Much ink has been spilled to explain to managers what the company can do to keep their personnel safe when traveling on business or at work in the home office. Cleared personnel, however, far more than others, will be called upon to travel, even live full-time overseas, to work on projects for the government. They will also work on classified projects at home for years, and never think about their personal security. This is dangerous.

What can cleared personnel do to help mitigate the threat to themselves or their families? Terrorists and criminals know that the quickest way to create fear is to threaten a person’s family. Knowing this, we need to remember that we aren’t passive. We can defend ourselves, and even fight back.

One case can stand for many. U.S. General James L. Dozier was by all accounts a good officer. Living in Verona, Italy, as Deputy Chief of Staff for NATO’s southern tier, he was not a well known figure. One practice he had, however, was punctuality. You could count on him to be predictable. He always left home at the same time. Dozier was a dedicated and  routine runner as well. He always huffed and puffed along the same routes. Indeed, even when made aware of the potential danger, he remained unmoved to change. He was not, he believed, far enough ‘up the food chain’ to matter.

Then the revolutionary Marxist Italian Red Brigades captured him. They knew exactly when he’d be at home with his wife. They knew he wouldn’t check to see if, as actually happened, ‘plumbers’ appeared unannounced and unexpected at his door. The phony plumbers barged in. They held his wife hostage so that he wouldn’t resist as they took him prisoner. His wife was not taken, but had served the terrorists’ purpose by causing Dozier not to resist.

He was held under trying physical conditions for 42 days in a secret apartment. Aside from anti-NATO declarations, the Red Brigades never once demanded ransom for him. In the end, he was liberated through the efforts of good Italian and Allied intelligence and police work.

On review, Dozier’s practices were discovered to have been dread lessons. He was predictable. He never changed his route, his car, or his time of departure. His route to run was almost clockwork. The comings and goings of Dozier and his wife were codified by those who took them, so much so that they even knew how long his lunch break was if he came home midday. He never checked to see if someone who came to his door was expected, nor who might have sent them. His routine was known, and despite having heard briefings to the contrary, he continued as before. Why?

It is speculated that he considered himself ‘too far down the totem pole’ to be important. Why would anyone take him since there was an entire senior organization above him which could be taken? Dozier didn’t calculate that terrorists don’t necessarily think in terms of chain of command. Yes, they might have surveilled other senior officers, but these were unpredictable, had bodyguards, or could not be guaranteed to do something so routine that criminals could plan their attack. In other words, when the terrorists found one officer was aware of his surroundings, and cognizant of changes, they moved on to the next target.

Your Position Doesn’t Dictate Your Risk

It has always struck me that people not ‘in charge’ always seem to think they are beyond threat. Why would anyone want to get me, since I don’t know any of the main facts? Remember, kidnapping is not like espionage. A terrorist is trying to exploit not just information you might know, but to bring terror to others who work with you. ‘If they can take me, they can take anyone,’ is what they hope to bring about. Or better yet for the terrorist, they hope to instill the fear that, ‘If they can take me, they can take my children.’

Our example began with the question, ‘What can our cleared personnel do to help mitigate the threat to themselves or their families?’ Notice, the question did not conclude ‘overseas’. This is because terrorist attacks can occur anywhere. Personnel can do several things to keep themselves the person ‘too secure,’ such that the terrorist or criminal will go down the street looking for his next target.

Keep a low profile.

If you have a job which requires interaction with the public, don’t be the center of attention as the ‘symbol of America’. Blend in as best you can. There are now whole volumes of security measures you can take online, but they apply equally as well at home. Never refer to your children, your spouse, or your habits in unknown company. Know how to report an incident, round the clock. If you can’t speak the foreign language of the country you are in, find out who to contact if you have an incident to report. Here the US Embassy would be of assistance.

Be unpredictable.

Almost every successful kidnapping reveals the perpetrators studied the habits of the target. They watched his comings and goings. They knew his quirks, his expectations. In short, they were allowed to plan their attack, with the unwitting cooperation of their victim. Change what you do. Yes, we know you need to be at work at a certain time, but no company is so lock-step that they won’t understand variations built on counter-criminal actions. An example here might help. A colleague was traveling during a heightened Irish Republican Army threat period in London. He took a random cab rather than the subway. His company was told why he spent the extra travel money, and concurred.

Remain vigilant.

Know your surroundings. Make acquaintance with your neighbors. Watch out for each other, and know how to report an incident. What should you do if you see something that seems suspicious or out of the ordinary? What should you do if ‘plumbers’ show up at your door but you never asked them to come? General Dozier never asked himself that, because he believed his life revolved around his perfectly planned day. Realizing how many errors he made in a good self defense, he honorably gave presentations for many years on how to avoid such dread encounters.

We can protect ourselves, and there are many, many more ways. Cleared personnel should be alert, be aware, and think for themselves.

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John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.