4 Steps to Taking the Adversary’s Perspective and Enhancing Your Security

Nairobi (aka Nairobbery)- Understanding carjacking tactics can be critical


When you are evaluating your own personal security its very useful to take the perspective of your adversary — for most of us that is the common criminal but depending on your location it may also include terrorists, militants, members of organized criminal groups or others.  Traditionally most people and most organizations have viewed their security from the inside looking out.  However it might be better to look at it from the outside in – the same way a predator looks at it.

Here is a four-step process you can use:

(1) Consider your attractiveness as a target.   Are you well-known, wealthy or perceived as wealthy, politically active, involved in a business dispute or is there another reason you might be specifically targeted?  Beyond that are you someone who is likely to be targeted in a crime of opportunity due to your physical appearance?  In 1984 Betty Grayson and Morris Stein published a now-famous study about physical signals that potential victims unwittingly to their assailants.  The Grayson Stein study involved videotaping pedestrians on the streets of New York City and then subsequently showing the videos to inmates incarcerated for violent assaults.  The inmates were split into different groups and told to rate the people videotaped on a scale of 1 to 10 with one being the most attractive target and 10 the least.  The inmates responses were shockingly consistent with regard to who the most attractive victims were.

On further review Grayson and Stein determined that the more likely victims differed in stride, fluidity of movements, head position, etc from those who were deemed the toughest targets and not desirable.  While these nonverbal cues may not be characteristics that can be readily changed – just be aware of them will be an asset in protecting yourself.

(2) Aggressor Tactics, Techniques and Procedures and Modus Operandi.  After considering your attractiveness or likelihood as a potential target you should consider the methods a potential attacker might use.  Look at what type of tactics are common in the area where you live or work.  In a previous post we discussed common carjacking techniques in use in Nairobi.  This is a good example to use.   Many carjackings and armed robberies in Nairobi have occurred when the victim drove up to the vehicle gate at their home.  While they are waiting for the gate to be opened another vehicle – which has either been following them or parked nearby observing their residence — will pull up and block them in.  The assailants will deploy from the vehicle and rob their victim.  Understanding the tactics used by criminals and threat groups in your area of operation is a critical component of this process.  In a broader sense its helpful to know that targeted attacks – both assassinations and kidnappings frequently occur in the morning as the victim is leaving their residence.  This is largely true worldwide.  One if the more notable examples is the kidnapping of Exxon executive Sidney Reso as he left his New Jersey home in 1992.

(3)  Develop a predatory mindset.  This is anethmatic to most people but its one of the best ways to understand how criminals and other hostile people and groups view the world.  To gain an understanding of this do a simple mental exercise:  the next time you are in a public place such as a shopping district, mall, etc. try to identify people who would be good victims to assault and rob.  By the way – this is not an original idea.  Many instructors and writers on this topic have advocated the same exercise for the same reason.  The one who comes most readily to mind is Rory Miller but there are several others as well.  Once you have identified likely victims think how you would isolate and attack them in a way that would give you the best chance or success and the ability to escape.  Don’t take notes — this is a mental exercise.  By doing this occasionally – and in conjunction with your knowledge of assailant tactics –  you will develop a greater appreciation for the adversary’s perspective and the steps he will take in selecting a victim and carrying out an attack.

(4) Look at yourself and your routine through the adversary’s eyes.  Where are you vulnerable in your day-to-day life?  Where are you time and place predictable?  Where and when are you likely to be distracted or unaware?  Where on your routes are likely attack sites?  Ask yourself these questions and try to view yourself through the adversary’s perspective.  Once you begin to answer these you can develop countermeasures to make
yourself a harder target.

Always Have An Exit Plan

When traveling or living in the politically unstable regions it’s important to always have an exit plan.  After assessing the potential threats from coups, civil unrest or conflict you should consider several methods of egress from the country, different transportation modes that could be used and also the possibility of sheltering in place.

You should consider some tripwires or triggerpoints that might indicate a deterioration in the security situation and be a signal to you to act on. your exit plan.  These vary greatly depending on the country and the situation there but some examples might be: departure of dependents and non-essential personnel from diplomatic missions,  imposition of martial law, previously peaceful demonstrations turn violent, etc.

The events of the Arab Spring taught us – tripwires can be much more compressed than anticipated.  With the introduction on social media in particular political and security conditions can change very rapidly.

Under ideal circumstances your exit plan is to go to the airport before the situation becomes too bad and board a scheduled commercial flight and leave the country.  You do need to consider other options should the airport be closed or unreachable.  Other possibilities might be traveling overland across the border to a neighboring country or even a maritime mode of departure such as hiring a charter boat if the country isn’t landlocked and if there is a safe haven country reachable by boat.

You should stay in contact with your Embassy or Consulate if they have representation locally.  The US State Department issues messages to it citizens who have registered with the Embassy and prepares to conduct evacuations should the situation warrant it.  This can also be a good indicator or tripwire to use.  The US State Department, British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other countries foreign ministries try to encourage their citizens to depart the country as soon as they feel the situation is becoming critical in order to ease the burden should an evacuation be necessary.

In some cases immediate exit may not be possible or safe. Borders maybe closed as occurred during and after the coup in Mali in 2012 or the situation may have destabilized so rapidly that it is not safe to be out on the streets or moving around.   In those situations its important to look at sheltering in place.
When preparing to shelter in place you should stockpile enough food and water in your hotel room, house or apartment to sustain you for several days.  Its difficult to determine what length of time to anticipate but 72-96 hours is a good general rule.  You will also want to have a flashlight, batteries, possibly a battery powered radio, cell phone and or Sat/com phone and associated chargers.  A portable battery-powered cell phone charger is also a good option as well.

The level of planning and preparation will vary greatly depending upon the conditions in the country you are in and your personal situation.  Even giving this tppic some thought and some minimal planning will give you a head start should things turn bad and you will be better off that if you were caught totally unprepared.

Security Considerations When Working with Local Contacts


If you are working overseas or traveling internationally for business then you probably deal with local contacts of some type.  They may be local representatives, partners, vendors or suppliers, customers or others.  While most interaction with local contacts will be valuable and productive there are potential security concerns to be aware of and to think about.

For this discussion we won’t be looking closely at fraud or compliance issues associated with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act or similar legislation.  Those are very worthy issues to examine but well beyond the scope of this post.  Instead we’ll look at some of the other concerns that can arise.

It goes without saying that you should do a thorough due diligence on local contacts but the reality is that you may not be able to achieve it in every situation based on the timeline or other factors.  Also — to be frank — the ability to do an effective due diligence in many locations is very limited – especially on short notice.

Its reasonable to expect that at a minimum your contact will have a different perspective and world view than you do.  There will likely be different expectations or what is acceptable.  In some cases though the contact may have a separate agenda or hidden motives that can put you at risk.

Some situations that can occur that you should be aware of:

  • Misrepresentation: Local contacts that misrepresent themselves or their affiliation with your organization.  If they engage in illegal activity while misrepresenting themselves it can have direct and severe implications for your and your company.
  • Allegations of criminal or unethical conduct against you or your organization:  customers, vendors or others can put pressure on you by alleging misconduct to local law enforcement authorities.
  • Honey traps: Local contacts may try to put you in compromising positions with local women — either to create a situation where they can blackmail you outright or at least make you vulnerable to them.
  • Unlawful detention: In some cases local contacts may detain you — either physically or through use of threats — to get you to agree to their terms.
  • Kidnapping:  In extreme circumstances your contacts may set you up for kidnap for ransom.  There was a notable case in Mexico about 10 years ago where a US businessman was set-up for a kidnapping by his Mexican partner.
  • Guilt by association:  In some instances your contacts may be involved in activities that make them a target of law enforcement, criminal groups or both.  If you are with them you may be the victim of arrest or a violent attack.
  • Hidden ties: In some cases your local contacts may have ties to foreign intelligence services or extremist groups.  Even though they may not act against you immediately they may be gathering information about you or your organization.

How can you mitigate your exposure to these potential threats?

Of course the first answer is know who you are dealing with — but as we discussed earlier that is not always too easy.

One thing you can do is not put all your eggs in one basket. It’s not uncommon for local contacts to make some or all of your arrangements when you are visiting their country — often everything from your hotel to your ground transportation.  I suggest you may not want to always let them do it.  It takes more work but if you make your own arrangements it gives you greater flexibility.  If you have your own ground transportation set up apart from them it is easier to come and go as you please.  You should also consider making other appointments and establishing other contacts while there.  This gives you a legitimate reason to excuse yourself if a situation becomes uncomfortable and it reduces the control they have over you.  Many of the scenarios outlined above are more likely to occur if you are completely dependent on them.  If you have other contacts and your own transportation it goes a long way to keeping them off-balance.  They don’t know who you know or who you may be able to turn to for assistance.  It may sound excessive or paranoid but compartmentalizing your activities gives you more control and if your contacts have bad intentions it can make it more difficult for them to act against you.

You should also make sure that someone in your head office, your family or both has all the names and  contact information for the people you are planning to meet with and any itinerary you may have.  In a worst case scenario if you go missing there will at least be some baseline information to use in initiating a search.

Expatriate Residential Considerations

Walled house in Lome, Togo West Africa

Expatriates and long term visitors who will be using private accommodation rather than a hotel need to look at security considerations when selecting a residence.

The first consideration should be the location and neighborhood.   You clearly want to identify a safe or safer neighborhood for obvious reasons.  Unfortunately in many places crime statistics are not maintained by the police or are not accurate if they are kept so you will likely need to interview expatriates, local residents and diplomatic missions, etc. for anecdotal input.  You may also want to consider areas where other expatriates reside and make contacts for mutual assistance.  The downside of these expatriate-heavy areas is that they may be considered a target-rich environment for both criminals and extremist groups.  This concern has to be weighed against the positive aspects of having other expatriates nearby.

You will also want to look at proximity to police and fire stations, hospitals and supermarkets, grocery stores, etc.  Depending on the security environment you may also want to consider avoiding locations near high profile targets that may be selected for attack by terrorists or may be a focal point in the event of a coup attempt, etc.  Some examples are government buildings,  diplomatic missions, presidential palace, military barracks and so forth.

Physical location:  In addition to selecting a safe neighborhood you want to assess the physical layout and street conditions.  You want to identify residential areas with light pedestrian and vehicle traffic.  Congested areas with high levels of vehicles and pedestrians provide surveillants and potential attackers with cover to operate.  Ideally you want a neighborhood where strangers or loiterers stand out and are readily identified.

You also want to avoid cul de sacs, one-way streets, deadend streets and other features that limit or restrict your options for movement.  Given the fact that the entry point of a residence is a favorite attack site both for economically-motivated crime like carjacking and also targeted kidnappings and killings you want to ensure that you have several options for movement.

Apartment vs. Single Family Dwelling:  the next thing to consider is whether to choose an apartment or single family house.  Generally speaking in most cases an apartment offers better security, especially if it is in a building with a good level of security.  We discuss some considerations of each.

First let’s briefly discuss layered security or defense in depth: Whether you choose a house or an apartment you want to pick a location that offers multiple layers of security that an intruder needs to overcome.  This will (1) deter many criminals that are looking for an easy target (2) buy time for a response team to arrive (3) potentially buy you time to seek shelter, call for help, etc.

Apartment:  When choosing an apartment you should look for the following criteria:

  • A guard, doorman or concierge who physically inspects visitors an controls access.
  • A vehicle checkpoint if applicable.
  • As with hotel rooms you want to select an apartment between the 2nd and 7th floors so it is high enough to deter burglars but low enough to be reached by fire-fighting equipment.
  • Multiple entrances and exits that are guarded or where access is effectively controlled.
  • CCTV system and other physical security measures.

House: If choosing a house you will want to consider the following factors:

  • Walled property:  This is common in most single family dwellings in the developing world.  The wall should be high enough to deter an intruder from scaling it.
  • Wall security enhancements:  the wall should be reinforced by being topped with barbed wire/razor wire, broken glass, etc.  In many places in Africa electrified fences are used on top of residential walls as well.
  • Guards:  employing a guard or guards to be posted at the entrance both deters potential criminals, provides a human response at the first layer and if properly trained a set of eyes and ears on the perimeter.
  • CCTV: This can be useful as a deterrent, a means of remotely investigating a possible intrusion and an investigative tool.  Ideally where it is legal you should position some cameras to observe the street and public areas outside your residence.
  • Alarm System:  An alarm system can be a great asset in providing an early warning to you.  It should be linked to a central monitoring station.  Many systems also have a duress button that can be manually triggered and some also have portable duress button that can be carried on your person within the home.
  • Alarm Response Capability: In most developing world countries police response to crimes in progress is unreliable.  Therefore there is usually a plethora of private sector security responders who provide alarm response.  This is definitely worth considering and is a great asset for your personal security.  You do need to invest the effort and energy in vetting and selecting a good provider.
  • Safe Room:  In locations where home invasion robberies and other violent intrusions are a concern or if you are at at-risk or targeted person then you should look at building a safe room within your home and stocking it with essential items to sustain yourself.

You’ll also want to consider quality locks, reinforced doors, window guards, shatterproof window film and other physical measures.

Working with Local Drivers

If you are a traveler or an expatriate who chooses to use a local driver instead of self-driving (see our separate discussion on deciding whether to self-drive or use a driver and the pros and cons of each) then we’ll look at working with local drivers.

When ever possible get a vetted local driver.  Sources for drivers can include security companies, transportation companies and hotels.  When possible its best to have a driver who has had formal security driver training although this is relatively rare in most countries in the developing world and should not be expected.

You should look for a driver with some type of general driver training for proficiency and safety purposes.  The bar is very low in many countries to obtain a driver’s license.  In almost all locations your greatest risk will be getting into a vehicle accident and not being the victim of an attack so having a driver who understands and employs the fundamentals of safe driving will be a huge asset.  If you are an expatriate or long term visitor it may be worthwhile to invest in the driver by getting him some training.

Get a driver who speaks at least decent English unless you are proficient in the local language.  This will help avert much confusion, missed pick-ups, etc. that can be caused by the language barrier.

If a long-term visitor or expatriate get to know as much about your driver as possible — where he lives, his family, his ethnic or tribal affiliation (where applicable).  You will be much less likely to have trouble with a driver who knows he is potentially vulnerable  to repercussions.

When working with local drivers here are some general guidelines to follow in most situations and in most locations:

– Make expectations clear to the driver at the beginning.  Much of working or living in the developing world is about managing expectations: yours and the driver’s.

– Use reverse planning and pad in extra time.  Concepts of time and punctuality are often not the same in much of the world.  Additionally in some cities traffic is so congested it is prudent to have the driver arrive early to ensure he is there when you need him.

– Don’t give the driver too much information in advance about your itinerary.  Let him know where you need to go and when at the time and not in advance.  There is no benefit  and significant vulnerability to you.  Even if you trust your driver and have worked with him for a while you don’t know what external pressures he might be under.  If someone is threatening his family to force him to provide information to target you then he’ll give you up.  By limiting his advanced knowledge of your movements you reduce this risk.

– Treat you driver with respect and take care of his welfare.  Be courteous to your driver and give him opportunities for breaks, enough rest between assignments, etc.  If you go out to eat at a restaurant consider sending a meal out to the driver if he is waiting in the vehicle outside.  I know of anecdotal cases in Latin America and the Philippines where people were set up for burglary, robbery and kidnapping by their drivers and other domestic employees.  There is no excuse for treating your driver badly and it arguably increases your vulnerability to do so.

– Remember the driver is not your friend.  As a follow up to the point above – take care of the driver and be courteous to him but don’t be too familiar.  Westerners – and Americans in particular tend to be very egalitarian which may not be the best approach. Avoid taking meals socializing with the driver.  In most traditional societies roles are very clearly defined.  Being to familiar with the driver may confuse him and undermine the working relationship that you have with him.  It may also result in a deterioration in his performance.

– Keep any gratuities reasonable and in keeping with local custom.  Its fine to reward a driver with a tip for good performance but in a poor country giving a driver a $50 or $100 tip for a few days work can be the equivalent of tipping him his monthly salary.  This can at a minimum (1) cause the driver to get confused and expect this level of tip from everyone (2) confirm how “rich” you are.  It may also cause problems with the driver’s employer if you are giving him the equivalent of a month’s salary for a tip.

When working with local drivers its important to keep these principles in mind — generally speaking they will make the relationship more productive and effective for both of you.

Route Analysis and Selection


Whether you are self-driving or using a driver route analysis and route selection are key elements of your security when moving around your overseas location.  Route selection is important because:

  • It allows you to avoid known danger areas such as high-crime neighborhoods or to implement countermeasures if the area is unavoidable.
  •  Provides you with alternate routes to avoid time and place predictability.


  • Helps you identify choke points and other potential attack sites so that you can raise your awareness level in these areas.


  • Helps you identify zones of predictability that you must pass through regardless of the route you use.  Your origin point and destination are two zones of predictability but there may be others.


  • Allows you to identify safe havens along the route that can be utilized if needed.

Some quick definitions

For our purposes here I am going to use the following definitions — some in the security field define these terms in slightly different ways but for clarity’s sake I will define them as follows:

Choke Point:  a choke point is an area where your movement is restricted or inhibited and must be used when on a specific route.

Zone of Predictability: an area that you must pass through regardless of what route you use.

Potential Attack Site:  a location along the route where conditions favor an attacker an where attackers might reasonable set-up an ambush.  These locations may be choke points or zones of predictability.

Safe Haven:  a safe have is a location along your route where you can seek assistance if you are being attacked or pursued or if you are in need of medical assistance or other support.  They are typically characterized by good levels of security and multiple means of communications.  Examples might be police stations, military barracks, fire stations or hospitals.

The first stage of a route analysis is a thorough map reconnaissance to determine potential routes between the point of origin and destination.  When ever possible its best to use two or more maps of the same area to compare features to get the most accurate picture.  Large scale maps with lots of detail are best if available.  Online mapping and satellite imagery tools like Google Earth are also great to incorporate.

Once you have plotted the potential routes on the map you should drive them — ideally several times at the different hours of the day that you will be traveling.  This will let you verify the observations that you made on your map recon and also will let you see traffic flow at various points on the routes.  You can also verify the location and accessibility of safe havens you have identified, etc.   During this phase you may also want to time the different routes at different hours of the day.

The degree of detail you go into on route analysis will vary depending on a number of factors:

  • Duration of time you are spending at the location may dictate the level of depth.  If you are there for weeks or months it may make more sense to do a detailed study versus only staying for a few days.


  • Likelihood of being specifically targeted.  Obviously if you know or think there is a real risk you may be specifically targeted then you need to concentrate on route variance and will likely want to invest the time to do a detailed route analysis.


  • General security environment.  Even if you are not especially concerned about being specifically targeted it is still reasonable you will  want to do a more detailed route analysis in a higher threat environment.

Route Selection Considerations:


  • Generally major roads with free flowing traffic are preferable to smaller side streets where may be easier for assailants to ambush you.  This may not always be true depending on local traffic patterns.


  • Routes should avoid or at least minimize the need to drive through identified danger areas like high crime neighborhoods and other known threat locations.


  • Choose routes that avoid choke points to the degree possible.


  • Zones of predictability and choke points should at least provide good observation when possible.


  • Routes will multiple safe havens located on them are preferable.

By carefully selecting multiple routes and identifying key features on them you can greatly enhance your personal security when in transit.

Self-Driving vs. Hiring a Driver — The Pros and Cons

Traffic in Karachi, Pakistan

One of the questions for expatriates and many travelers is whether to hire a local driver or drive themselves.  There are pros and cons associated with both choices and its important to recognize and consider them when making a decision.
This discussion focuses on expatriates and travelers in developing countries where this decision is much more critical and the potential pitfalls of making the wrong choice are much greater.  Let’s look at each option:
 Hiring a Driver:

  • The local driver will/should know the geography of the area, can find different locations more readily than you might be able to and will know local traffic patterns at different hours of the day, etc.
  • The local driver will know the driving etiquette in the area and will be less likely to inadvertently cause offense to other drivers, etc.
  • The local driver will know the proper procedure when stopped by the police and will know how to deal with the situation.
  • With a hired driver you are free to focus on situational awareness and detecting possible surveillance or threats in the environment without the distraction of driving in an unfamiliar city, following directions, etc.
  • If you are involved in an accident the driver will generally be the one held responsible and not you.
  • You can assign the driver to guard the car when you are at meetings, etc.  Therefore the car is not left unattended and is not as vulnerable to being tampered with, having items stolen from it or having the vehicle itself stolen.
  • You don’t need to worry about parking the vehicle when you disembark to do other things such as attend meetings, go shopping, etc.  The driver can remain with the vehicle and pick you up when requested.


  • You are literally trusting your life to the driver.  A bad or reckless driver can be very dangerous and the driver may not be trained to deal effectively with a security incident should one occur.
  • You give up some independence relying on the driver.  The driver may be tardy, get lost or otherwise compromise your effectiveness.
  • You will have some level of OPSEC risk with the driver.  The driver will know where you go, who you meet with and other information that may make you vulnerable.


  • You take your fate in your own hands literally.  You are much more in control of your own life when you self-drive.
  • You can potentially respond better to a security incident.  If you already have – or if you obtain quality training in security/evasive driving techniques you will be better prepared than almost all but the best trained drivers to respond to a security incident when you are traveling in a vehicle.
  • You have greater personal and operational security because you do not need to advise another person of your plans.
  • You will become familiar with the area where you are living much more quickly because by self-driving you will be forced to learn the local streets, etc.


  • You are liable in the event you are involved in a vehicle accident.  As a foreigner you may be judged to be at fault even if you are not.  This can result in you being jailed even for minor infractions.  This is one of the greatest vulnerabilities of self-driving in developing world countries.
  • Traffic patterns and driving styles are usually very different (and in many ways much worse) than most western visitors and expatriates are accustomed to in their home countries.
  • You are potentially more vulnerable if stopped by local law enforcement or security forces while driving.  They may see this as an opportunity to extort money from you.
  • Parking can be difficult in many congested third world cities and finding safe, acceptable parking near your destination can be very time consuming and difficult.
  • If you need to leave the vehicle unattended in some locations depending on the security situation you may need to do a search of the vehicle before entering it and departing.  Not only is this time consuming but it can leave you vulnerable while you are distracted and focused on searching the vehicle.

In conclusion the decision on whether to self-drive or hire a driver is a personal that should be made based on the environment you are operating in, your capabilities, the resources available to you and a review of the considerations above.
In a future post we’ll discuss working with local drivers.