The Craft
Comment 1

The Kidnap and Ransom Business

When I began researching Blood Chimera (I tend to do a lot of preparatory research on books when I know I don’t know a damn thing about certain subjects) I began to play with the idea that the main character, Jack, is a kidnap and ransom specialist.

What’s a kidnap & ransom specialist? Well, it’s been depicted in a few movies (probably most famously in Proof of Life) but a K&R negotiator is someone who comes in to organize a response to a kidnap for ransom situation. It’s a very small, select field, and incredibly secretive. There’s no single path to becoming a K&R specialist, but K&R people typically have backgrounds in law enforcement or military special forces (or both), and they can expect to fly all over the world and spend months at a time in the field. It’s dangerous, ugly work that puts their life at risk in foreign climes on a regular basis and requires them to be at home in the bureaucratic nightmare of dealing with governments, organized crime groups, terrorist cells and warlords. If they’re married, they have understanding families (or quickly end up single.) The field seems to be almost exclusively male. They are a strange combination of white knight, attorney and therapist, whose priority is not justice, punishment or judgement but simply getting the hostage back alive. If that means developing a rapport with the kidnappers, so be it. If that means killing the kidnappers, also so be it. They are both people-oriented and good with a gun.

Most K&R specialists work for insurance companies, who are often the ones paying out these ransoms and therefore want someone they trust making sure the money situation doesn’t get out of hand, but increasingly this is also a service offered by private military contractors who freelance out the skill set. These companies are service providers, consulting with Fortune 500 companies who have employees working in high-risk countries and giving briefings on the do’s and don’t’s of how not to be kidnapping and what to do if you are. Private industry reports (subscribed to for a fee like a magazine) on the kidnap trade are often more accurate and more honest than anything you’d find published by major governments, who often have diplomatic reasons for not wanting to admit that one of their trade partner has a major problem with keeping the tourists safe.

Needless to say, I found this all to be fascinating stuff.

At which point, I started delving further…and ran straight into a wall.

Most K&R experts, it turns out, don’t want you to know their name. They don’t want to be photographed. They don’t want to give interviews (although I did find a few out there.) They most especially do not want to talk about the process, how much money is an ‘acceptable’ price for a hostage, or how they convince kidnappers to lower the amount they’re willing to accept.

It’s for the same reason governments don’t want to talk about how they’re going to catch the terrorists or what vital clue the serial killer left at the crime scene: because the criminals are paying attention too. Every time CNN or Fox News covers a major kidnapping case wherein a $5 million ransom was paid, the K&R industries collectively groans, knowing kidnappers in that region of the world just mentally readjusted their asking price. Shining a light on the kidnap for ransom business seldom works to the advantage of the hostage. Often, particularly in the case of politically motivated kidnappings, it’s the whole point, the real ransom — and after the kidnappers have aired their grievances, listed their demands and shined a spotlight on their cause, they may feel they have more to gain by killing their hostages than releasing them.

The deeper I dug, the more I began to wonder who I would be serving by portraying a extremely ‘accurate’ depiction of what the kidnap & ransom business is really like.

So I stopped researching.

I know it seems like a strange decision (and I tend to over-research, so I honestly probably already did quite enough for a subject which is not intended to be the primary focus of this series) but I decided that ultimately a little Hollywood gloss probably wouldn’t hurt my story. The real ‘business’ of kidnapping is slow, tedious and awful, filled with long stretches of nail-on-chalkboard waiting. Kidnap for Ransom is a crime of grey morality and murky politics that lurks at the intersection of extortion and terrorism. It’s incredibly ugly and in some parts of the world, its run with a chilling efficiency that leaves even hardened experts with little other option than to pay the ransom and hope for the best.

So this is my not-apology, my explanation for why I won’t always get these details right: I don’t want to. The jobs these people do is hard and thankless enough without me providing any kind of primer on how the kidnappers can make their crimes pay.

1 Comment

  1. Not sure I agree that “Kidnap for Ransom is a crime of grey morality…” but I do agree with the rest of this entirely. Let’s not make it any easier for the badguys.

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