In the past two decades, we have seen Islamist successfully destabilize Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and much of Africa, as well as seen them making significant gains in support globally. We need only look to ISIS and Hamas to see the impact of Islamist control of failed states. Additionally, we are starting to see the impact of mass immigration into Europe, the most visible example of which is the public support and legal acceptance of Sharia Law in some previously exclusively western nations. The reality is that the expansion of Islamist principles places additional risks on Americans (and westerners in general) when travelling abroad.
Terrorism is not the only travel safety and security risk that has become more heightened in recent years. The problem in Crimea and the Ukraine was not an Islamist originated problem, but the result of a weak or grossly ineffective foreign policy on the part of the United States and its allies. Violence in the former soviet bloc has largely been crime related. With the unchecked expansionist goals being demonstrated by Mr. Putin, we can expect that to take on a considerably more militant nature. The downing of Malaysian Air flight 17 is an example of the lack of control that Russia has over the separatists it has chosen to train and arm. This support by Russia has put skills and weapons in the hands of people who will cooperate while their interest align, but who will eventually break off and pursue their own goals. For the most part neither entities’ interests will be aligned with American traveller safety interests in the near future.
While drug cartels have largely been the source of violence in Latin America, they have until relatively recently avoided attacks on U. S. citizens. The past ten years have increasingly shown this traditional taboo eroded. What kept the deterrent effect in place was the U.S. response to the torture and murder of Kiki Camerana (a DEA agent) in 1985. It would appear that that type of intervention is no longer a credible threat to the cartels.
Politically, even our traditional allies (like Mexico), seem to be disinclined to expedite the judicial process. We see this in the case of our repeatedly denied high-level diplomatic requests for the expeditious release of a Marine arrested on weapons charges. That would not have been the case 10 years ago. What this tells us is that even governments that have traditionally depended on American economics and support, no longer see that as enough of an incentive to do us any favors.
Globally, much of this is due to the economic reality of the United States being on the path to a point where we are no longer the dominant economic force on the planet. More significant is the fact that the entire world views America’s foreign policy as lacking a stick. We may be able to provide a few incentives, but when it comes to use of force we have been shown to be lacking. When “red lines” are drawn, the U.S. has clearly demonstrated that we actually mean those are suggestions, and that the ramifications of ignoring our suggestions is that we will claim that we did not make the suggestion in the first place. Not exactly a recipe for credible or predictable actions on the part of the United States.
Historically American military power and the willingness to use it, has placed the concept of attacking Americans in the category of unacceptable. In the past when it has occurred, foreign military and police forces reacted swiftly and typically in draconian fashion to send the message to attackers that attacking Americans on their soil would not be tolerated. That made our intervention in many cases unnecessary, but the threat of it ultimately translated to a generally safer environment for Americans travelling abroad. That exceptionalism is no longer something we can expect or should rely on.
If we, as Americans no longer enjoy the deterrent effect of a strong foreign policy, then we must seriously reconsider the risk metrics we apply when travelling overseas. The most significant impact on American travellers is not that the world is becoming more violent or more dangerous (although that is certainly the case in many countries). The increasing crime and violence globally more significantly impacts Americans because we now are more likely to receive our portion of the attacks in general.
Additionally, we have far less diplomatic influence than we used to when America carried a big stick. We need only look to Edward Snowden in Russia, Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi in Mexico, and FBI Agent Robert Levinson in Iran to see the grossly ineffective results of our diplomatic efforts. Without the credible threat of force, there is no incentive for compliance with our interests. The decline of diplomatic influence has further degraded “American Exceptionalism” significantly.
To make it worse, we make good targets. The reality is that even poor Americans are rich by most of the developing worlds standards and without a credible deterrent in place, Americans on average are likely to yield a higher return on invested criminal effort. We are, and always have been, dependent on host nation security services to make the point that “attacking Americans will not be tolerated” to criminal and terrorist organizations in their countries. Clearly, that is not something we can rely on for the foreseeable future. We are left with the reality of an increasing risk for U. S. citizens travelling abroad. That risk is increased across the spectrum from random crime, organized criminal entities, as well as terrorism.
Our educational institutions and corporate entities that send students and employees overseas, are just now trying to determine how to effectively deal with the increasing risks. Unfortunately, those risks are already posing a significant threat. The fact is that American travellers have been sheltered by a significant deterrent effect that has allowed us to remain reasonably safe despite the complacency in our approach to travel safety and security. Fortunately, some corporations, educational institutions and private citizens are starting to do something about it.
Our travel safety and security workshops and lectures were nearly exclusively requested by the military and security based organizations that were travelling to high threat regions in the past. That has dramatically expanded into the private sector in recent years. The good news is that the early adopters are starting to learn how professionals evaluate risk, and keep themselves safe. The sad news is far too many Americans are still living in a world where American Exceptionalism protected them.
The increased risk to travellers is something that can be successfully managed and effectively mitigated. The tools and techniques we will discuss in this series are not skills that are reserved for intelligence agents or super spies. It does not take super human abilities to mitigate risk, even in high threat areas. What it does take is an honest evaluation of the risks you face, the impact of political influence on your plans, and the education and training to know how to improve your travel safety and security.
Next months article will cover evaluating international travel risk, and provide some tools and resources to use when creating your own travel risk assessment.
Travel safe and have fun!
Patrick Henry – President at Aegis Academy
Patrick Henry received his operational training and experience from the U. S. Government, 22 years of which were spent in the Marine Corps where he served in the Reconnaissance, Infantry and Intelligence fields. During his active service, he spent more then seven years deployed overseas in combat, operational and training assignments. After the military, Pat worked as a contractor and as the Director of Operations at a private paramilitary company, specializing in training special operations forces and providing protective services to select private clients. His education consists of an MBA from the University of Southern California (USC), and a BS from San Diego State University with an emphasis in Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology and a minor in Psychology. He holds an extensive list of security and training related certifications from a variety of government and nationally recognized entities. He currently sits on the advisory committee at USC’s Master of Veterans Business Program, and is an active member of Infraguard and the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS). He has been a guest speaker at ASIS, the San Diego Industrial Security Awareness Council and other private organizations on physical security, travel security, and competitive intelligence collection counter-measures.
First Published at Aegis Academy