Advice to the Traveling American Executive

When top-level executives with high-risk profiles need to travel to areas of the world known to pose specific threats, they should consider consulting executive protection professionals before they depart. Those with strictly government or military backgrounds may provide some guidance, but the personnel protection experts in the federal government reside primarily in the U.S. Secret Service and the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. The Department of Justice, the Department of Defense and other government departments have limited personnel protection details, so professionals from these backgrounds may have limited experience in this area.

We instead recommend consultation with a professional protection agency or a corporate security professional with personnel protection training and certification. Unfortunately, the majority of business travelers do not have the budget or the corporate support to seek that kind of assistance.

>Keep It Low Key
Unless you are a senior executive with a corporate security staff to plan the security for your travel and possibly accompany you on overseas visits, or unless you have the funds to hire professional consultants, you must do your own protection planning and provide for your own in-country security. The good news is, if you don’t meet those criteria, you are a less likely target for the professional kidnapper, terrorist or spy.

Always remember that inherent dangers from criminal elements are present in every large city in the world, including those in the United States. Therefore most of the commonsense security measures you should take while traveling domestically should apply to foreign cities as well.

There are, however, some unique issues you should consider when traveling abroad.

Obviously, some foreign cities pose a greater threat to your personal safety and security than others. For example, kidnapping seems to be one of the most common threats to U.S. executives in South and Central American countries. The FBI maintains a cadre of Spanish-speaking agents who are trained in hostage negotiations.

Although you may be at low risk from professional kidnappers, you may be vulnerable to an express kidnapping. An express kidnapping is one that involves a target of opportunity with little preparation and planning on the part of the criminal. You can avoid being that target of opportunity by not blatantly advertising your wealth or importance in your dress and demeanor. For example, do not use titles or provide business cards at hotels. Do not wear flashy clothes or jewelry. Do not drive expensive cars or travel with an entourage that draws attention. It is, however, a good idea to travel with a companion whenever feasible.

Resources for Travel Abroad
The following Web sites give updated warnings on specific countries and provide excellent security and travel tips. Visit them, take notes and contact information, and study the tips that they provide.

The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) maintains one of the most comprehensive publicly available sites at OSAC is an excellent source of current information and educational resources specifically designed for the international business traveler. It is a private/public sector effort supported by the State Department and other government agencies. If you or members of your organization travel overseas frequently, I suggest subscribing to their newsletter. Before traveling abroad, take the time to read “Personal Security Guidelines for the American Business Traveler Overseas,” which is found in the online OSAC Resource Library.

The U.S. Department of State provides general travel information and travel tips at The site’s Travel Warnings link provides current travel warnings, and its Consular Information Sheets, linked from the main page, also provide important information.

You should travel with all the necessary contact information for the nearest embassy or consulate in the country you are visiting. That information can be found at If you are going to be in a country where travel warnings have been issued or you plan on being there two or more weeks, register at the Consular Section of the nearest embassy.

Another source of useful information on international travel is the government publication “A Safe Trip Abroad,” found at Make a special note of the Overseas Citizens Services call center at 888-407-4747. They can answer questions about safety and security overseas that might not be addressed on these Web sites.

Information Security Concerns
Now, let’s discuss information security for the traveling executive. Complexity is the enemy of security. The more complex technology becomes, the more difficult is it to mount a suitable defense.

Wireless voice and data transmissions increase the complexity over land-line communications, thereby raising the level of insecurity. Can we or should we attempt to slow the rush to ever more transparent communications networks? No—it is foolish to attempt to put the genie back in the bottle. But there is some good news.

The ratification of 802.11i may provide both the public and private sectors with an acceptable standard for wireless networking. Admittedly, there are some issues ranging from incompatible legacy hardware to uneven migration strategies that may slow adoption of the 802.11i standard. Regardless, 802.11i is a giant step forward; it’s the first standardized wireless security solution built upon strong Advanced Encryption Standard-Counter Mode/ CBC-MAC Protocol-based encryption.

802.11i avoids the flaws that doomed the Wired Equivalent Privacy security standard. It includes a complex series of communications and key exchanges designed to mutually authenticate wireless clients and access points and to reduce as much as possible the impact on back-end authentication systems. The 802.11i security specification includes some optional components that may alleviate the potential problem of roaming latency.

For executives traveling overseas and planning on communicating via wireless networks, 802.11i may, at some future time, act as a transparent security protocol that protects all under one umbrella. But that time is not now. Most executives need security awareness training. But beyond that, the executive mind-set needs to change. Corporate security policies are for all employees, including the CEO.

Many foreign governments conduct surveillance and monitoring activities on American executives. This includes searching the executive’s hotel room and planting listening devices in rooms and automobiles. The traveling American executive should assume that his or her communications will be intercepted by both friendly and unfriendly governments. In this case, encryption will not be of much help. The best advice when traveling overseas is not to conduct mission-critical business over wireless connections and secure valuable documents in a safe.

The more informed and prepared you are for international travel, the safer and more secure you will feel. Common sense, information and preparation are the best tools for traveling safely at home or abroad.

Bob Wynn is the former director and CISO for the State of Georgia. His 20 years in the security field include experience in senior security management, infrastructure protection, computer crime investigations, policy writing, and achieving compliance with federal regulations. Mr. Wynn is an instructor at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, VA, specializing in computer crime.

Gerald W. Becknell is president and CEO of Security Matters Inc., a consulting firm based in Atlanta, GA. He is a retired FBI Special Agent with 20 years of field experience.