico to kill lots of soldiers and
Federal Police.
At an outdoor table of any restaurant, don't leave your phone, camera,
purse or any other valuables in plain sight or within reach of the walking
public. Try to sit as far from vehicular/pedestrian traffic as possible. As
always, play the "What if... ? Game" and remain alert to your surroundings.
Jenna Bush's purse was jacked in full daylight in Buenos Aires, when
she was surrounded by agents.
When leaving a high-end location, such as an electronics store, Armani, etc,
an expensive restaurant or nice hotel, you may have just identified yourself
as a potential high-end target. If you are carrying packages, and you put
them into an automobile, please try to secure the items in the trunk or a
lockable compartment and be aware that you will possibly be followed by
thugs with evil intent to your next location. If you are in a Range Rover or
Cadillac Esplanade, you should understand that you are in a rolling
high-value target, with little or no inside secure storage. If you stop and
leave the vehicle in any unsecured location after being seen exiting a
high-end location, don't be too surprised if you come back later to find the
locks broken or the vehicle stolen.
A wallet is a liability, and I never carry one. I wear a slim, zippered
pouch between my T-shirt and external shirt/sweater for credit cards,
driving license and copies (not originals) of my passport, birth
certificate, travel or residency documents. Sometimes, I prefer a
photographer's vest with lots of internal/external zippered or Velcro
pockets. This vest can contain as much as a small suitcase... currently,
about four kilos of stuff. Fanny packs are less secure, so I usually just
put reading material, inexpensive sunglasses, gum, etc in them.
Cameras/GPSs and other high-end items are secured in Velcro pockets in the
vest or coat pocket. As a side note, I have copied and reduced in size all my
important documents for daily carry and emailed these [scanned] copies [as
PDFs] to several of my web-based e-mail accounts so I can replace them at
any time from any internet/print location.
The amount of cash I carry is as small as possible. I keep large
denomination bills in a money clip in the bottom of one front pocket with a
handkerchief crushed down on top of it. The handkerchief is super
important, because the pickpocket has to go around it to get to the real
goodies. Another money clip contains the daily allotment of small bills is in
another front pocket, so I don't have to flash large bills for most purchases.
It is also crammed down in the bottom of the front pocket with another
handkerchief crammed on top of it. The bulk of my funds, original passport
and other documents, valuables, etc are kept in a Wal-Mart small
combination safe that fits in my luggage, which I check in at the front office
safe at the hotel when traveling. Note that I do not agree with several
recommendations that a "decoy wallet" stuffed with paper be carried to toss
away so as to distract attackers. I prefer throwing my decoy stash of small
denomination bills to scatter everywhere as a more time consuming
distraction for a better chance of escape.
Luggage Security
Most complaints regarding theft, damage or loss involves the contents of
luggage. Savvy travelers will make a written inventory of items in their
luggage and photograph it in case of loss. Carry important items like
medication, eyeglasses, and expensive jewelry in your hand luggage, a
traveler's vest like photographers use to carry their small equipment items,
etc. My vest holds up to 8 kilos of goodies. Photocopy the contents of your
wallet and your passport. Carry a copy in your hand luggage and leave one
at home as back up. Keep luggage under your control until you check in at
your destination. Consider traveling with sturdy plain-looking luggage.
Expensive looking luggage may be targeted for its perceived contents.
External bag tags should not list your full home address and telephone
number. I put my cell phone number, my phone number and email address
on my tags. I do not put my name or any affiliations on bag tags. Consider
defacing your beautiful luggage with big bands of tape all around the
outside, laterally, with your phone numbers, email, etc in case of loss.
Consider durable luggage that is capable of being locked or secured and that
will withstand being at the bottom of a pile of hundreds of other pieces of
luggage without popping open. It is a good idea to add extra banding... $5
for a wide nylon strap with side snap locks at Wal-Mart... or airport
plastic wrap or duct tape to your luggage locks to prevent anyone from
opening your luggage without detection. When flying, I do not lock my bags
so inspectors do not break the locks. I use self-locking plastic tie-wraps.
They work well for securing my luggage. All airport inspectors have
replacements if they have to cut your ties to inspect your bags. You can buy
these at any home improvement store for about a dollar. The reason for this
is that smugglers have been known to slip drugs/weapons, etc into luggage
only to retrieve it later and maybe with force. Passengers have unknowingly
transported illegal substances/firearms that were slipped into their
suitcase by baggage handlers only to be arrested later by authorities. What
explanation you would give to prove your innocence to a foreign government
of why you are carrying drugs or guns? If your luggage was properly sealed,
you should see if it has been tampered with prior to opening it. Report any
luggage tampering immediately to security before opening the case.
Luggage locks: If there is a combination lock on the bag, I put a piece of
tape on the bag under the lock with the combo... usually, 0-0-0. This is
because my bag was seriously harmed by customs forcing the bag open
even though it was unlocked. A sign of the times, no?
Airplane security: Beyond the obvious precautions, I would suggest trying
to reserve a window seat as close to the middle of the cabin as possible. The
rear and front of each cabin is where the bad guys congregate to watch over
the victims. Consider what you can do to avoid being obvious about your
business/military/nationality/religious affiliations.
Cruise Ship Security: Cruise ships are like a small city where passengers
are encouraged to forget their troubles and relax once onboard ship. It is
natural for passengers on vacation to let their guard down, especially when
out to sea in a resort-like setting. Try to not let a false sense of security
aboard a cruise ruin your vacation by becoming a crime victim. Before you
ship out, consider taking some of these preventative steps:
After you enter your cabin, and while the door is still open, always check
inside the bathroom or closest before sitting down inside. Don't assume that
your cabin is as secure as a hotel. Many people have keys to your cabin and
your cabin door may be left standing open for hours while the cleaning crews
or cabin steward services the room. Cabin doors locks are sometimes
horribly outdated and are not re-keyed as frequently as hotel rooms.
Obviously, don't leave valuable items lying around. It is a good idea to have
inventoried your luggage and photographed expensive items at home, and
even emailed the info to your web email account for easy retrieval anywhere
before you packed them at home in case of loss. Since most ship passengers
are set up on a charge account system, be sure to use the ship safe deposit
box for storage of valuable items, papers, credit cards or extra cash. Use all
locks on the cabin door including the night latch. Consider carrying a
hardware store door stop in your luggage and deploying it for extra security
of the closed door while in the cabin. Some are available with alarms from
web suppliers. Don't open your cabin door to strangers. Whatever the
person wants can be expressed from the other side of the closed and locked
door. Be sure to teach children about this important procedure.
Just like in a hotel, protect your cabin key and cabin number. Dishonest
crew or passengers will look for the opportunity to snatch a loose key or
one that is left unattended. When in port, be sure to leave your key with
the registration desk before disembarking.
Remember the phony hairspray/deodorant can safe if small items need to be
secured and no safe is available. Once on board and out to sea, don't
assume that you are totally safe from criminal acts. While there is little
danger of an outside predator robbing or attacking you on a cruise ship,
crimes can just as easily be committed by crew members or by fellow
passengers. Many cruise lines hire transient and seasonal employees at low
wages. Because of this, turnover is high and cruise lines struggle to keep a
ship fully staffed. While most crew members are hardworking and honest
people, you cannot assume that the ship has properly screened that nice
cabin attendant, waiter or below deck crew.. Consider a Family Security
Plan: If you bring your children aboard, be sure to establish family rules in
advance. Set curfews and restrictions...just like at home. Teenagers
especially should be told never to accompany crew members into non-public
areas nor should crew members be allowed inside your cabin. Being at sea
can cause a false sense of security. Even though the crime incident rate per
thousand is relatively low, there can still be predators on board. Ship
nightclubs, casinos, swimming pools and Jacuzzis are favorite spots for those
looking for a victim.
You also need to keep your guard up with intoxicated passengers. Food and
liquor consumption peaks on board ships and cause bring out the worst in
some people not used to it. Just because passengers are dressed up, doesn't
mean they will act appropriately or not be overly aggressive. It is not
unheard of for a ship passenger to slip a drug into your drink and take
advantage of you just like on shore. There are pickpockets, purse thieves,
and cabin burglars on board waiting for you to let your guard down or
become careless. There are also scam artists who seek and prey on rich
vacationers if given the chance.
Your family security plan for children might include bed checks, curfews,
restrictions, and special meeting places. Beware of which children they hang
out with, just like at home. Your children can be exposed to other children
who use drugs or like to get into mischief, just like at home. Try to limit
your child to ship sponsored activities in public areas. You should make
contact with your children periodically even if they are supervised. Giving
them the run of the ship while you are otherwise engaged is not a good idea.
Always have a backup plan and identify a ship crew member as a contact
person in case your child fails to show up or you get separated at a port.
Make certain that the kids understand there is nothing you can do to
retrieve a kid from the police if they are caught in a foreign country with
You are not in Kansas anymore. Although you boarded a ship in a US port
doesn't mean that you are protected by the US justice system. Most ships
are registered in non-US countries and travel in territorial waters where US
laws might not apply. The cruise industry does not report crime data
consistently, if at all, to the FBI or have a database of ships with the
most crime problems. Shipboard crimes sometimes fall into a "no man's
land" of law enforcement. A crime can occur between two people of different
nationalities, on a ship from a third country, and in the territorial waters
of a fourth country. The governing law is the International Maritime Law and
is not as well developed as US law. Reporting a crime on board a cruise ship
doesn't mean anything will be done or that the crime will ever be
investigated. The FBI is the only US law enforcement agency that can
investigate a major crime but only if it occurs in International waters,
otherwise crimes are reported to the jurisdiction of the closest foreign
country and to the embassies of the parties involved. Prosecution of crime,
in many cases, will be left in the hands of the local port authority where
no one can predict the outcome.
Be aware that if you or your family member gets into trouble on board a ship
or in a port, you may be held accountable to the laws of a foreign country.
The thing to do is to stay alert, be cautious, and stay safe while at sea.
For details on the safety record of your cruise ship or how your ship will
handle problems such are lost luggage or crime acts, contact the cruise line
directly and ask for written disclosure of their policies and regulations.
You can also contact the Cruise Lines International Association in New York
City who represents the twenty five largest cruise lines for more
Security in a Hotel
Most hotels are protected by the individual country's innkeeper laws. In
most cases, these laws clearly state that the hotel is not responsible for
theft from your room... including the convenient room safe. If you are in a
rented apartment for a longer stay, you are entirely unprotected against
loss. Some travelers are hiding small, high-value items, money, etc in the
small "diversion safe". This is a common item such as a large can of aerosol
deodorant that is really an empty can with a removable screw-off lid. Be
sure to stuff a hand towel or handkerchief, wad of paper, etc on top to
prevent rattling of the items in the can. I recommend using the front desk
lock box when possible, thereby making the hotel responsible in most
Upper floors are safer from crime, but worse for fire rescue. Emergency
rescue is best below the fifth floor. I compromise by picking a modern
fire-safe hotel and always request a room on an upper floor to reduce crime
exposure. Ground floor rooms are more vulnerable to crime problems
because of access and ease of escape. In a high-rise building, rooms above
the fifth-floor are usually safer from crime than those below because of
lesser accessibility and ease of escape. Also, rooms not adjacent to fire
stairs are safer from room invaders because they use them for escape.
Criminals do not want to be trapped on an upper floor inside a high-rise
hotel. By design, high-rise buildings usually have fewer ground level access
points and are easier for the hotel staff to monitor who passes through the
access points after hours.
Door Security Hardware
Hotel or motel rooms should be equipped with a solid-core wood or metal
door for best protection. Doors should be self-closing and self-locking. Room
doors should have a deadbolt lock with at least a one-inch throw bolt. If
the lock appears worn or there are pry marks around the lock area, get
another room or move to another hotel. The knob-lock should be hotel-style
where you can push a button on the inside knob and block out all keys. This
feature is designed to prevent a former guest or housekeeper from entering
the room once you are safely inside. Hotels with electronic card access have
the advantage of being able to disable former key cards issued to previous
guests and unauthorized employees. Electronic locks also will block out most
room service keys when you set the deadbolt. The room door should have a
wide-angle peephole so you can view who is at the door before opening.
Access Control
Do not open your door to someone who knocks unannounced. Some
criminals will pretend to be a bellman, room service, maintenance, or even
hotel security to gain admittance to your room. Always call the front desk to
confirm their status with the hotel and only open the door if you requested
the service. Do not rely on door chains or swing bars to secure the doors
while you partially open the door to speak someone. These are unreliable
security devices. Teach your children not to open the door of any hotel room
without knowing the person on the other side and without your permission.
Other Entry Points
Make sure all windows and sliding doors are secured, if they are accessible
from the ground. It is a good idea to test all windows and glass doors to
see if they are secure. Beware of balconies where someone can climb from
one to another and enter through an open window or sliding door. If the
windows or sliding doors are not securable, ask for another room or find
another hotel. If your room has an adjoining door to an adjacent room,
check it to see that it is secured with a deadbolt lock. If it is questionable,
ask for another room.
Beware the Parking Lot
If you are a woman traveling alone or with small children, take advantage of
car valet service, if available to avoid the parking lot. After checking-in,
ask the bellman or desk clerk to escort you to your room. After unlocking
the room, quickly inspect the closets, under the bed, and bathroom including
behind the shower curtain before the bellman leaves. Tip the bellman for his
Occupancy Cues
Put the Do-Not-Disturb sign on the doorknob even when you are away, this
deters room burglars (it may affect housekeeping service, however). Turn on
the television or radio just loud enough to hear through the door to give
the appearance that the room is occupied. Leave one light on inside the
room if you will return after dark. This helps you see upon re-entry and
gives the room the appearance of occupancy from the outside. Always go
through the same room inspection routine every time you re-enter. People
traveling alone should use caution when using the breakfast order door-knob
hanger card, especially if the card lists your name and number of persons in
the room. A smart crook can knock on the door posing as room service and
use your name as a ruse to gain entry.
When you find a suitable hotel that meets your safety standards and will
cater to your security needs try to stick with it or with the same hotel
chain. Don't be afraid to complain to management to get the safe room you
* Consider requesting a room on an upper floor, if possible.
* A solid door with a good deadbolt lock is best.
* Electronic card access locks help limit access.
* Make sure your door has a peephole and night latch and use it.
* Turn on the TV or radio just loud enough to hear through the door.
* Turn on a single light in the room if you plan to return after dark.
* Inspect the room hiding places upon entering and check all locks.
* Ask the bellman for an escort and use valet parking if alone
Hotel Room Invasions
One of the more frightening and potentially dangerous crimes that can occur
to a family or business traveler is a hotel room invasion robbery. A hotel
room invasion occurs when robbers force their way into an occupied hotel or
motel room to commit a robbery or other crimes. It is frightening because it
violates our private space and the one place that acts as our temporary
sanctuary while away from home. Some travelers never recover from the
experience of being assaulted while in a hotel room in a strange city.
Like the crime of carjacking, most police agencies don't track home or hotel
room invasions as a separate crime. Most police agencies and the FBI will
statistically record the crime as a residential burglary or a robbery.
Without the ability to track the specific crime of hotel room invasion,
little can be done to alert the public as to the frequency of occurrence or
devise a law enforcement plan of action to prevent it.
How Invasions are Carried Out
Hotel burglars work mostly during the day and when a room is more likely to
be unoccupied. Most burglars work alone, or with hotel staff informants and
tend to probe a hotel looking for the right room and the right opportunity.
Access control systems, good building design, strong locks and doors, and
alert hotel staff can often deter burglars. Also, burglars don't want to be
confronted and will usually flee when approached. Most burglaries do not
result in violence unless the criminal is cornered and uses force to escape.
Hotel room invasion robbers, in contrast, work more often at night when
rooms are more likely to be occupied and less staff is on duty. The hotel
room invaders usually target the occupant and room location and not
necessarily the hotel. The selection process may include women traveling
alone or senior citizens, or known drug dealers, or wealthy travelers, for
example. It is not unusual for a robber to follow the victim to their hotel
room based on the value of the car they were driving or the jewelry or
clothes they were wearing... even being seen exiting a high-end retail
establishment or restaurant can cause one to be targeted and followed.
Hotel room invaders have been known to work casinos and watch for guests
flashing large sums of money or jewelry. Hotel room invaders usually work
alone or with just one accomplice and they rely on an overwhelming physical
confrontation to gain control and instill fear in the room occupants.
The violence occurs instantly with an overwhelming explosive force to take
control of the room. The hotel room invaders often come equipped with
handcuffs, rope, tape, and weapons. Some hotel room robbers appear to
enjoy the intimidation, domination, and violence and some claim it is a
"rush." Some hotel robbers are also opportunist rapist and may sexually
assault their victims.
Dangerous Trends
The act of committing a hotel room invasion is escalating much like
carjacking. The reason for the increase seems to follow a similar pattern.
Much like automobiles, the traditional commercial targets for robbers have
hardened themselves against criminal attack. Technology has allowed
commercial establishments to install better locks, and other anti-crime
deterrent devices.
Guest room robbers have privacy once inside and don't have to deal with
security or hotel staff or other guests who might suddenly appear. Once the
offenders take control of a guest room, they can force the occupants to open
room safes, locate hidden valuables, supply keys to the car, and PIN
numbers to their ATM cards. Guest room robbers will increase their escape
time by disabling the phones and sometimes leave their victims bound or
incapacitated. It is not unheard of for robbers to load up the victim's car
with valuables and drive away without anyone in the hotel taking notice.
Method of Operation:
The most common point of attack is through the guest room door or patio
door. Sometimes the hotel room invader will simply kick open the door and
confront everyone inside. More common is when the hotel room invaders
knock on the door first. The room invader hopes that the occupant will
simply open the door, without question, in response to their knock.
Unfortunately, many people do just that.
Guest room robbers will sometimes use a ruse or impersonation to get you
to open the door. They have been known to pretend to be room service,
housekeeping, security, or delivering flowers. Clever room robbers might
hold a room service tray or flowers in view of the peephole to further the
impersonation. Once the door is opened for them, the hotel room invaders
will use an explosive amount of force and threats to gain control of the
room and produce fear in the victims. Once the occupants are under control,
the robbers will begin to collect your portable valuables.
Another tactic is for a robber to select a victim in the lobby and ride up
in the elevator with them. They will get off on the same floor and pretend
walk behind you as if going to their room. This means you need to return to
the elevator and return to the lobby. Once the guest opens their door, the
robber will force his way in behind them and make his demand.
Weapons: A Slight Edge
If you habitually carry a firearm, you tend to feel naked without one on
your person while in unfamiliar circumstances. Except for active duty
military or law enforcement, it is difficult to get the paperwork necessary
to legally carry a firearm in a foreign country. Carrying an illegal firearm
is a really, really bad idea in an unfamiliar country. Severe penalties, up
to and including the death penalty, ensue if caught at it. While Mexico is
currently a more dangerous place that either Iraq or Afghanistan, please
understand that if NarcoTerrorists get their hands on you, you will be faced
with 15 - 20 guys with AKs and M4s. Your measly popgun will just be added
to their collection. Going about unarmed in potentially dangerous territory
means that situational awareness and "What if...?" scenario planning are not
My favorite defense tools include a stun gun, and a metal extendable police
baton, camouflaged with a small flashlight replacement for the end ferrule.
It looks like a typical metal body flashlight, and the police don't question
it. Both the flashlight extension and the baton were purchased for less than
USD40 on eBay. For less than USD40 I bought a stun gun with a personal
alarm and a flashlight as well as 100v stun buttons on top all included on a
unit camouflaged as a cell phone. This is great... though, it will not pass
close inspection as a cell phone. What is really good about it is the Argentine
thieves usually demand your cell phone and your money, giving no alerts as
you reach toward him with a cell phone stun gun. Also, it is very useful in
a dark, dangerous area to have it up to your face pretending to talk on it
so deployment is almost instantaneous. In less dangerous environments, it
rides quite openly and comfortably in a cell phone carrier on my belt.
Neither of these items pass airport security inspection for carrying on
one's person or carry-on luggage. Checked luggage should be okay. You
stand a very good chance to be arrested if you forget. I forgot once, and was
able to talk my way out of getting arrested after surrendering my extendable
One should be able to get by with taking a ground-down razor sharp
screwdriver and/or a multi-tool with a knife blade inside checked luggage.
These are handy to carry while in unfamiliar surroundings. I put a plastic
barrel of a ball-point pen over the sharp blade of the screwdriver, and it
sits upright... held in place by yet another handkerchief... in my left-hand
hip pocket. I have practiced with this item until I can whip it out and
strike a telling defensive blow in less than a half second. These items pass
inspection as tools you just happen to have on you. I sometimes use a belt
with a push-blade knife concealed in the belt buckle. My Colombian and
Argentine police buddies say that they would not even be suspicious or think
of being suspicious of such items, since they don't run into them often...
if ever. The Mexican police are a bit more suspicious of such items because
they see stuff like this all the time with lots of Mexican nationals just
released from prison in the US, as well as weekend commandos from the
US. Again, one would face a high probability of arrest and detention if
caught attempting to board an airplane with such items on one's person or
hand luggage. See the TSA web site:
items.shtm. You can carry pepper spray in checked luggage on
some airlines.
Local cops that are not trying to rip you off typically won't hassle you for
having it for self defense. It is not against the law in any part of the
world that I am aware of. An Example: Two US guys off a private sailboat
walking down the street in beautiful downtown Cartegena, Colombia in broad
daylight when five thugs armed with knives tried to pull them into an alley
to have their dastardly way. The sailors applied pepper spray and fled
easily. The cops were televised grinning and slapping the sailors' backs in
congratulation for having foiled the crooks. The reports talked a lot about
the fact that the sailors had used pepper spray, and marveling at the fact
that the pepper spray had so effectively disabled the crooks that they were
still coughing and spitting 20 minutes later when the cops arrested them.
The small, compressed gas capsicum pepper spray canister can easily fit in
the pocket, even on a key chain and is available anywhere. These canisters
are usually available for purchase in any country, perhaps in a
salvage/surplus/sporting goods retailer. If you prefer, It is legal to carry
a small plastic bottle or baggie with cayenne pepper in checked luggage on
an airplane. You could also carry an EMPTY plastic squeeze bottle, and mix
up a little cocktail in the bottle with the pepper when you get access to
some water at your location. I haven't used it on humans, but it worked
really, really well on uncontrolled dogs trying to chase me down the street.
Again, carry these items in checked luggage only.
The good news is that accurately applied pepper compounds really work. I
have seen very tall, large muscle bound guys rolling on the ground
screaming for their mommy, while the petite 4 foot 9 inch lady at their side
is just crying quietly. The bad news is, don't bring pepper spray to a
gunfight. Also, I have used pepper spray on guys lit to the gills on crystal
meth doesn't work. Doesn't even slow 'em down. A really, really drunk
Mejicano used it on also didn't seem to notice.
Like anything else, pepper spray defense is an excellent option for most
people, and can be considered legal almost everywhere. However, it requires
good judgment and adult behavior.
An Example: Not so long ago, two US guys were leaving their sailboat in an
African port. It was around sundown, and they were walking to a restaurant
about a mile away. They noticed a group of locals giving them the eye as the
sailors ambled away. They soon passed beyond sight of any passersby. The
dock areas were deserted. They noticed a guy running parallel to them on a
path about 50 yards away in their direction of travel. They realized that
they were in trouble... unarmed at night and in a foreign port with no
witnesses. Sure enough, the thug ran up even to them and held them at bay
30 feet away with a pistol as his two thug friends came running up from
Even with martial arts training, this was the perfect setup for the thugs...
no way to reach the guy with the gun before suffering serious injury, two
unarmed thugs shaking them down for all their valuables. The even lost their
secret hideaway stashes, and were stripped of all of their goodies. They
later said the thugs searched them from the skin out, including shoes. And
only the crotch area was safe. Because they were unarmed, they were left
alive. The criminal with the gun had the drop on them... going for a gun
would have resulted in sustaining serious injuries. This was not a scenario
for a quick-draw exhibition. The police and port officials reported that the
tourists were lucky. The hijack group was highly experienced and
professional. Mostly, the less professional groups in the area at that time
just shot you dead and took what they wanted.
What have we learned from this? Playing the "What if... ?" game,
we may make suggestions.
* If you are leaving a safe place in an unsafe general area (in this
case, an African port... there are no "safe" ports in Africa), consider
calling a taxi to come collect you. Please do not take an un-summoned taxi
off the street. You want to avoid being taken around the corner so a hostile
group can rob you. Having the dispatcher know which driver collected you is
your best safety net.
* If a group of local idlers are eying you, you are probably being
sized up as a target. Return to a safe area... in this case, the secure
marina, and call a taxi.
* If despite your best efforts you are approached by a criminal group
as professional as described, your best course of action is to submit, as
did the unarmed victims in this example. Please believe me when I say that
you will instantly recognize a well-planned assault. The guys in this
example lived through the experience, and we can learn from them.
In this instance they had a few moments after noticing the running gunman
where they could have drawn their firearms. When I carry a weapon in a
dangerous area, I carry it in a shopping bag or a folded
magazine/newspaper... even a hat or cap... with my hand on the grip, finger
off the trigger. Just drape a handkerchief over your cocked and locked
pistol if necessary, keep your ready weapon in a convenient pocket or under
your shirt... but you must have your firearm in your hand ready to use, not
holstered. I practice these things in the safety of my home. With 20/20
hindsight, several people were going to get hurt that night if the victims
had at least one firearm in their hand... but, at the time, they had no
knowledge that the usual practice was to kill the victims, and might have
hesitated to fire. They would have guiltily realized at this time that they
should not have been there in the first place... realizing that they had
ignored the danger clues when leaving the secure marina. They might have
realized that their many hours of target practice were not sufficient for a
situation requiring split-second instinctive shooting at someone who had
'the drop' on them and would be shooting at them. The only chance with a
weapon in this scenario would be to turn to face their attacker, cooly bring
up the pistol up and take their best shot. The chances of this action being
successful were not good even if they already had the gun out and ready.
Gunfights are serious matters. The outcome is serious... as the book says,
No Second Place Winner. Using a firearm to wound or kill an attacker will
change your life forever. We all have to look at a gunfight as an admission
of guilt, of failure. You probably shouldn't have been there in the first
place. A gunfight is evidence of bad judgment, unless it happens defending
your family in your own home, a carjacking, etc. We must plan to be
arrested after such an incident, and carry local phone numbers of
attorneys/embassy officials/personal and/or business acquaintances for
notification of your situation. Also, it is important to know the local laws
regarding such incidents. It would be a good idea to read up on gunfights
and take an instinctive shooting course if you plan to travel armed. Most
importantly, practice, practice, practice.
If using a semi-auto, arm yourself with a CO2 pistol as close to the type
you will be using, practice drawing and firing BBs as trained in an
instinctive shooting course. Practice walking, running or sitting while
shooting. Practice shooting from different types of cover from different
positions. Practice instinctive shooting in low light conditions. I use my
J-frame .357 with wax bullets/primers/plastic shells that I make up myself.
My friends who hate guns actually enjoy this activity and look at it as
play. I don't. I practice at 7 - 15 feet--about the useful range for a wax
bullet--shooting at a cardboard poster. You can just tape a silhouette
target over a cardboard box. You must literally train for hundreds of hours
if you want to get into peak performance. And, why would you not want to
be the best you can in such critical situations?
Gunfight outcomes are decided by mental attitude, instincts and carefully
nurtured muscle memory. Please read up on the gunfighters who have
survived lots of gun battles. There are lots of web sites describing such
books, and recommendations are available from gun enthusiast and survival
blogs. I first read Bill Jordan's No Second Place Winner in the 1970s. I
learned to carry spare cartridges in my pistol-side jacket pocket to more
swiftly flip my coat tail out of the way when drawing my weapon, and
practiced it. I learned about stances, how to draw and shoot from the hip,
again as my weak hand met up with the gun and again as my arms fully
extended... the Jordan triple-tap... and lots more. I practice, practice,
practice. The book is out of print, but used copies are available on the net
for as low as US$15 plus shipping. You can't have my copy.
An Example:
A more successful outcome. It was Christmas in Houston, and my
friend Sara was at Sharpstown Mall carrying lots of packages and shopping
bags as she went to exit the mall to go to her car. Since the lot was
crowded, her car was not in an optimal location for security. Sara's
situational awareness kicked in. She saw that it had gotten dark early, as
it does in Houston at that time of year. She noticed some young thugs
hanging around the exit. Sara returned to the mall, sought out a security
guard, and requested that he escort her to her car, but he refused. Sara
stood at the door for a while, contemplating a route to her car that would
avoid parked vans in the lot... the criminals' vehicle of choice in Houston
at that time... took careful note of who was visible from her vantage point,
and plotted her course. Before she started out, she carefully sat down her
packages and removed her keys and... discretely... a very small .22 caliber
pistol which she concealed in her strong hand, retrieved her packages with
her purse over her gun arm and set out to her car. As she was on her way,
she turned around several times to scope out the other people in the lot and
what they were doing. She planned to return to the mall and insist on an
escort if she didn't like what she saw. When she got to her car, she was
putting her keys in the door lock when a young thug rushed up to her and
yelled some obscenities and threats at her as he grabbed Sara's purse,
attached to her gun arm by the strap. The action caused Sara's pistol's
pointy end to actually go up his nose. He said... and I quote Sara's
description... "Whoa, Mamma! Be cool." Sara said, "This is as cool as I
get." The thug's friends were running up to help, but the young thug said,
"Let's get outta here She got a PIECE up my nose", and they all took off
running. Sara immediately drove to the nearest police station to report the
attempted crime and the mall security guard's indifference. She later found
out that the young criminals were part of a large group that kept a rental
van parked in a central location, and the various teams were dropping off
their ill-gotten swag so their hands were free for more crime without
encumbrance. Several older people were hurt that night in the Sharpstown
Mall parking lot. One younger victim, a man, tried to resist with his wife
and children present and ended up in the hospital with permanent damage
from the beating he got.
In the two preceding examples we see that options only exist for the wary.
The two sailors ignored the little stomach lurch of instinct when they saw
thugs eying them. Had the group of thugs that targeted them been less
professional, they would probably have died for ignoring their instincts. It
only takes one mistake like that... an instant of recognition that was
ignored... to end our lives.
Sara's example ended well because she understood that only outstanding
situational awareness and planning via "What if... ?" scenarios can help us
survive potentially dangerous situations. Even though she was armed, Sara's
pistol would have ended up as part of the criminal swag had she not had it
in her hand and "gotten the drop" on her own private thug. She probably
would have sustained a few injuries as the thug pistol-whipped her with her
own gun for being dumb enough to carry a pistol she wasn't ready to use.
Please keep in mind that thugs hate you and everyone else that has more
than they have. They have only contempt for those who have less. As they
gain more experience at thuggery, they develop a bored indifference to
violence and will kill without remorse and spend their swag on a nice meal
immediately after a rewarding murder. If you are in law enforcement, you
already know this.
Ex-military people who have been in Close Quarters Combat know how to
shoot instinctively, how to survive a gun battle, and how to keep their heads
on a swivel. They are adept at the "What if... ?" game. Unlike police officers
who have survived many criminal confrontations, they may lack other
important skill sets. Whomever you may be, it is important to brutally
analyze your inventory skill sets, try to determine which sets you lack, and
work on trying to improve your chances in a criminal confrontation. Please
keep in mind that though Sara did everything right except be in a
crime-prone area... not very avoidable in Houston at that time... she had to
use every skill set she had plus a lot of nerve to survive unscathed her
criminal confrontation. And, yes... street survival is a mind game.
Decoy Money:
Consider keeping about US$30 to $50 folded up in a place where
you can get to it. If an armed thief comes up to you, give it to him. He may
just go away and leave you alone. Seriously... it's been reported as a
successful ploy and may save you. Be aware that I have seen video of five
armed guys stripping a guy on the street at night. There is no hiding place
when you're barefoot and naked, unless you have your goodies in a tube
inserted into a body cavity. If you can avoid that by giving them the bait
money, good for you. If not... you're gonna lose the bait money and
everything else anyway. Just a thought: consider carrying the bait money in
small bills and throw them to the wind so you can get a head start in
running to a safer place very fast. I know from personal experience that
this works... sometimes. I also carry my pepper spray concealed in my hand
with my finger on the trigger while observing suspicious activity. Since I
am not allowed to carry a firearm in my residence country, I need the
pepper spray to get far enough away to pull my collapsible baton/flashlight
combo as I run toward a safer place. And, yes, I have trained in baton
tactics, read many instruction manuals and scenarios, and practice, practice,
Other common sense items: Try to share info from the Internet, news items,
overheard comments, etc from traveler Internet boards. We need to help
one another.
Dress for Success
Wear layered clothing with lots of zip/Velcro/snap pockets to make it more
difficult to clean you out if your pockets are "picked"... spread your cash
around your body and clothes... taxi/bridge fare in your shoes.. If you are
in an area known as a high threat area for kidnapping, it is best to never
wear sandals or flip-flops, no matter how hot. This is in case you are
kidnapped and have to walk in rough terrain 10+ hours per day for a few
Never carry a checkbook. Identity theft attempts were made after I lost my
checkbook in Colombia.
Never sign the back of a credit card. Write "see photo ID" in the signature
block. Whenever possible, carry Xerox copies of your important docs. In
Argentina, I have a Xerox of the signature/photo page, last entry page and
visa page of my passport reduced to fit on the front and back of a single
sheet of paper, as well as the receipt for my application fee to obtain an
Argentine National ID card/Resident.
Stun Guns: Until they come out with a secret stun ring, I would worry about
the copsgetting cranky if they found it on you. The good news... they work
better than any other non-lethal method of self defense. Oh, except not
going to a place where you are likely to need it. No matter how drunk, pilled
up or crazy an attacker, and no matter how big and tough, they will be
rolling on the dirt screaming for mommy. Again, don't bring a stun gun to a
gun fight unless you are ex-law enforcement or otherwise trained/expert in
defensive tactics.
Collapsible baton: This is my all-time favorite. But be advised, to the best
of my knowledge a baton is not legal in any part of the world. However, it
is easily concealable. I carry my 17 inch (extended) baton from eBay
discretely in a jeans hip pocket. I paid extra for an LED flashlight butt
from eBay so it appears to be a flashlight with a long handle. It doesn't
even look extendable. The flashlight module gives good light and replaces
the butt ferrule.3
If you are fluent in the local language, do not show off or act like a jerk,
you may be get by okay with a collapsible baton in most countries. An
Example: I have carried my "flashlight with an extensible handle" in Mexico,
in Colombia and Argentina on and off cruise ships (the worst questioning I
had to endure while going thru bag checks by cruise ship personnel). I had a
problem with a federal officer checking hand luggage at the Buenos Aires
airport. I had planned to leave it at my Argentine home. I forgot it was in
a small bag stuffed in my carry-on luggage. Woops! I was embarrassed. This
could have been serious if I wasn't muy fluido en castellano and such an
obviously nice, friendly guy. This guy was giving me a bad case of cop eye
as I smiled and explained that it was a flashlight. With an expressionless
face, he extended it. I showed him my Florida commercial appraiser license
and explained it was for seeing into dark corners while appraising
buildings. He said... "Sir, this is a weapon". I smiled and stuck it in the
box they had there for disposing of small knives, scissors, et cetera. Still
smiling, I shrugged my shoulders and got the rest of my stuff together and
departed; dignity almost intact. My wife was laughing. I heard the Feds
laughing, too. I was out $40 for my own stupidity. It would have been fine
in checked luggage. No problem... I got another one via eBay for about $50
and resolved to always re-check the contents carry-on bags prior to
leaving home.
In any country, it seems reasonable to follow some common sense
safety tactics:
* Try to avoid places without a lot of activity, especially dark
places. If you have to wait for another group to leave the location to have
some company, please do so.
* Carry a whistle and/or pepper spray on your key chain. If attacked,
make as much noise as possible while running away, if possible.
* When exiting a building to go to your car, stop for a second to
visually scan the area. Cops are trained to do this. Hold your keys in your
hand... not in your pocket, bag or belt clip. Check the back seat visually
prior to unlocking the door of the vehicle. If you see suspicious activity,
or a van parked next to your vehicle that blocks the view of your entry into
your vehicle from others, do a wide sweep... a walk around before
entering... or, consider going back into the building to observe for a
while. This is especially important if you are with an adult entertainment
specialist... she may be part of the gang that want to check out your
* If you are carrying a bag with a shoulder strap, wear the strap
laterally across your back with the bag in front and walk toward vehicular
traffic. Why? I once saw a lady being dragged down the street for almost a
block before the strap broke. A pickup passenger had leaned out and
grabbed her strap--in broad daylight with lots of witnesses--and fled the
scene. If you are facing oncoming traffic, you can see suspicious approaches
and prepare. Pillion riders on motorcycles or scooters are the most common
snatch thieves.
* If you are carrying a purse or the equivalent, consider carrying it
upside down, snap open and held closed by your hand. If a thief grabs it out
of your hand all your stuff will go on the pavement... which is a good
thing. It gives you a distraction so you can use your best weapon.--your
feet-- to escape.
* It is difficult to over-stress the importance of the conscientious
and judicious use of your eyes, brain and feet to keep anyone safe no matter
where in the world you may be. Observe carefully with your eyes so that
your brain can evaluate potential threats, and use your feet to avoid iffy
If your attempt to be inconspicuous is unsuccessful, your defensive tactics
aren't a good idea and you find yourself naked on the side of the road with
a bunch of bad guys, here are some tips that were passed down from folks
who have succeeded in getting away from the NarcoTerror boys.
* Lighten up on yourself. You have the right to a reasonable
expectation of personal security no matter where in the world you are
located. Your rights have been violated and you were savagely captured by
bad guys who have no redeeming social value. Now is the time to settle
down and consider your new situation and possible options.
* Be creative with health issues. Show them your surgical scars, your
diabetes meds, (consider getting some meds whether you really need them
or not... your doctor may have some ideas) anything that may make them
decide you are more trouble than you may be worth to them... even if you
have to make stuff up. Lie to them, please. Be creative in subtle ways to
slow the column of marchers throughout the journey. Fake a bad ankle and
make them go steal a mule/burro/horse from some poor farmer to transport
you. Always be alert to opportunities to escape safely from the
NarcoTraficantes' area. Always go downhill when you escape... find a
stream, then a river, always go downstream until you find a road or other
signs of civilization. Sometimes it's a good idea to hide in the day, travel at
night... but, be aware that traveling at night can be dangerous in the
jungle/woods/mountains... not recommended for those with poor night
* Make certain that they understand that you have no living relatives
or flush employer to ransom you. This is key. If they took you from your
work compound, a helicopter they shot down. et cetera, then that is going to
be a tough sell. If you carry family/love interest photos, unless you can
convince the NarcoTraficantes that the folks in the photos are dead, it is
not easy. Optimally, plan to try to appear to be an impoverished,
anti-social, solitary orphan backpacker, student or teacher.
* One of the best ways to escape is to fake an illness that they can't
treat you for locally. Several victims have gotten away from relaxed
security in a town with a doctor under NarcoTerrorist control. Some research
on symptoms prior to your trip may be a good idea. It is not very easy to
fake out the medical person most NarcoTerror bands usually have.
* If you appear to be such a high value prize that they can't afford
to give you up except for a big payoff, then none of the above will be very
helpful. But do it anyway. Everyone lets a competitor have an advantage by
making an error, especially the NarcoTraficantes. Many of the individual
groups include young people who don't like what they are doing... many
pressed into service during raids on their village. But, you most often will
have to be creative and make up a good story to create your own
* Most important: Forgive yourself for being captive and unable to
meet your obligations. When Ingrid Betancourt was rescued from FARC
forces in Colombia, she told debriefing officers that she had more problems
related to the mental stress from feeling she had let down her family, friends
and associates by becoming a captive than the physical stress. Even though
she understood that she was a captive through no fault of her own, she had
a difficult struggle overcoming her guilt. She and other captives have
reported that self forgiveness is the most important key to survival in a long
term captivity. Seven years, in her case.
What Survival type Are You?
Survivors of violent events have been studied extensively. Their faith in
God, family and friends seems to head the list of essentials for survival,
and survivors were successful at "rewiring" their attitudes to adapt to
harsh--even inhumane--circumstances. And, they survived, while many
others failed to adjust and survive.
[I concur with the Glenn Beck and the Survivor's Club that] there are
distinct personality types of survivors
http://www.glennbeck.com/content/articles/article/198/21694/ These are as
* Fighter
* Thinker
* Realist
* Connector
* Believer
It is important that each reader think about and analyze their feelings
about each of these approaches to survival, come up with their own
definitions of what each type is like, decide which type each reader is, and
start thinking about "what if...?" scenarios for their particular
circumstances. If you think the unthinkable and devise plans to survive,
then when the unthinkable occurs, you will make the correct choices
automatically. This is important, because people have failed to survive
because they refused to think about the unthinkable, and their brains froze,
they acted thoughtlessly, or they reacted without thinking clearly through
all the possible ramifications of their actions. Sounds like crisis
government, no?
A Word About Martial Arts:
A surprise attacker with a knife in his hand coming from behind has the
equivalent of a 900th degree black belt. Real world fights do not occur as
they do in the dojo or boxing ring. Those who have as many knife scars as I
have and are still walking around can attest to that.
Anyone with knife scars and bullet wound scars is not proud of their scars.
They know that each scar is a visible reminder of a personal failure to
avoid a life-threatening event. I acquired the knife scars on my arms as a
dumb teenager living on the Texas border and getting caught in avoidable
confrontations while being in places where I shouldn't have been, both in
Texas and Mexico. As I got a bit smarter and more aware of my sometimes
dangerous surroundings, I started getting knife scars on my legs... having
learned that distance is the best defense with an over-medicated knife
fighter. When I finally wised up and started avoiding bad places, I got
fewer and fewer scars.
I have had no formal martial arts training except the small amount standard
in armed forces boot camp. Those of you who are interested in martial arts,
please be certain that you make a serious commitment to always stay in
peak physical condition. If you cannot fight at full force for at least two
minutes, then no amount of skills training is sufficient. It has been my
experience that none but those dedicated to their physical conditioning can
maintain an aggressive fight for two minutes. If you are proud of your elite
status as King of the Dojo, check out the free video series on real-life
street defense at AttackProof
Terrorist Attack Concerns
The planning and execution of the attack on the Murrah Federal Building in
Oklahoma City illustrates the modus operandi utilized by terrorists that
could be a threat to your safety. Consider how a vigilant person might have
recognized indications of a threat, from this case study:
Phase 1: Broad Target Selection. During broad target selection, terrorists
collect information on numerous targets to evaluate their potential in terms
of symbolic value, casualties, infrastructure criticality, or public
attention. Timothy McVeigh wanted to attack a symbol of the federal
government, preferably the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, or
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. He identified possible targets such
as individual federal employees, their families, and facilities in at least
five states.
Phase 2: Intelligence Gathering and Surveillance. Vulnerable targets able to
meet attack objectives are selected for additional intelligence gathering
and surveillance. This effort may occur quickly or over years depending upon
the target and planning information needed. Terrorists seek to gather
detailed information on guard forces, physical layout, personnel routines,
and standard operating procedures.
McVeigh performed initial surveillance of the Murrah Federal Building in
Oklahoma City, one of his potential targets. He noted the interstate highway
allowed easy access and possible escape routes. He also observed indented
curbs that permitted vehicles to be parked directly in front of the
Phase 3: Specific Target Selection. Specific targets are then identified for
attack based on anticipated effects, publicity, consistency with overall
objectives, and costs versus benefits of the attack.
Timothy McVeigh chose the Murrah Federal Building because he believed the
Federal agencies represented there were responsible for the incident in
Waco, Texas two years earlier. In addition, he assessed the facility as a
"soft target," with a good chance of success at low risk. His intent was to
kill Federal employees and thereby gain media attention.
Phase 4: Pre-attack Surveillance and Planning. Terrorists may conduct
additional surveillance to confirm previous information and gain additional
details. During this stage, terrorists will select the method of attack,
obtain weapons and equipment, recruit specialized operatives, and design
escape routes.
McVeigh recruited Terry Nichols and prepared for the Oklahoma City attack
over a six-month period. He acquired materials for a 5,000-pound truck
bomb through theft, use of false documents, and paying cash for items
normally bought on credit. He also made several trips to the Murrah Federal
Building to identify the exact place to park the truck and to select escape
Phase 5: Rehearsals. Terrorists often rehearse the attack scenario to
confirm planning assumptions, enhance tactics, and practice escape routes.
They may also trigger an incident at the target site to test the reaction of
security personnel and first responders.
McVeigh practiced making and detonating bombs in isolated locations. He
memorized details of the Murrah Building layout, finalized the sequence of
actions for the attack, and practiced responses to law enforcement officers
if they were encountered.
Phase 6: Actions on the Objective. Terrorists choose to execute attacks
when conditions favor success with the lowest risk. Factors they consider
include surprise, choice of time and place, use of diversionary tactics, and
ways to impede response measures.
On 19 April 1995, McVeigh parked a rental truck - a 5,000-pound vehicle
bomb - in front of the Murrah Federal Building where it could cause the most
damage. The date of the bombing, 19 April, was symbolic - the second
anniversary of the fire at the Branch Davidian church compound in Waco,
Phase 7: Escape and Exploitation. Unless an operation is a suicide attack,
escape routes are carefully planned and rehearsed. Terrorists may exploit
successful attacks by releasing pre-developed statements to the press.
After preparing the bomb for detonation, McVeigh walked away from the
scene on a preselected route. To flee Oklahoma City, McVeigh used a getaway
car pre-positioned before the attack.
McVeigh wanted the world to know that he attacked the Federal Murrah
Building because he believed the Federal Government infringed on individual
rights of Americans. McVeigh left a file on his sister's computer titled
"ATF Read" echoing
these sentiments. His get-away car contained anti-government literature
and he subsequently made statements concerning his motivations for the
Geographical Regions of Interest
Terrorists may focus on obvious foreign tourists, personnel associated with
foreign firms, foreign military and foreign government organizations, and
especially individuals who appear to be high-ranking or important. Try to
blend in with the local population. When possible, avoid disclosing your
country of origin, religious, business, military or government affiliation.
Do you think that you are safe, traveling in the U.S. or in western Europe?
Consider this: Within the United States, several organizations and
individuals used Terror/criminal tactics to achieve their goals. Other
organizations provide direct and indirect assistance through fund-raising,
recruiting, and training support.
Terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists against US interests and personnel
began in 1978 with the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran. In my
personal opinion, the US has been at war since that date. Foreign Terror
attacks in the US began in 1968 with the hijacking of Pan Am flight 501 to
Cuba, and in 1993 with the first attack against the World Trade Center in
New York. More recently, the foiled Terror/criminal plot against Fort Dix,
New Jersey demonstrates that Al-Qaeda cells still exist within the nation's
Home-grown terrorism is a reality. During the 1960s and 1970s, the
Weathermen and the Armed Forces for Puerto Rican National Liberation
executed several small-scale terror/criminal attacks. More recently, violent
elements include the anti-abortion Army of God, the eco-terrorist Earth
Liberation Front, and other domestic anarchist groups and individuals.
Homegrown terrorists have employed various tactics such as rudimentary
letter bombs, improvised explosive devices, small arms attacks, and truck
bombs. Bioterrorism is also a concern in view of the anonymous anthrax
attacks in 2001.
For more information on events in North America, see historical examples on
the Oklahoma City bombing, United Flight 93, and the plot to attack Fort
Dix. There are serious threats now from MS13 and other Latino gangs, who
work with Russian/Italian/Asian mobs, and other gangs. Also, note that the
Mexican Cartels have turned the US border area into a war zone, per recent
news items. It is reported that Phoenix, Arizona is now the kidnapping
capitol of the US.
Islamic extremists pose the primary Terror/criminal threat to US military
and government personnel. Since the mid-1990s, terrorists have enhanced
their capabilities around the world... including Indonesia and the
Pan-Pacific area, Venezuela, the tri-border area of Paraguay/Brazil/Bolivia
and expanded their influence and presence into other parts of the world.
In the areas of current US military operations, roadside IEDs pose one of the
greatest threats to US forces. Additionally, local political leaders and
civilians, infrastructure, and international aid personnel are terrorized by
suicide bombings, kidnappings, and murders. In many other parts of the
Western Asian and African regions, suicide bombers and gunmen target
hotels and tourist attractions to advance domestic political agendas.
Numerous Terror/criminal organizations operate in almost every region of
the world. In addition to Al-Qaeda, other organizations include Hezbollah,
the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ansar al-Islam, and Mujahedine-e Khaiq, the
Russian Mafia, etc.
For more information on events in this region, check the Internet for
historical examples on the USS Cole, the Luxor Massacre at Deir el-Bahri,
and Khobar Towers.
European Union
This region is diverse and contains a wide spectrum of terror/criminal
threats. Threats include traditional nationalist, ethnic, and leftist
Terror/criminal groups such as the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA),
November 17, and the Real Irish Republican Army. The region is also
threatened by Islamic extremists such as Al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam.
Chechen rebels, responsible for several Terror/criminal attacks within the
former Soviet Union, are both Muslim radicals and separatists. There is a
lot of Mafia related activity.
In recent years, US allies in Europe have suffered dramatic Terror attacks.
Terrorists have targeted civilians with IEDs and suicide bombers for
maximum impact on government policies and elections. US military forces
have also come under direct attack by organizations wishing to diminish
America's influence in the area.
Additionally, organizations sympathetic to Terrorist/religious radical
objectives actively raise funds, recruit, and provide other support to
religious extremist groups. As seen in the events of 9/11, western Europe
can be a staging area for attacks against the United States.
For more information, see the historical case studies for the London and
Madrid subway bombings, the bombing of the La Belle Discotheque, and
other attacks.
Stability in the region is threatened by nationalist, tribal, and ethnic
groups that use Terror/criminal and pirate tactics to support their agendas.
The region is also threatened by Islamic extremists such as Al-Qaeda, the
Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, and Al Shabaab.
The 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania illustrate
the willingness of terrorists to use indiscriminate violence to attack foreign
interests in Africa. Additionally, local ethnic and nationalist-based
conflicts increasingly threaten foreign corporate infrastructure and
Terrorist organizations also engage in support activities within the African
continent. These include fund raising, training, recruiting, operation of
front activities, and involvement in criminal enterprises. Africa has the
potential to be a significant transit point and support base for
Terror/criminal operations in other parts of the world.
For more information, see Internet sources on the African embassy
Pacific Rim/Southeast Asia
Narco/criminal groups in this region present diverse threats to foreign
interests. Some specifically target foreigners and others target public
sites where foreigners may become victims. Additionally, there is evidence
of ties between groups in the Pacific/SE Asia region and Al-Qaeda and other
international groups.
Terrorist attacks in this region demonstrate a broad spectrum of tactics.
These include kidnappings, suicide bombings, and even chemical attacks.
Aleph, formerly known as Aum Shinrikyo, attacked Tokyo subways with
Sarin nerve gas and cyanide in 1995. Abu Sayyaf, a Philippine group seeking
to create a radical Muslim state, targets foreigners for kidnapping.
Terrorists have targeted foreign assets in the region. In 2001, Singaporean
officials foiled a plot to attack US military forces and western diplomatic
missions. The group, Jamaah Islamiya, seeks to create a radical Muslim
across South East Asia. In 2002 it conducted a suicide bombing of a
nightclub in Bali, Indonesia to kill western tourists.
For more information on events in this region, seek Internet sources on the
Bali Nightclub Bombing and Tokyo Subway Attack.
Latin America
The primary/criminal threat in the area is NarcoTerrorism and the continued
operation of radical leftist groups. Additionally, the ties between
NarcoTerrorists and radical extremists from the Middle East are reportedly
increasing. It is possible Latin American countries, notably Venezuela and
Argentina may become a transit point for terrorists from other parts of the
world to enter the United States via Mexico and Europe via Africa. I have
read accounts of Colombian NarcoTerrorists and known radical Islamics
being arrested in Mexico and Spain with genuine Venezuelan passports and
personal documents when said individuals are known to have never lived in
There was one report of a US Border Patrol intercept on the US/Mexican
border of some Cubans and a different party of 15+ persons of Arab descent
all carrying genuine Venezuelan passports and documents. You should
probably take that information as indicating that Venezuela is not friendly to
US/European Common Market interests.
Unlike the 1980s, recent attacks against US interests are focused primarily
on businesses and not US military or government assets. In addition to
bombings and arson, Terror/criminal tactics include targeted assassinations
and kidnapping, especially against foreign-owned commercial assets.
Some of the most prominent Terror/criminal organizations within the Latin
American region include the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC
), the Colombian
National Liberation Army
(ELN ), And the Shining
Path ["Sendero Luminoso"] in Peru. Various Internet sources are available.
A few words about the Mumbai attacks:
The FBI reports are trickling back from the agents dispatched there to
cooperate with Indian authorities, and the results are depressing. It appears
more and more certain that various Pakistani high-level authorities were
aware of the activities of the attackers and their support team in Pakistan.
An incident of this sort could easily be the start of a war between these two
nuclear powers.
But, take a moment to think of the businessmen and their families that were
at their hotel having a nice dinner and deep into their cozy world, when the
unthinkable happened. I hope each and every reader of this report will
resolve to include a special Survival bag in their luggage to include
packaged ready-to-eat food. I use Wal-Mart granola bars, peanut butter and
crackers, and so forth. MREs, if space is available. You should also have lots
of spare batteries, aflashlight, et cetera. I use a head-band light, a bottle for
water, a fire-starter kit (cotton balls soaked in Vaseline with a spark striker
and a Bic disposable lighter).
Want more ideas? Research the web for what others have assembled as
Every Day Carry (EDC )
survival bags on the web. If you want to read how life is affected by a total
societal meltdown, read the blog by FerFAL,
a student of architecture during the 2001 financial meltdown in Argentina. I
especially liked the info on his family's ideas of what they would have done
differently given the chance, the items that became most important to them,
and some gimmicks that helped them keep a good survival attitude.
In closing: the most important thing is to maintain a positive and happy
attitude while preparing for the unthinkable.

Comments are appreciated at travel@ricdav.com
Published with permission by the author:
Rick Davis Consulting

Miami Beach 001+305 517 7828
Phoenix area, AZ 001+520 208 6299
Houston, TX 001+281 724 8797
Sydney, Australia 61+02+8006 7107
Mar del Plata, Argentina 011+54+223 493 3650
International marketing and sales analysis, advice, suggestions and business plans
to expand your international business presence.


Don Williams said...

Hmmmm. Sounds like these things might come in handy:


Don Williams said...

Thanks for info, CapnRick.

1) The US State Department has a web site with warnings re possible dangers to tourists in various countries but they seem to downplay things, IMO -- probably because they don't want to offend the country they are discussing and with whom they have dealings. Plus diplomats tend to live in fairly sheltered and protected surroundings in each country.

See http://travel.state.gov/travel/travel_1744.html

2) Report for Argentina:

3) Warnings to US citizens over past two years re dangers in Argentina
(dengue, H1N1,protests,etc.):

Anonymous said...

This could be a handbook. I've read it twice and there's still more... Thank you.


Ramon said...

One point I would like to add to those of Capt. Rick concerns the peep hole in the Hotel/Motel room doors. One member of a major US TV crew recently was photographed through the peep hole of her room and had the resulting nude photos posted online. I would like to advise the use of either a short piece of tape or a card hung over the inside portion of the viewer.

Anonymous said...

I recently stayed at a nice American hotel where housekeeping's daily procedure was to first walk the floor, knocking on every door. They opened the door of every vacant room and propped all the doors open. Then they began cleaning the rooms, one by one. They could not see if anyone entered the other rooms - some rooms were around a corner out of sight, and the housekeepers were generally inside a room cleaning it. Every room on the floor was unlocked, unsupervised, completely accessible to any criminal who walked by. I left the DND sign on the room and scheduled times for housekeeping to clean while I was there and could lock up behind them. Hotels in the U.S. generally require every room to be cleaned at least every third day. I tipped generously and housekeeping didn't make a stink about cleaning less often. I would rather be safe than have fresh sheets (though I could always request sheets/towels and make my own bed).

I just wanted to echo - do NOT trust that your room is safe. Hotel staff thinks in terms of making their jobs easier - not making your life safer.

Anonymous said...

A point I would like to add is that it is a good to be powerful(power is more important than strength). Helps you sprint faster, hit harder as well as look like a harder target. Any healthy survivalist male should try to get themselves able to powerclean 1x body weight and dumbell snatch .4 or .5 bw.