Kidnap And Ransom
By Richard Clutterbuck
On 16th September 1974 the two Born brothers, sons of the Chairman and founder of Bunge Born
of Argentina, were kidnapped from their car by the Monteneros. Though guarded and escorted,
they left home at the same time every day to drop their children at school on the way. After
being held hostage for nine months, they were released for a ransom of $60 million.
On 27th February 1976 William Niehous, Vice-President of Owens-Illinois in Venezuela, was
kidnapped in Caracas by the Commando Afmigiro Gabaldon, believed to be a splinter group of
the Bandero Roja. The firm conceded to a demand from the kidnappers to publish a manifesto
and a condemnation of the Venezuelan Government in newspapers in Venezuela and in London,
Paris and New York. The Venezuelan Government announced that it would nationalize the
assets of the Owens-Illinois subsidiary for breach of national law in bringing the
government into disrepute and publishing a statement produced by a subversive group. The
firm also paid a ransom of $1,250,000; but Niehous was never released, and must now be
presumed dead. So the firm stood to lose its corporate assets in Venezuela, its $1,250,000
ransom, and its man.
Criminal gangs in Italy have found that the kidnapping of children is particularly
profitable. In July 1975, eighteen-year-old Cristina Mazzotti was kidnapped; a ransom of
$2 million was paid, but the kidnappers killed her just the same. Another father stood firm
for six weeks when his seventeen-year-old daughter was kidnapped, but paid a ransom of $4
million when they threatened to kidnap his other daughter as well. And in 1977 à $2 million
ransom was paid for a five-year-old Italian girl kidnapped on her way to school in Geneva.
These examples illustrate two things: first the catastrophic and sometimes open-ended losses
which a kidnap can cause; and secondly the need for a hard-headed and professional approach
both to security and to crisis management.
Our aim is to indicate how to set about this approach ; it makes no attempt to
provide cut-and-dried plans for a particular situation: every family, every factory, every
office, has a different environment and a different problem. While there can be no
watertight security against terrorism, the risk can certainly be reduced.
So the purpose is to suggest how to identify and assess the risk; how to manage and reduce
that risk; how to prepare for crisis management; how to approach negotiation with kidnappers;
and how best to co-operate with the police at every stage, ideally to help them to detect
where the hostage is held so that he can be rescued or, failing that, to enable the police
to arrest and convict the kidnappers after the victim is released.
Perhaps most important of all, the book may indicate the areas in which a family or firm
will do well to seek professional advice about their own particular case, and suggest what
questions they should ask: from the police; from their lawyers; from insurance brokers;
from security consultants or firms. It may be necessary to get an expert assessment of the
threat in a particular country or environment; and to commission a security survey to
decide upon the necessary procedures and physical measures that are worth taking, and to
prepare plans both for prevention and for reaction.
Kidnapping is not confined to the executives of large firms, millionaires or their families.
Indeed, because the threat has led to many of these taking better precautions, kidnappers
have turned increasingly to easier targets. The father of 'heiress' Lesley Whittle
(kidnapped and murdered in Britain in 1975) was a successful self-made man but certainly no
millionaire (the ransom demanded was $50,000—$90,000); farmers in Southern Italy are
frequently required to subscribe to a ransom for the release of one of the village
children; and a substantial number of 'ordinary citizens' have been kidnapped or
assassinated because they were junior executives, politicians, government officials,
policemen and soldiers off duty, judges, magistrates, assessors or jurors.
Such an ordinary citizen, who has no reason to believe that he is a particular target, may
well be picked as one of several alternative victims to achieve the same end (ransom or
political blackmail). His best approach is to take adequate commonsense precautions, at
work, at home or on the road, to avoid being a conspicuous and attractive target. The more
manifest these precautions are, and the more positive his attitude towards security, the
more likely the terrorists are to look around for a 'softer' target.
The origin of the word 'kidnap' is significant: it means 'to seize (nap) a child (kid)'.
Like assassination (the implied threat without which kidnapping would lose its power) it
has been used ever since human animals first began to combine in hunting groups and tribes.
The chief of such a group might be a hard man, giving no quarter and asking none for
himself, but could be made to give way when someone seized his child. And kidnapping for
ransom, especially of the son and heir, became rife in Europe in the Middle Ages.
The Encyclopaedia Americana records the first notorious case of kidnapping for ransom in
the USA as that of four-year-old Charley Ross in Pennsylvania in 1874. The kidnappers sent
a letter demanding a ransom of $20,000, but were so scared of detection that no one could
contact them, and the boy was never seen again. The rise of gangsterism in the 1920s led to
a massive growth of kidnapping for ransom in the USA: in the two years before 1932 there
were 200 kidnappings in Chicago alone, and ransoms totalling $2 million were paid.
There was, of course, a strong Italian flavour about the growth of kidnapping and
gangsterism in Chicago and New York, because this had for centuries been a common technique
for bandits and criminal gangs in Southern Italy, Sardinia and Sicily; it is no surprise
that Italy has by far the highest incidence of kidnapping in Europe, and that there are
still strong links between the American and Italian Mafia.
The kidnapping and murder of the eighteen-month-old Lindbergh baby in March 1932
shocked American society into enacting the death penalty for kidnapping if the victim was
harmed or still missing when sentence was passed. There were, nevertheless, still a great
many kidnappings for ransom in the USA between 1933 and 1935, and a number of the victims
were killed after payment of the ransom to eliminate them as witnesses.
Since 1935 the FBI has achieved a very high conviction rate for kidnapping. The head of the
FBI reported in 1974 that of the 647 cases of kidnapping in the USA since 1934, all but
three had been solved, and over 90 per cent of the kidnappers had been captured (Cited by Brian Jenkins in Should Corporations be Prevented from
Paying Ransoms? (Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, 1974)). A major reason for this success
has been the FBI's recognition that the first consideration of all those concerned is the
release of the victim and that their best chance has lain in using the evidence gained
during the process to arrest the kidnappers after his release. This attitude has ensured
maximum co-operation from the relatives and colleagues of the victim; and the figures
testify to the wisdom of such an approach.
Rivalling Italy as the Mecca of kidnapping have been certain of the Latin American
countries, with the Iberian influence in place of the Italian. As in Sardinia, there have
always been bandit and criminal kidnappings in Latin America, but a major change occurred
after the failure of rural guerrilla warfare in the subcontinent (notably of Che Guevara in
Bolivia) and the switching of political terrorism to the cities. Since 1968 kidnapping for
ransom in Latin America has been widespread; but, in contrast with Italy, the motive has
generally been political (i.e. to swell the funds for further operations) rather than
personal criminal gain. The figures have been horrific. In Argentina alone there were over
400 kidnappings (criminal and political) in 1973.
Elsewhere in the world, it has more often been for political blackmail: e.g. the release of
other terrorists from prison, as by the Palestinians, the Japanese United Red Army, the
German Red Army Fraction and the South Moluccans in the Netherlands.
Between 1968 and 1974 terrorism became increasingly international, with the growth to
epidemic proportions of aircraft hijackings, and the kidnapping of diplomats, especially
in Latin America. In 1975 the US State Department commissioned the Rand Corporation to
prepare a 'Chronology of International Terrorism' for those years (Brian Jenkins and Janera Johnson, International Terrorism: A
Chronology. 1968-74 (Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, 1975)). This study included
only those acts of terrorism which crossed frontiers or had international repercussions:
thus, it excluded criminal kidnappings in Italy but included kidnappings of diplomats in
Latin America. Of 507 international incidents, eighty-two were kidnappings, 113 were
aircraft hijackings, 200 were bombings and 112 were shooting and other incidents.
These figures are small compared with those for normal crime (there are, for example, some
18,000 criminal homicides per year in the USA alone) but terrorism has far more effect on
society. If someone is murdered for money or revenge, few other people feel threatened
unless they are connected or acquainted; there is, however, an ancient Chinese proverb
which sums up the meaning of the word terrorism: 'Kill one, frighten ten thousand.'
There are, moreover, some disturbing trends. Kidnappings and assassinations are increasing,
whereas bombings are declining. This is probably because bombings can be carried out quite
easily by unsophisticated groups; selective assassination needs more planning; but
kidnapping requires a high degree of organization, including planning, surveillance,
intelligence, detailed preparation and the setting up of safe houses. This suggests that
the trend is towards more sophisticated groups — and more kidnapping.
Kidnapping for ransom has in recent years proved far more profitable and less likely to
lead to conviction than robbing banks — at any rate in some countries, notably in Italy and
Latin America. This is another reason for the dramatic growth of kidnapping, and of the
size of ransoms, in those countries.
In West Germany, kidnapping has been far more selective, concentrating on public figures,
and for political blackmail rather than ransom. In the Netherlands, kidnapping has been
very different from elsewhere: the purpose has again been political, but the pattern has
been for the kidnapping of large numbers of people in a known place (on two occasions in
trains). The Dutch have had a remarkable record of success in countering these kidnappings.
The handling of this kind of siege situation is obviously very different from, and very
much more likely to end successfully than, the handling of a case where a single victim is
held in a secret hideout. The art of handling a hidden-hostage situation lies either in
locating the hideout and converting it to a siege or raid situation or, as done so
successfully in USA, to use discreet detective work during negotiation to lead to arrests
after the victim has been safely released.
There can be no definitive answer to kidnapping. Our aim is to encourage more people to
identify the areas in their own environment at which it is wise to look critically; to
recognize what they can do themselves and what they must ask others to do; and, above
all, to save more innocent people from losing their liberty or their lives.