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No One a Neutral: Political Hostage Taking in the Modern World.

No One a Neutral: Political Hostage Taking in the Modern World

Authors: Norman Antokol and Mayer Nudell

Publisher: Alpha Publications, PO Box 58017, Medina, OH 44258; 1990, 252 pages, hardback: $19.95

Reviewer: James R. Sutton, Vice President for Chase Manhattan Bank, NA, Corporate Security and Safety, and former FBI agent who specializes in Latin American insurgent and terrorist organizations

On balance, No One a Neutral is a significant contribution to our understanding of hostage taking and a valuable resource for security managers and students of terrorism. While the book offers a detailed and fascinating historical overview of hostage taking, it fails to address two important issues: the United States chain of command for counterterrorism policy and how profitable hostage taking is.

The authors point out: "For a decade, the United States has suffered from indecision over how to respond to the hostage taking of its citizens and frustration over its inability to end this practice." In fact, both Presidents Bush and Reagan managed several successful counterterrorist operations, some well publicized, others not well known.

Both presidents coordinated the planning and execution of their operations through the National Security Council and a senior Interdepartmental Group on Terrorism (IGT). The IGT is chaired by the director of the Office for Counterterrorism and Emergency Planning at the US State Department with representatives from over 25 government agencies, including the CIA, the FBI, and the Departments of Justice, Defense, Energy, Treasury, and Transportation. Also involved is a special situation group (SSG), headed by the vice president, responsible for crisis management.

Another important issue that should have been evaluated in No One a Neutral is just how profitable hostage taking is. Forget ideological considerations, political advantages, or publicity gains. In the majority of cases the basic motivation is profit, plain and simple. Consider the case of Colombia. The authors point out that the majority of all kidnappings occur in Latin America, with most of them taking place in Colombia. What they fail to mention is how those abductions have resulted in the payment of multimillion-dollar ransoms and have directly contributed to the growth of terrorism in that country.

Official sources in Colombia advised that from 1982 to 1988 2,203 abductions took place, of which 837 resulted in ransom payments. Preliminary figures for 1989 show a substantial increase in both the number of kidnappings and the ransom paid. The Colombian government conservatively estimates that over the past decade foreign companies, many of which were US corporations, have paid ransoms in excess of $15 million to a variety of criminal and insurgent organizations.

The situation in the Middle East is not that much different. And the coffers of the area's terrorist groups have frequently been replenished by direct or indirect ransom payments made by a variety of government and corporate entities and private individuals.

Although No One a Neutral focuses on the political and ideological motivation behind seizing hostages, this fact remains: Whatever their ideology or intentions, almost all terrorist activities can be reduced to one common denominator, the use of criminal coercion and violence.

US policy against terrorism has remained relatively unchanged since 1972, when it was set forth and a counterterrorism office was established by President Nixon after the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Since then, the United States has emphasized that terrorists are common criminals and that terrorism is criminal behavior.

Congress has supported law enforcement efforts by enacting enabling legislation. The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 (Title 18, USC Section 1203) gives the FBI investigative jurisdiction domestically and internationally where US citizens are involved. However, that activity requires the permission of host governments and coordination with the US Department of State.

Another statute that has extraterritorial law enforcement application is the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986 (Title 18, USC Section 2331), which enables the United States to prosecute in US courts persons who assault, kidnap, or murder US citizens abroad. Prosecution requires certification by the US Attorney General.

Notwithstanding those omissions, the book raises valid issues and provides significant insight into a serious problem that will affect not only the US government but also private industry for the remainder of the decade.

In the evolution of hostage taking the authors identify at least two significant trends: First, hostage taking is increasingly losing its ideological component and economic factors are openly acknowledged. Second, in the near future more power will be wielded by transnational (regional) organizations and criminal cartels whose operational sophistication and resources will transcend those of many governments, particularly in regions suffering from political or economic instability.

The authors also consider the limitations on an effective counterterrorist policy. Inevitably, national political interests and the domestic perception of sovereignty in countries where terrorist incidents occur will continue to pose the greatest constraint in the ability of the United States to combat international criminal terrorism.

Currently, domestic terrorism is not a pressing political problem in the United States. Consequently, counterterrorism as a policy issue is largely international in scope.

In closing, Antokol and Nudell advocate a policy of flexible firmness in six areas: negotiation, use of force, proactivity, media coverage, continuity of government, and individual responsibility. They recommend the United States continue in its present course, which involves the application of a counterterrorist policy based on a measured and prudent exercise of diplomatic, judicial, military, and covert initiatives to bring criminals engaging in terrorism to justice.

This measured approach is encouraged even though results are slow and the effort requires considerable self-discipline in negotiating without making concessions and in applying military force. More difficult still is the need for the United States to increase its efforts to foster international cooperation to isolate terrorist groups and their supporters.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Sutton, James R.
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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