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Interview with Mike McGarrity, Global Guardian’s Vice President of Global Risk Services

Global Guardian’s Kidnap & Ransom services covers incidents like kidnappings for ransom, extortion, hostage taking, hijackings, and assault. We are ideally suited to offer this service because of our widespread global network and our team’s impressive depth of law enforcement, intelligence, and counterterrorism experience.

In 2015, Mike McGarrity, Global Guardian’s Vice President of Global Risk Services, helped stand up the FBI’s Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, which has a mission of safely recovering U.S. nationals held hostage or kidnapped abroad. As director of the cell and throughout his career, McGarrity was involved in close to 200 hostage and kidnap for ransom incidents.

McGarrity’s vast expertise includes the role of Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division at the FBI, where he was the lead executive charged with mitigating the risk of terrorist attacks in the United States and against U.S. interests abroad.

In an interview, McGarrity discussed Global Guardian’s Kidnap & Ransom protection program and its importance as clients seek to navigate today’s rapidly evolving global threat landscape.

Q: What makes Global Guardian's Kidnap & Ransom program unique?

McGarrity: We look at a wide spectrum of incidents—everything from kidnap and ransom to extortion to hostage taking to any type of assault or attack against our clients. What makes us unique is that we already have a 24/7 crisis response platform that is stood up, we already have teams in 125+ countries, and we have the expertise among our leadership.

We also stand out in our ability to be able to reach out to any of our teams in 125+ countries and an international law firm anywhere in the world, tap into local networks that understand the ground realities, and quickly establish a direct liaison with foreign law enforcement and governments, which is critical during a crisis. If you don’t have people on the ground your ability to identify whom you should be speaking to is hampered. 

At Global Guardian, we are very much of the view that you need to integrate intelligence and operations. If those are bifurcated you will not be able to successfully navigate a critical incident. When you have your intelligence and operations together, you can plan, adapt, and overcome incidents whether it is a ransom payment, a diplomatic effort, or emergency evacuation.

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Q: Could you share some of your experiences as director of the USG’s Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell? What are some key lessons you learned from that experience?

McGarrity: After Americans were abducted and killed in Syria in 2014, the U.S. government understood that it needed to review and update its hostage-taking and kidnapping policy. I helped write that policy. And then, I was asked to stand up and lead the U.S. government’s first Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell. We used a comprehensive, task force approach, which did a great job integrating different departments and agencies to look at one mission: the safe recovery of Americans. We were focused on how we can work best with the families—that we spoke with one voice, that our efforts were coordinated, and that we were transparent. The communications aspect was so important as we worked with victims’ families, the private sector, and our foreign partners more than we had ever done in the past.

No one recovery is the same, but there are certainly different lines of effort that have proven to work. In cases of kidnap and ransom, statistically speaking, they can last a relatively short amount of time if the ransom is paid the person is recovered. When it comes to hostage taking, those incidents last much longer and are more challenging because the terror network’s demands usually involve a government concession.

We found that the integration of intelligence with operations is critical. Sometimes, you need to pivot between recovery options—whether it is through law enforcement, the military, or diplomatic efforts—and you have to be able to adapt to changing circumstances. Many times, the information that you glean from intelligence or diplomatic efforts can be used in another line of effort; you have to be flexible and adapt.

The lessons we learned from hundreds of kidnappings and hostage-taking incidents was the ability to understand the types of issues victims and their families will face down the road. As a result, we are able to work with our clients at both the family and corporate levels to get ahead of those issues.

Q: For a client, what is the advantage of using Global Guardian during kidnap and ransom incidents?

McGarrity: Law enforcement in some countries face trust and capability issues. We have teams in over 125+ countries. We have the experience of working hundreds of different types of cases.

We know, for instance, that negotiators should be based in the region because you need to know the local culture. You have to know the K&R business model that the captors are using; you have to understand it’s a business for them and they want to get paid with minimal risk.

Each case is different and each one has a different business model. For instance, the timeline for a recovery in Mexico is much different from a timeline for a recovery in Nigeria. We look at the business model from the captors’ perspective and make sure we are attuned to that and have a good strategy.

Understanding these regional issues is something that we leverage for our clients and using regional negotiators gives us the best chance for a safe and quick recovery.

Q: What is the level of demand from Global Guardian’s clients for a K&R policy?

McGarrity: We have seen an increase in demand from our clients over the last year. Those that have asked us to provide this service have seen our robust emergency response capabilities overseas as well as in the United States. They understand that this is the natural add-on to meet their requirements.

Q: What is driving kidnap and ransom incidents around the world?

McGarrity: Over the last decade, kidnap and ransom incidents have gone hand in hand with economic conditions. Many perpetrators are financially motivated. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I assume kidnappings of Westerners is down because there is less travel by Westerners, so there is less opportunity. Just as we have seen a downturn in terrorist attacks, I would imagine there is a downturn in kidnappings of Westerners.

That said, the pandemic has created a lot of economic uncertainty and instability throughout the world. Where you see an economic downturn and poverty you will see kidnap and ransom because it offers a large payout for not a lot of effort.

Q: Are there some parts of the world that are more prone to such incidents?

McGarrity: Westerners risk abduction by terrorist groups in countries like Libya, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, parts of Africa, and certain parts of the Philippines. Such incidents used to be prevalent in Colombia as well; however, hostage taking by terrorist organizations has gone down in Colombia, but kidnappings and express kidnappings are still a threat.

Kidnap-for-ransom threats are prevalent in countries like Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Nigeria, and Mexico. In all of those countries, we have local knowledge, local expertise, and local emergency response.

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Q: What advice would you give clients who are looking to travel to parts of the world that are high-risk?

McGarrity: Always have a plan before you go and before you send your people. Can they travel to austere environments? Do they know how to deescalate and mitigate situations as they unfold? Can they travel without becoming a prominent target? Can they blend into the environment? If they can’t, what will their security posture be? They should know what to expect if they are abducted. The best thing to know is what is coming next and how to manage those expectations for the victim, their family, and the company, and run through tabletop exercises.

It is just as important for the company to have an internal plan. Who is going to be in charge—human resources, your general counsel, your communications people? Who is going to be the point person for the family to work with the government—both the U.S. government, if you are a U.S. citizen, as well as the foreign government? If you have an office in the country where your employee was abducted, how much are they going to be involved?

These are all things you should consider and for which you should come up with a playbook. That is something that we at Global Guardian help our clients with—we use a template for a playbook and help clients plug and play.

Our clients will be able to exercise a scenario so that when an incident does occur it is not the first time you are meeting the person from HR who will be involved in a critical incident; it is not the first time from an HR perspective that you are taking to someone in the Mexico office. This includes having Global Guardian involved in the process from the beginning so that when an incident does occur it is more muscle memory and everyone knows what they should be doing. Since trust has already been established you can work through a critical incident much more successfully.

Q: What sort of training can Global Guardian provide its clients before they travel to high-risk areas? 

McGarrity: On the front end, we would provide a consultation for strategic crisis planning and training. Clients will learn how to travel in austere and high-risk environments, and, if they are abducted, how to manage that abduction in order to stay alive.

Each client is different in terms of whether they want e-learning, in-person training, or consultation. We can do all three.

Q: What is the process of how Global Guardian works with a client in the event of a kidnapping?

McGarrity: If they are on the platform and they hit the panic button, or we get a call, we will reach out to them through our 24/7 Operations Center. We will try to call and text them. If we cannot make contact, we will try and track them down using their last-known location. We would then dispatch our team to get some ground truth on what occurred. We will use that information to coordinate with local law enforcement on next steps.

Most kidnappings that I have worked do not happen between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. East coast time, Monday to Friday. The ability to have a 24/7 Operations Center, as Global Guardian does, that will be online throughout an event that could last days, weeks, or even months, is critical because you need to make decisions and move information quickly. Whether it is two in the morning or two in the afternoon, it doesn’t really matter to us because we are here all the time.

Q: What should a client do in the event of a kidnap and ransom incident?

McGarrity: My recommendation is that they approach both the U.S. government and Global Guardian. They will have more information by having a private security firm as well as the U.S. government involved in the investigation.

The reason why you want the U.S. government involved is you are, by definition, a victim and that comes with rights that the U.S. government must brief you and your family about what they know about the captor network. They might have information that only the U.S. government can get.

The trick is having people in the private sector, at a firm like Global Guardian, who understand what the U.S. government can and can’t do and coordinate with it. That’s the experience that our team brings.



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