Will The U.S. Government Rescue You If You’re Kidnapped In A Foreign Country?

April 08, 2022

In October 2021, 17 missionaries – one Canadian and 16 Americans – were kidnapped near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a country with one of the highest rates per capita of kidnappings in the world. This incident was one of the dozens of kidnappings of American citizens that occur abroad every year. (All hostages were eventually freed, with Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries involvement.)

Will the US government rescue you in you’re kidnapped in a foreign country? Most likely no, but there are instances where they can assist you or private proactive actions you can take before you travel.

How the U. S. Government Can Handle A Hostage Situation

Albeit the official U.S. government’s position is that America does not and will not make concessions to hostage-takers, there have been instances wherein the government has worked with allied nations to negotiate the release of American hostages by foreign militants or terrorists.

A case in point is the 1985 TWA flight 847 hijacking by Shiite Hezbollah militants.

The plane at the time held dozens of Americans on board; one US Navy diver was killed, and 39 other passengers were held hostage. The militants were demanding the release of 700+ Lebanese prisoners who were detained in Israel.

Interestingly, and I believe not coincidentally, three days after the American hostages were released, the Israeli government set free approximately half of the Lebanese prisoners.

Clearly, despite the US’s no concessions stance, our government does avail itself of assistance from foreign friendlies in hostage situations.

Although the US today stands by its “no concessions” stance, some exceptions go against this policy.

Current “No Concessions”

  1. When the hostage-taker is a nation state. Technically speaking, there’s a legal distinction between a hostage (someone abducted and held by a non-state actor) and a detainee (someone held by the state). This line becomes blurred when an American is detained for the express purpose of being used as a bargaining chip.
  2. When the hostages are soldiers.  The provisions of the Geneva Convention allow for the exchange of prisoners of war. Reference Army Specialist Bergdahl
  3. When another entity is paying the ransom. The law specifically prohibits the “material support” to a terrorist organization even if this so-called support comes in the form of paying a ransom for a loved one kidnapped by terrorists.

That said, no American citizen or organization has ever faced prosecution for paying a ransom to recover the victim. This permissive environment creates room for third-party intermediaries like military contractors to step in and conduct private hostage rescue missions, which easily begin at $30,000 USD/daily.

Finally, the US government permits ransom payment provided that the hostage-taker is not a designated terrorist organization. American citizens routinely pay ransoms to foreign-armed-political-militia and criminal organizations. These are usually handled by crisis management personnel, kidnap and ransom insurance policies, and the government’s interagency Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell.

Will The US State Department Get Involved?

Almost always, the answer is No.

The US Department of State (DOS) is a federal agency responsible for advancing America’s foreign policy to promote the security and interests of the American people. The State Department represents the US at the United Nations and negotiates agreements and treaties with foreign entities.

Rescuing Americans is not a part of its defined mission, but there are a few things the DOS does to assist its citizens abroad.

The DOS routinely issues travel warnings. A US State Department Travel Advisory provides information on the conditions in a country, including the high-risk areas, where to seek help, what to do in that situation, and more useful information. If a particular country poses a higher-than-usual security risk, it will usually appear on the US State Department Do Not Travel list.

If you’re traveling overseas, you can enroll in the Smart Traveler Program (STEP) to receive up-to-date security alerts in real-time. This information is also available on the US Embassy and Consulate website of the country you’re in or the main DOS embassy and consular site.

However, if you travel to a high-risk area and end up getting kidnapped, there’s not much the government can or will do to help you. This could be for any number of reasons, including armed conflict, ineffective local authority policies, the absence of a functioning government, poor governance, etc.

Ultimately, in a country that does not maintain diplomatic relations with the US, the government has no means of providing consular services to its citizens stranded abroad.

Even if you are a US government employee at a Consulate or Embassy, a US Embassy evacuation would only be possible if:

  • There’s no commercial transportation available;
  • Consular and embassy officers are present and available; and,
  • The conditions permit.

Only then would the DOS try and identify the evacuation options available – such as repatriation flights – to rescue US citizens out of the crisis area.

The Bottom Line

Will the US government rescue you in a foreign country? The short answer is – highly unlikely. Your best bet would be to take security matters into your own hands by consulting with a security firm that specializes in high-risk private hostage rescue operations.

That way, if you’re traveling to a high-risk area, you can rest easy knowing that there are highly skilled hostage negotiators, elite extraction teams made up of former US Special Operators, and strong logistical and intelligence support on stand-by to rescue you if you end up getting kidnapped and held hostage.

During these very turbulent global times, research your trips to foreign countries, determine if it is safe to travel to your intended destination and at all times, avail yourself of all US DOS updates and make sure you know what to do if unsafe sitautions arise.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

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